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For the first time the mass of ordinary women had a reliable contraceptive about which there was no need to feel squeamish or embarrassed.For the first time they had complete control over their fertility.But there is little doubt that in the course of one generation, sexual behaviour and ­attitudes underwent a tremendous change.Sex was no longer a private expression of intimacy between husband and wife but the ultimate form of recreation.It sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Britain and spent a stunning 70 weeks in the American bestseller list between 19.It is impossible to know how many people ­actually followed Comfort’s recommendations, or indeed how many read the book for titillation rather than instruction.

A new kind of sex manual appeared, emphasising pleasure rather than procreation, gratification rather than reproduction.Before the early Seventies, having sex had immense emotional, economic and symbolic weight attached to it because to sleep with another person was tantamount to choosing them as a life partner.In the kitchen-sink plays and novels of the early Sixties, such as A Kind Of Loving and A Taste Of Honey, as in real life, having sex was literally life-changing when the girls got pregnant and an unhappy marriage was the only option.Perhaps more importantly, by the mid-Seventies, the majority of young women were doing so before they were married.As late as 1963 two-thirds of the population said they believed sex before marriage was immoral.

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