The Other Americans: Sexual Variance in the National Past

The Other Americans: Sexual Variance in the National Past

The Other Americans: Sexual Variance in the National Past

The Other Americans: Sexual Variance in the National Past

Synopsis

This is a combination of essays from several disciplines with incisive commentary by the editor. This volume provides a unique perspective on sexual variance as a dimension of the larger social history of the United States.

Excerpt

Properly perhaps, historical consideration of sexual deviation on this continent should begin with the New World's European explorers. Whatever the Christian mandates and sexual mores on the continent, and they were loosely applied in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they were less effective in the opening of the New World. Thus even as Columbus' crew was planting the cross on an island in the Bahamas, members of that crew also set out to sample the sexual charms of the natives, by force if need be. The cost to Europe of those infractions, the wages of sin, as it were, came high as Alfred Crosby has documented (The Columbian Exchange . . ., 1972: See Bibliography Cit., Chapter 4). Sexually transmitted syphilis was introduced onto the continent and in limited time a deadly epidemic ensued.

This volume proposes to begin, even if somewhat arbitrarily, with the permanent British settlements of North America. Despite diversity in other aspects of lifestyle, there was in these colonies essential agreement on what was and what was not proper expression of sexuality. The consensus held that marriage was a sexual union. Coital capacity was a gift from God and therefore could not be evil or sinful per se. Contrary to assertions in the nineteenth century, female desire was a reality. Sexual intercourse inside marriage was supposed to be pleasurable for both parties. The hopeful outcome of the sex act was procreation of children. Yet even married partners were cautioned that the level of such activity must be in moderation. Overindulgence or excess was harmful and led to a variety of bodily ills including premature death.

Hardly had God's order been established, however, than signs of backsliding began to appear. Response of the colonists to sexual deviance was quick and, at least in theory, harsh. Behind that zeal and fueling it was a clear understanding as well as mandate that the state play a significant role in the regulation of personal life. Through their response to sexual transgressions colonists reaffirmed the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Retribution served the larger function also of reminding the community that sexuality belonged within marriage and its purpose was procreation. Gender tended to shape reaction to specific deviance. Sodomy and . . .

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