A Brief History of Women’s Sexual Health
We’ve made leaps and bounds over the past few decades when it comes to studies and education surrounding women’s sexual health. Almost 100 years ago, the first sanitary napkin was released to the public, but just a few months ago, a study revealed we have thousands more nerve fibers in our clitoris than we originally thought (no wonder most women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm). Think of what more there is to discover! Pure Romance Founder, Patty Brisben, is leading the charge to enhance women’s sexual health with the Patty Brisben Foundation. Let’s take a look at some amazing women who have made a big difference in the movement.
The women who started it all
Margaret Sanger is one of the founding members in the fight of women’s sexual health progress and education. In October 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. This clinic was considered illegal under the “Comstock Laws” forbidding birth control, and was raided ten days later. After this, she had to close two more times due to legal issues, so she ended up closing it for good. Then in 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League which eventually evolved into what we know today as Planned Parenthood.
Margaret Sanger fought and argued for the fact that women needed straightforward sex education and contraception to experience true freedom and equality. Mary Ware Dennett took it to the next level by publishing sex education materials that not only taught how to prevent and protect against diseases, but also talked about sexual pleasure.
These women hit roadblocks in their work of publishing materials discussing contraception because of various obscenity laws. But they continued fighting anyway because of their passion and belief in the importance of the material.
In 1964, Dr. Mary Calderone, Medical Director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) “out of her concern that young people and adults lacked accurate information about sex, sexuality, and sexual health.”
Calderone also argued for the importance of accurate and honest sexual education and destigmatizing conversations. She argued that the main purpose of sex education should be to spread information, not to force moral standards onto people, so that people could make their own decisions. Today, her organization is a voice of medical expertise and celebrates a youth-oriented model of sex education centered on peer groups.
Another group working towards providing sexual health information to the public was the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. It all started when a group of women shared their experience and frustration with how little they knew their bodies during a class at Emmanuel College. The formed the group to find out more and got expert opinions from doctors. Their experiences and research became a series of essays about women’s health issues, including robust material on topics like birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, lesbianism, menstruation, and menopause. They made their essays commercially available in the form of the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which publishers still sell today.
The evolution of “The Pill”
In May of 1960, the FDA approved the first commercially produced birth control pill in the world. For the first time, women could control when and if they have children. This wasn’t widely accepted by everyone as a positive development. Some states enacted laws prohibiting people from accessing birth control.
Enter Estelle Griswold. She took it upon herself to be the voice behind the fight to disband Connecticut’s law prohibiting married couples from accessing birth control. In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, stating that prohibiting married couples from obtaining and using birth control was a violation of their privacy, which is protected by the Constitution. Eventually, this right to privacy was extended to unmarried couples as well.
These women took risks and fought to make advancements in awareness and accessibility to proper sexual health care. But there is still a long way to go. Many still don’t know about their own bodies and believe common myths regarding sexual health. And abstinence-only sex education is still very prominent in public school systems across the country.
At Pure Romance, we hear so many stories of customers loving an open and safe environment to talk about sex, pleasure, and relationships. If you’re looking for resources to learn more about sexual health, go to the Patty Brisben Foundation’s website. We’re still working to decrease stigma regarding conversations and even education about sexual health, but as long as we stick together, we can get the job done!