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Access to birth control was considered a means to women's independence, and leading birth-control activists also embraced free love.Sexual radicals remained focused on their attempts to uphold a woman's right to control her body and to freely discuss issues such as contraception, marital-sex abuse (emotional and physical), and sexual education.In 1855, free love advocate Mary Gove Nichols (1810–1884) described marriage as the "annihilation of woman," explaining that women were considered to be men's property in law and public sentiment, making it possible for tyrannical men to deprive their wives of all freedom.For example, the law often allowed a husband to beat his wife.The Cathars and similar groups (the Waldenses, Apostle brothers, Beghards and Beguines, Lollards, and Hussites) were branded as heretics by the Roman Catholic Church and suppressed.

Much of the free love tradition reflects a liberal philosophy that seeks freedom from state regulation and church interference in personal relationships.One folk story from the period that contains a mention of a free-love (and nudist) community under the sea is "The Tale of Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman" from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (c. Typical of such movements, the Cathars of 10th to 14th century Western Europe freed followers from all moral prohibition and religious obligation, but respected those who lived simply, avoided the taking of human or animal life, and were celibate.Women had an uncommon equality and autonomy, even as religious leaders.At the turn of the 20th century, some free-love proponents extended the critique of marriage to argue that marriage as a social institution encourages emotional possessiveness and psychological enslavement.The history of free love is entwined with the history of feminism.

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