7 Strange Facts About What Intimacy Was Like in Revolutionary America

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I’m guessing you probably haven’t given much thought to what people’s sex lives might have been like back when the Puritans settled America. I mean, they were Puritans, so it must have been…puritanical? Of course, we know they had sex (even if it wasn’t acceptable to speak about it) because they managed to do a darn fine job populating the nation, even before immigration really exploded in the nineteenth century.

But what was it like, you’re now wondering? Well, I’ll tell you – because even if they didn’t speak about it, they sometimes wrote about it. And if not, well…there’s always speculation!

#7. Weddings weren’t a big deal, which made getting “married” in order to get laid even more appealing.

We know that super religious folks today (a la the Duggar family) still have brief courtships and fast marriages because, well…they’re young people in love, and they don’t believe they can have sex until they tie the knot. Well, maybe we should bring back common law marriage!

It helped that during the colonial period, weddings were just two people holding hands and promising to love and be faithful to each other, not the fifty thousand dollar shindigs that we indulge in today. So, maybe only a handful of people (if anyone) even knew you’d done it…but, hey, you were common law married, so sex was cool!

Even better? There were no legal records or documents, and therefore nothing to nullify if one or both of the partners decided they’d lost interest after consummation. Though social stigmatization was a just a bit fiercer…

#6. Prostitutes weren’t that easy to come by.

The movies always make it seem like a hooker can be found no matter the time and place, but the lack of women combined with the Puritan beliefs of Colonial American meant that, though they existed, prostitutes were not readily available – at least, not before the mid 1700s. If you lived in a city, maybe you’d have a better shot.

#5. Benjamin Franklin wrote advice on how to find a mistress (among other things).

We’ve talked about this before, in the context of his not-so-feminist views on how to treat and speak about the women he hoped to sleep with, but the fact that he openly discussed not only sex, but extramarital sex, is a good clue as to the social acceptability of mistresses. It seems that – at least in a certain strata of society – sex outside marriage was relatively commonplace (if not spoken about in mixed company).

#4. Homosexuality happened.

I mean, since it’s been happening in every society since people started writing things down and gossiping in general, this one is a big duh. Even though Christianity frowns upon the practice, the fact that there were far more men in the colonies than women, and, you know, the more pertinent fact that some men prefer to have sex with other men, meant that the practice was fairly commonplace.

#3. Non-consensual affairs.

Old Thomas Jefferson might deserve credit for founding a country, but, in his mind, it was surely done for white, rich men and no one else. He proved again and again his lack of respect for both women and people of color – in fact, he raped and fathered children with one of his longtime slaves, Sally Hemings.

Say it with me: a relationship without a balance of power cannot be consensual, my friends. It wasn’t a relationship. It wasn’t an affair. It. Was. Rape.

#2. What? No sex shops?

Not to say they weren’t lurking back rooms somewhere (and people most like used toys of some sort in the privacy of their homes), but there is actually no record of any such shops whatsoever in Colonial America.

#1. Your parents might sew you into a burlap sack.

You’re probably not surprised that the Puritan founders of our country frowned upon premarital sex, but you might be surprised to learn how far they went to try to prevent it. The practice of bundling was when one half of a betrothed couple was sewn into a burlap sack so that they could stay under one roof without getting frisky. Other families tried different tacts, like putting a board between the two even if they were allowed to share a bed (for warmth?) – but, let’s be real, that’s not gonna discourage horny kids from getting it on. In fact, an estimated 1 in 3 brides was expecting during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Not exactly Colonial America, but it gives you an idea.

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