Many people forget (and many more are too young to remember) how radically the introduction of the birth-control pill changed popular thinking and altered our approach to sexuality.

Not long ago, moral leaders of every description condemned contraception and agreed that if the practice ever became widespread it would inevitably lead to disaster.

Consider, for example, the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “There is hope for a decent life only so long as the sexual act is definitely related to the conception of precious life.”

Or listen to Sigmund Freud: “Moreover, it is a characteristic common to all perversions that in them reproduction is put aside as an aim. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse–it departs from reproduction as its aim and pursues the attainment of gratification independently.”

In 1930, when the leaders of the Church of England broke from the previously universal Christian consensus and allowed for the use of contraceptives, an editorial in The Washington Post lamented that the move “would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality.”

Gandhi, Freud and The Washington Post were obviously not promoting a “Catholic” or “Christian” position. Their opposition to contraception was based on a simple, age-old understanding of human nature. In the 1960s Americans ignored such warnings and plunged headlong into the sexual revolution. Now, with the casualties of that revolution visible all around us, are we still foolish enough to believe that this generation understands human nature–and in particular human sexuality–better than all its predecessors?

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