I grew up in the sixties, and first noticed that girls weren't icky about 1971. But I could read by age three, and I read everything. I remember a lot of it too. Things were different back then, and I think a look back at thirty to forty years ago might provide some perpective on how far things have come.
The sexual revolution really began in the late 1960's with the invention of the pill. Sex education was something for girls and was there mostly because puberty meant menstruation. Reasonably effective contraception existed before birth control pills; such as condoms, the diaphragm, but they were complex and expensive. Rubbers were kept behind the counter. If you could get the guy to wear one. Diaphagms require a custom fit, a case, and then must be removed a fixed period of time after sex. More importantly, they had to be inserted at a known time before sex, and on site. In many cases, doctors refused fit a single woman for a diaphragm. The rhythm method is far more effective at starting pregnancy than preventing it. The pill was the first contraceptive that truly freed women to make their own sexual choices. One simple pill per day, and you were free.
In addition, the sixties was a period of enormous social upheaval. The Vietnam War led many to openly question all authorities wisdom on many topics beside the war. The Civil Rights movement led many Americans to seriously question America's conventions. Feminism was moving into the American mainstream. Instead of repeating the cry, "Good Girls Don't" feminists like Germaine Greer began encouraging female promiscuity as an act of rebellion.
But while laws may change quickly, the attitudes of the society that passes them often move more slowly. They are integral to said culture, reinforced in both subtle and indirect ways. Throughout the seventies and early eighties, the prevailing cultural mores taught that good girls don't. Women who slept around were referred to as "rips" and "sluts". Guys wanted to go out with them, at least until their virginity was gone. Or when they were drunk. But nobody would consider marrying such a woman.
I remember one story about a couple in Italy. A woman had turned down one man's marriage proposal. So he raped her. This was a semi-accepted practice at the time for rejected suitors. The idea was, that with her virginity taken, she would have no choice but to accept his proposal. The fact that such a backward custom could persist into the late 1960's indicates just how strong the proscription on female premarital sex was. In many cultures, including American culture, it was not unheard of for a boy to leave his girlfriend, on the grounds that she was no longer a virgin, even though he was the person who had taken her. So the Italian rapist had a reasonable expectation that after rape she would agree to marry him. Instead she chose to press charges. Her decision set a precedent, and it says much about the mores of the day that his prosecution made international headlines.
The sex manuals of the day were known as "marriage manuals". I devoured every one that fell into my pre-pubescent hands. They stressed the importance of simultaneous orgasm as the absolute height of marital bliss. Multiple orgasms were not mentioned. Neither was oral sex. My mother was not comfortable discussing sex with me, so she bought me a book. The author mentioned masturbation but discouraged it. Sex was described with clinical precision, but somehow I didn't really get what pelvic thrusts meant until I learned to dry hump.
Of course oral sex and multiple orgasms were not discovered in the 1970's. There are stories of cowboys visting the brothel, and asking for a "french". But they were 'below the radar'. While John Cleland's erotic classic Fanny Hill includes both lesbianism and male homosexuality, not one character ever engages in oral sex. These were taboo subjects, matters not to be discussed. It really wasn't until The Joy of Sex and The Sensuous Woman became best sellers that oral sex became part of the American mainstream. The Kama Sutra was regarded as an important sex manual, which it is not, as was the Arabic The Perfumed Garden. Nice girls didn't suck, much less swallow. And men often did not know of cunnilingus, to the detriment of all.
Sex education was also new in the late 1960s. Women were given more education than boys, partly because menstruation was a topic that could not be avoided. I remember one day when all the boys were sent outside to play so the girls could watch "a film". My mother's health teacher was absent the entire time that sex was taught. Twenty years later she taught the girls at my high school, and once again missed the entire week. This meant that a substitute was responsible for explaining sex to high school girls. Menstruation was never mentioned to boys. Men were expected to know nothing whatsoever about the operation of the female reproductive system yet as husbands and lovers we deal with our partner's problems for our entire lives.
By the mid-1970's, when I was in high school these mores were starting to change. By the time I graduated, many of my schoolmates were no longer virgins. But girls had sex only with very serious boyfriends, almost never casually. Nobody really wanted to be the boyfriend of a girl who would do "that". My first girlfriend in college reserved herself for "true love", which she and I did not enjoy. Again this was common, and people started sex much later than is common today. The schools began to discuss contraception and venereal disease as a matter of course. These matters remain controversial today. Many Christian and other religious fundamentalists believe that any mention of sex encourages it.
A woman today has the right to make her own sexual choices. Her choices may include polyamory, or serial monogamy but she may choose as she will with a reasonable expectation that she may do so and still retain a choice of quality suitors. In the 1960's boys were supposed to sleep around as much as possible, but settle down immediately once we found the right virgin. The sexual double-standard explains why nymphomaniacs were so prized in magazines like Playboy. Anal sex, almost unheard of in my youth, has almost joined the mainstream.
Of course the past was neither as pure, or the present as liberated, as we might imagine. Puritan girls often married after conception, and the shotgun wedding is an old tradition. There were always homes for "wayward girls" and a girl who became pregnant was often sent to another community to carry and deliver the child, so she could avoid shame. In many ways these social prejuidices, unfair as they were, were useful as they discouraged unwanted pregnancies. But they came at the price of social cruelty, a burden borne primarily by women. Abortion did not begin with Roe vs. Wade. An elderly woman I knew turned out to be a walking encyclopedia on the techniques of illegal abortion. If legal abortion is banned, that knowledge will spread again. No one can end abortion, but they can and will kill and mutilate women who choose it.
It is also important to remember that people married younger years ago. I have interviewed a number of elderly women who told me they married before they were eighteen. Fifteen was not an uncommon age for a girl. Boys married later, which isn't unexpected considering their later development and the fact that they were supposed to have a reasonable income before marriage. Establishing a career before family is a wise practice today. The fact that coupling happens for many people well into their twenties (or later) might be one reason for the change. It is reasonable to ask people to wait a while before sex, but not a decade. Prejuidice against gays remains virulent, though at least they can live openly, and with President Obama's embrace of gay marriage there is hope that taboo may finally die out. Today many people do not choose to enjoy casual sex. Almost everyone still wishes to settle down into a monogamous marriage. The desire to form a family remains extremely strong.
The world has changed a lot since my boyhood. Frankly, I think all these changes are for the better. The past is often glorified, its faults pasted over. I hope that this writeup will remind younger noders how much things have changed in the past decades.