“I don’t confess that I take the Pill,” said one Catholic mother after the Vatican reaffirmed its doctrine against the use of birth control, “because I don’t believe it is a sin.” Within five years, 6 million American women were on the Pill. The true warriors in that revolution were young, single women, who, with the help of this new contraception, took their sexuality into their own hands.

With one quick visit to a doctor, a woman immediately gained sole and exclusive power over her fertility, a power that had eluded her sex since . If not for women’s self-determined sexual liberation, the sexual revolution might have been another unremarkable episode in the long and varied sexual history of humankind.

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In 1965, the Supreme Court ruled Connecticut’s 1879 anti-contraception statute—originally written by circus impresario P. Seven years later, the Supreme Court effectively extended the right to obtain birth control to unmarried men and women, in Eisenstadt v. In that case, the state of Massachusetts had charged William Baird with a felony for giving away vaginal foam to an unmarried college student who attended one of his lectures on birth control and overpopulation. Brennan, Jr., wrote in his opinion for the court: “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision to whether to bear or beget a child.” Those who hoped to preserve the pre-Pill cultural norms now had only the power of persuasion at their service. The rapidity of change in women’s sexual behavior was dizzying, and it suggests how much the old order had been preserved by cultural coercion rather than willing consent.

In the 1950s, six in ten women were virgins at marriage and 87 percent of American women believed that it was wrong for a woman to engage in premarital sex, even with “a man she is going to marry.” By the time girls born during the sexual revolution came of age, the double standard— in practice, if not exactly in the minds of teenage boys—had been obliterated.

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As Americans settled into the new normal of open heterosexual sexuality, even more profound changes were afoot.

The Pill allowed American women to delay marriage and motherhood, while remaining sexually active.

At the high noon of fifties traditionalism, 40 percent of women had sex before they married—compared to just 10 percent who did in the reputedly Roaring Twenties.

Yet sex before marriage, like any act of civil disobedience, entailed risk.

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