«Sexual Revolution in Early America» - Free Essay Paper
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The main point of this chapter is Puritans’ attitude towards sex. The author identifies the important role of lovemaking in life and compares Puritan’s vision with the one promoted by Catholics.
Puritans did not view sex as a sin or something evil. On the contrary, they believed that it was an essential part of marriage. Both Catholics and Puritans were against sexual affairs before wedlock. The latter had a very strict position about that and stated that a person should not have any sex until he/she got married. However, Puritan’s idea concerning conjugal sexual relationships was absolutely different from the one taught by the Catholic Church. Puritans viewed marital sex as an expression of love between a husband and a wife. Moreover, in their opinion, the perfect marriage was the one where both spouses experienced passion for each other. Private correspondence, represented by sensual letters written by Puritan husbands to their wives, proves that physical desire played a significant role in their marriages. For example, John Winthrop sent dozens of letters to his wife Margaret, in which he wrote: “It is now bed time; but I must lie alone; therefore, I make less haste. Yet I must kiss my sweet wife.” John received similar answers to from his woman: “I shall long for that happy hour when I shall see you and enjoy my sweet and dear husband.” (Godbeer 57) Other Puritans used even more extravagant language to show their erotic feelings.
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Puritans believed that making love within marriage should be performed at a good will, with delight, and cheerfully. Both spouses should reach orgasm during lovemaking. If a man could not provide sexual satisfaction to his wife, it could be a reasonable ground for divorce. Puritans believed that sex was vital for wedlock and it was not viewed only as means of giving life to an offspring. They did not separate sexual relations from marriage; for them it was an essential part of the right and God-blessed union.
During the early colonial period, the southern states of America were far from the norms of true Christian behavior. For the colonists, polygamy became common and marriage was not a necessity. They lived in a state of nature, where everybody could swop their woman or man and it was not considered something immoral.
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In North America colonies, polygamy was also widespread, but in that region the authority of magistrate and minister was very limited or it was absent at all. Southern colonies had more time to establish wedlock-centered sexual culture, but they failed to do that. Marriage as a legal evidence of union was considered by colonists as necessary means to live together or to have sexual relations. The common polygamy could be explained by the fact that male colonists outnumbered females by six to one. In such conditions, it was really hard for a man to find a wife. As a result, many European immigrants involved themselves with Indian women. The cases of sex between men were also not exceptional. Servants often became victims of their masters. For example, William Couse who was an attendant claimed to have been raped by his captain Richard Cornish aboard the Ambrose ship. (Godbeer 123)
Another reason for monogamy in colonies was the debt that new settlers had to clear in order to arrive in the New World. The majority of new residents did not have money to pay for their transportation to the American colony. Consequently, they made contracts, which constrained them to work as servants for several years until their financial obligation was met. The attendants could not marry of their own will, only the masters allowed them to do that. Sometimes owners sold women to others who made female servants wed them (Godbeer 125). Furthermore, those young people who were denied marriage while spending several years on service did not rush into wedlock after becoming free. These former attendants no longer felt sense in conjugal bonds and lived together as a man and a woman without obeying formalities prescribed by the church.
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By the middle of the eighteenth century, different types of stories, poems, and other works were published in the American colonies; they criticized both women and men as deceivers and manipulators. Initially, it was done by female writers who tried in this way to protect the naïve girls by preventing them from sexual intimacy with men before marriage. Later, male authors started to describe young females as sly and mischievous.
During the second half of the eighteenth century, local magazines and newspapers started publishing stories about the danger that young women faced if they were sexually active before marriage. Periodicals wrote narratives about the girls who trusted their lovers and were often betrayed once the young males received what they wanted. The women were left alone and had to bear the consequences. Moreover, family and society turned away from such ladies and their lives were ruined. The Massachusetts Magazine wrote in November 1791: “…they ended their broken lives as penniless vagrants, sometimes completing their degradation by turning to prostitution” (Godbeer 268). Most of these periodicals portrayed a woman as a victim who was deceived by a villainous man.
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In a short time, the male writers started publishing works in which they first tried to explain such a men’s behavior and later they even accused females of playing the game of fraud and deception. William Byrd was one of those who criticized women for their courtship conduct. He said that they used dresses and appearance to seduce men and make those marry them (Godbeer 270). As a result, when males discovered the real image of the lady after the wedding, they became disappointed. In this way, Byrd explained the behavior of the men who did not want to be wed with women after having sexual intimacy with them. He stated that females were the first ones to start the game of fraud and males had nothing left but to accept the challenge of playing it.
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