During these years, the legitimacy of the use of fertility regulation methods was discussed in the public arena only in the context of marriage. Indeed, in an attempt to avert the specter of sexual license, the terminology used by advocates attempted to stress this point. Even Margaret Sanger, the editor of the Woman Rebel and the founder of the American Birth Control League, renamed her organization the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and in some common parlance, family planning and planned parenthood became terms often used interchangeably. Both terms, by inference at least, assumed sexual activity to occur only between married monogamous persons jointly establishing a family and planning the birth and spacing of their children.
At the same time, however, sexual and family mores were undergoing fundamental change with the gradual postponement of the age of marriage, the increased incidence of cohabitation outside of marriage, as well as steep increases in rates of marital disruption and divorce. The corollaries of these trends were substantial increases in the length of the interval between the initiation of sexual activity and marriage (now an average of 10 years among young men and 7 years for young women) as well as more sexual activity occurring outside of marriage. Under these circumstances, the use of family planning methods to prevent unwanted conceptions acquired a euphemistic connotation, when the purpose of using contraception was far removed from the desire to plan one's family but rather the purpose was to avoid starting a family at all. These developments were accompanied in many of the mainline Protestant and Reform Jewish organizations by an examination or re-examination of the essential nature of relationships—marital or otherwise—with the emphasis on the morality of sexual relationships shifting somewhat from a strict prohibition of all intercourse outside of a religiously sanctioned marriage, to the importance of such relationships being non-exploitative and being based on a commitment between equal partners to mutual support and growth.
The Catholic Church and a number of fundamentalist Protestant churches continue to maintain that any sexual activity outside the bounds of a properly sanctified marriage is by definition impermissible and sinful. Moreover, as the involvement of fundamentalist churches in the political process has grown over the last two decades, their views on sexual morality have come to exert a potent influence on the direction of public policy. It is important to note, however, that their members are not normally opposed, in principle, to the use of contraception or contraceptive sterilization within the confines of marriage; however, their opposition to the provision of contraceptive services to unmarried individuals (particularly teenagers), to school-based sex education including instruction on contraception, and to abortion has been strenuous. Although many Catholics ignore their church's admonitions regarding sexual morality, including the use of contraception, sterilization, and abortion, many members of Protestant