More people today are sexually active before marriage than ever before. The true reasons are practical and have little to do with changing belief systems.
In America a century ago, only a small minority of women were sexually active before marriage (about 11 percent, 1) compared to a large majority today. The same pattern is observed in other developed countries.
Why are women in developed countries more sexually active before marriage? A long list of practical explanations cut across all belief systems:
With wider use of effective contraceptives, young women do not fear unwanted pregnancy so much as earlier generations did.
The key event here was the widespread adoption of the contraceptive pill in the early 1970s. Because this was highly effective and female-controlled, it took away most of the anxiety about unwanted pregnancy.
Reduced Parental Supervision
Teens are less supervised after school if both parents work full time and may take advantage of this opportunity for sexual activity. Increased enrollment in higher education means that a lot of young women live apart from their families in an environment that encourages sexual expression. This is in marked contrast to sexually restrictive societies where young single women are heavily chaperoned by relatives.
Earlier Sexual Maturation of Women and Later Age of Marriage
In the 1860’s, women did not mature reproductively until the age of 16 years, compared to 11-12 years today (2). First marriages are later today also, with European women postponing matrimony until the age of about 29. So there is a very long interval of about 10-20 years between puberty and marriage during which complete sexual abstinence is unlikely.
More Women in the Work Force
As more women enter paid employment and careers, they spend more time preparing for the workforce through third-level education. So the number of single never-married young women is on the rise. Most of these women are sexually active.