The Chemistry Behind the Sexual Revolution

Women have worked hard for recognition and independence since 1913. That year, Emily Davison entered the race track of the Epsom Derby - one of the most important sporting events in the United Kingdom, since 1780 - and was run over by the horse Anmer (owned by King George V).


She tried to put on the horse a flag with the colors and the logo of the Social Union and Women's Politics, to support the struggle for women's suffrage.


From the streets to the laboratory


Accepting that reality, that women are crucial agents of society, and that they deserve the same fundamental rights as men - as Mary Wollstonecraft said in the Vindication of Women's Rights (1792) - was not fast.


• Finland was the first European country to approve the female vote (1906).

• Russia established it after its revolution in 1917, during the provisional government of the republic.

• The United Kingdom granted equal suffrage until 1928.

• India guaranteed equal voting rights after its independence.


The great changes in the matter of votes, labour equality, rights and sexuality were consolidated until the second half of the 20th century. And in this last field (sexuality), one of the most important contributions came from the Mexican chemist Luis Ernesto Miramontes Cárdenas.


Since his death (in 2004) he was recognized as the most outgoing graduate of the Faculty of Chemistry of the National Autonomous University of Mexico; one of the five most important Latin American researchers in history; And one of the chemical engineers that changed the world.


Today, a modern woman, who has the same job opportunities as her work counterparts, with the freedom to make decisions about her motherhood and sexuality, owes to the work of this chemical engineer in 1951, and that of his colleagues: George Rosenkrantz and Carl Djerassi.


It is considered one of the greatest Mexican contributions to the world of science, and the twentieth most important invention of the times (by The Engineering and Technology Board of the United Kingdom).


Miramontes was only 26 years old when he synthesized the Noresthisterone 5mg tablets: the base active compound that was the genesis of the contraceptive pills. The impact was slow; In fact, Rosenkrantz tried to sell the discovery of his team in Europe, without much success, due to religious fears.


Eventually, women's rights activism changed that story, and it even put it on the cover of Time magazine in April 1967. For the first time, women had unprecedented control over their fertility. Some argue that the invention of Miramontes was key to consolidating the economic role of women in the world.


One might argue that this has made the pill the greatest ever force for sustainability there ever was - and chemical engineers were at the heart of this development.


There are acts that, in principle, do not say much; in the long-term ... wow! The feat of Emily Davidson is one of the most representative events of women's liberation, like the Noresthisterone 5mg tablets of Luis Miramontes. Both cases, together with other milestones of the 20th century, have resulted in a better space for women.


For example, the General Assembly of the United Nations established the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):


1. Protection against discrimination, sexual stereotypes and human trafficking.

2. Rights in the public sphere, with emphasis on political activity, representation and nationalization rights.

3. Economic and social rights, especially in education, health and employment.

4. Right to equality in marriage, in family life and before the law.


In short, the contribution of Miramontes, Rosenkrantz and Djerassi is a great force of sustainability that opened the doors to many women to be active protagonists of society.


It gave control to women of their own bodies. This helped greatly to empower and position women as citizens with a voice. In a time that was greatly dominated by men, birth control, was the representation of independence and control upon their own lives.


It also comes during the well-known feminist revolution of the 60s, the bra-burning era when women marched through the streets of mayor cities around the world, pressuring society and governments to give equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunities for both sexes.


There still is a long way to go regarding gender equality. But the invention of  the contraceptive pill has helped greatly in stablishing the foundation of the sexual revolution.