Inventor of “the Pill” at TEDxVienna 2013

A brief history of contraception

Antiquity: Ancient Egyptian women use a combination of cotton, dates, honey and acacia as a suppository, and it turns out fermented acacia really does have a spermicidal effect. The Bible and the Koran both refer to coitus interruptus (the withdrawal method).

1914-1921: Activist Margaret Sanger coins the term “birth control,” opens first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and starts the American Birth Control League, the precursor to Planned Parenthood.

1934: Endocrinologist Gregory Pincus creates a test tube rabbit — and is vilified as a Frankenstein.

1951: Sanger and Pincus meet at a dinner party in New York where she persuades him to work on a birth control pill.

1951: Meanwhile, Carl Djerassi, a chemist in Mexico City, creates a pill by synthesizing hormones from Mexican yams. On a chemical level, the pill has been invented, but Djerassi isn’t equipped to test, produce or distribute it.

The events that unravelled afterwards have changed the course of society and have had a lasting impact on the sexual politics of the past century.

Carl Djerassi – Chemist, writer, trailblazer

Sex. Society. Politics. Medicine. Reading these terms, another prominent Viennese figure pops into mind, namely Sigmund Freud. Djerassi attended the same school as Freud, but his life took off almost where Freud’s ended. Djerassi was only 15 when Hitler invaded Vienna, only 16 when he wrote a personal letter to Eleanor Roosevelt requesting a place at an American University and only 28 when, in a small laboratory in Mexico City on 15 October 1951, he synthesised norethindrone, the first oral contraceptive, and changed women’s, and men’s for that matter, lives forever.


Since then, Djerassi authored over 1200 scientific publications and seven monographs, publishing short stories, poetry and five novels. He is only one of two American chemists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science (in 1973, for the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive – ”the Pill”) and the National Medal of Technology (in 1991, for promoting new approaches to insect control). And the list of accomplishments could go on for several paragraphs.

Sex in an Age of Technological Reproduction

Ask yourself these questions: What if the Pill had never existed? Would we live in an emancipated Western world? Are we living more healthier and happier lives as a result? Did the Pill kick-start the sexual revolution? One notable answer given by Djerassi himself is the following: “What we forget is what happened in the Sixties: hippy culture, drug culture, Timothy Leary, rock’n’roll – and then you had the Germaine Greers, and I mean this in a positive context. The one common denominator was sexual liberation, or promiscuity. Anyone who thinks that was all caused by the Pill must be smoking something.”

2nd November 2013 – Volkstheater Vienna

To get the chance and ask him questions like the ones before personally register now for our 2013 conference taking place on the 2nd of November in one of Vienna’s most beloved theaters, the Volkstheater. You’ll also get the chance to hear and meet 14 other international speakers, several hands-on experiences and exhibitions, enjoying the company of inspiring personalities like Aubrey de Grey among many others. Secure your early bird ticket now.

Header Image(s) from Pixabay & Gratisography

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