Meet the new Committee member: Kristin Hay

Hello everyone! My name is Kristin Hay and I am delighted to introduce yourself as the newest committee member of PGRNS. I am a final year PhD student at the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, studying the history of birth control practices in Scotland between 1960 and 1980. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my research and experience of doing my PhD, as well as my motivation for joining the committee playing a small role in shaping what the wonderful PGRNS community will be in the following year!

Like other contributors to our blog, my journey to conducting research focused on gender has been highly personal and experiential. Years ago, on a dreary day not unlike the weather at the time of writing, I was a young student looking to refill my prescription for the oral contraceptive, Rigevidon. I had been on the pill for some time, and to say that it had taken a toll on me mentally and physically would be an understatement. I walked up to my local clinic and asked for my repeat prescription, only to be told that I had an outstanding check-up and could not get my prescription. When I asked if I would be able to get a packet to see me through until my check-up, the receptionist scoffed at me and proceeded to tell me – laughing and in a condescending tone – that I would ‘just have to use condoms.’ At the time, I remember feeling so embarrassed, confused, and annoyed. This person had no idea why I used oral contraceptives, nor did they realise or appreciate the toll it would take on my body to suddenly stop taking them. It irritated me so much that they assumed condoms and the pill were interchangeable – they couldn’t have been more different! Little did I know at the time, but this would set off a chain reaction of events which would lead me to becoming a historian of sex, gender and medicine – and a researcher in reproductive health and rights.

white medication pill blister package

The oral contraceptive pill was first introduced to the National Health Service in 1961. By 1964, around 480 000 women were taking one of the fifteen brands of oral contraceptives available, each offering their own balance of progestogen and oestrogen to prevent conception. [1] Initially, the pill was only given to married women for medical purposes – to regulate periods or to prevent a medically-dangerous pregnancy. However, from 1968, women in Britain were able to access oral contraceptives for free on the NHS, regardless of marital status and for social as well as medical reasons. With the NHS Reorganisation Act of 1974, family planning was formally enshrined into the NHS, having previously been organised through the charity sector by organisations such as the Family Planning Association and the Brook Advisory Services.  From 1975, GPs could also prescribe contraception, encouraged by generous remuneration, and so by that point, women could also choose to obtain their contraceptives either via an NHS family planning clinic, or their local family doctor. The history of birth control in Scotland is one of public health: an acknowledgement that family planning was central to the wellbeing of modern society. Yet, it was also mired in controversy due to its inextricable relationship with sex which became heightened as birth control became increasingly available for the unmarried – in particular unmarried women. The ability for unmarried women to separate sex from pregnancy and marriage created a backlash against so-called ‘permissive society’, and as legislative barriers to reproductive autonomy dissolved, cultural barriers towards the use of birth control remained.

 My research examines the intersection between sex, gender and medicine through the lens of birth control. It looks at how everyday men and women, learned about, accessed and accepted birth control practices and the impact it had on their lives and on wider society from the advent of the oral contraceptive pill to the AIDS crisis. Gender plays a central role in my research: it identifies who was responsible for contraception and who was not, whose sexual promiscuity was condoned and whose wasn’t, and the extent to which a universal ‘sexual revolution’ took place during the 1960s in Scotland. The pill – as a biomedical, women-controlled contraceptive – emphasised the gendered power dynamics at play within medical systems and settings, and the ways in which women’s reproductive autonomy is limited by patriarchal and professional authority [2]. Utilising oral history, my research amplifies experiences of gender inequality in medicine through the lens of reproductive justice: defined by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger as ‘the right to have, not have and to parent children’ and to have access to facilities that enable them to enact their reproductive autonomy. [3] In doing so, I hope to highlight the similarities and differences between the past and the present, and to highlight the ongoing stigma attached to sexual and reproductive health which continues to impact access to contraception, abortion and sexual health today.

Like anyone starting their PhD in 2018, I don’t think anyone (even a historian of medicine!) could have imagined what the past 18 months would bring. Doing a thesis during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge. It forced me to look at my mental and physical health in ways that I had previously neglected and I was quick to recognise the unhealthy and unsustainable habits I had picked up along the way: my unhealthy working practices, my non-existent work-life balance, my perfectionism. I couldn’t work the way I was used to; I couldn’t produce the way that I was used to and that was terrifying to me. I couldn’t do my research! Although tiny, trivial matters in the context of a Literal Pandemic, they were the apex of my crises of confidence during Covid-19. In many ways, realising how much that impacted me helped me to see that things needed to change and that I, like so many others in the PGR community, had to be kinder to myself and give myself the time and energy I give willingly to my research.

I hope that during my time on the Committee I will be able to reflect on the issues which have been raised by Covid-19 which has directly impacted PGRs – we’ve lost research time, writing time, work, networking opportunities and a strong sense of community during these past 18 months. Doing a postgraduate degree is difficult at the best of times, and recent years have been so tough. I hope that by being on the Committee at PGRNS – with its flourishing, active, collaborative and impassioned community – I will be able to promote PGR wellbeing and play a small role in reconnecting us all together. I can’t wait to learn even more about the amazing and innovative gender research which is happening in Scotland by early career researchers, and I am so excited to hopefully meet some of you (in-person!) very soon.

If you have ideas and suggestions on what the PGRNS Committee can do to support you, please feel free to email us at

Twitter: @kristinwh0


[1] H. Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex and Contraception (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

[2] E.S. Watkins, On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives, 1950-1970 Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). It is important to note that while the oral contraceptive pill was recognised for being the first women-controlled contraceptive, it was – and is – also utilised by trans men and non-binary persons, and their experiences are often obscured in reproductive health research.

[3] L. Ross, R. Solinger, Reproductive Justice: An introduction (California: University of California Press, 2017)

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