Sexual Chemistry


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A History of the Contraceptive Pill

Lara V. Marks

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Heralded as the catalyst of the sexual revolution and the solution to global overpopulation, the contraceptive pill was one of the twentieth century’s most important inventions. It has not only transformed the lives of millions of women but has also pushed the limits of drug monitoring and regulation across the world. This deeply-researched new history of the oral contraceptive shows how its development and use have raised crucial questions about the relationship between science, medicine, technology, and society.

Lara Marks traces the scientific origins of the pill to Europe and Mexico in the early years of the twentieth century, challenging previous accounts that championed it as a North American product. She explores the reasons why the pill took so long to be developed and explains why it did not prove to be the social panacea envisioned by its inventors. Unacceptable to the Catholic Church, rejected by countries such as India and Japan, too expensive for women in poor countries, it has, more recently, been linked to cardiovascular problems. Reviewing the positive effects of the pill, Marks shows how it has been transformed from a tool for the prevention of conception to a major weapon in the fight against cancer.

Lara V. Marks is an associate lecturer at the Open University and Visiting Senior Scholar at Cambridge University.

“This book represents scholarship of comparative modern history at its finest. . . . Based on extensive archival research in the United States and England, as well as over fifty interviews with key figures, this book is the most authoritative work to date on the history of oral contraception. . . . The book makes a genuine contribution to scholarship.”—Donald T. Critchlow, American Historical Review

“[Mark’s] book . . .will interest academics in social studies, history, medicine, and women’s studies.”—Lori Williamson, History: Reviews of New Books

“Marks has marshaled an impressive array of archival resources to put together the most complete history of the oral contraceptive to date.”—Journal of the History of Biology

“A comprehensive account of the origins and fortunes of a 20th century landmark: the Pill. . . . A rich, multifaceted, sometimes confusing story—but Marks tells it well, yielding a solid work of social and technological history.”—Kirkus Reviews

"What Marks does in this important book is to place the scientific development of the pill, together with its economic and regulatory dimensions, in a much-needed international perspective. . . . Clear and convincing. . . . [Marks] significantly changes our understanding of the pill's development and diffusion. . . . Marks's extensive research and numerous interviews with participants in the development of the pill are impressive. She offers a nuanced analysis."—Susan E. Lederer, Medical History

Sexual Chemistry is bound to attract attention, if only because of its title. Lara Marks . . . has produced a history worthy of that attention. Tracing the roots of the Pill to Europe and then to Mexico, she examines the questions and issues that have surrounded oral contraception and its role in contemporary society. In her thoroughly researched and documented, evenhanded work, she finds that the Pill more than lived up to some expectations, but failed to meet others.”—Mary Hager, National Journal

“Marks has produced a beautifully written, definitive history of the oral contraceptive pill. Every possible aspect of its development has been considered, ranging from the global population perspective to the impact of the pill on the lives of individual women. . . . [A] masterpiece. . . . The book is an invaluable reference source.”—Michael Gilmer, Nature

“The story of the pill . . . told in absorbing detail and from an international perspective.”—Daniel J. Kevles, New York Times Book Review

“Extensively researched and clearly written, this book will be essential reading in the fields of women’s studies and in the history of science.”—Publishers Weekly

“This well-researched, wide-ranging and highly readable book will deservedly become the definitive study of the subject for the foreseeable future. . . . Skillfully combining medical, social and feminist history, Sexual Chemistry is a model study of the impact, of one of the fundamental pharmacological innovations of the previous century.”—Roy Porter, Times Higher Education Supplement

“Lara Marks . . . places the history of the pill in a rich context that considers sexual customs, religious attitudes, and government support for family planning.”—Londa Schiebinger, Science

“Mark’s research, partly based on new primary sources and oral interviews with key figures in the pill’s history, yields an academic history with popular aspirations.”—SciTech Book News

Sexual Chemistry is the most balanced and complete history of the contraceptive pill currently in print. It is the only book to take the story of the pill outside of North America and place it in a fully international context. The book is very well written and highly readable. It would be very suitable for graduate and undergraduate courses in the history of biology, history of medicine, and women’s studies.”—Heather Munro Prescott, The Quarterly Review of Biology

“[T]he sheer breadth of her research alerts us to the ways in which the pill has radically redefined our most private acts and choices.”—Chris Lehmann, Washington Post Book World

“The book includes much about how social, cultural and religious factors operated in the history of planning, testing and marketing the pill, and I recommend it both for classroom use and to those who know much of the story but are always interested in more.”—Women’s Health Activist

Chosen as an "Outstanding" title in the year 2003 by University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries
ISBN: 9780300167917
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
416 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
17 b/w in unfolio'd gallery
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