Today’s American culture of sexuality and morality seemed to find inheritance during the colonial era, where everyone viewed sex as harmless, and an intimate expression of love and affection. During those times, premarital sex and other sexual activities were not considered immoral by the majority except of Puritans, which, they viewed sex as holy and should be practiced inside the bond of marriage. Though, the sexual practices may sound immoral, yet, it was within the bounds of normality in the face of deviant sexual values which was described by Godbeer as abhorrent behavior.1 Evelyn Blockwood2 partly gives us a hint of this abhorrent behavior although it was quite narrow compared to how Godbeer described these values. Blockwood, in her article presented deviant sexual practices such as divorce, homosexuality, premarital and extramarital sex, which the early Native Americans permitted within the context of their own culture. On the other hand, this kind of behavior had challenged the Puritans to take their part to control or at least minimize the seemingly immoral practices of the people of that time.
During the colonial era, it was quite obvious that the dominant sexual value of the Anglo-American seemed to be liberal. Godbeer mentioned in his book some stories, which he used as examples of a deviant sexual behavior of the people of that time; he pointed out that pre-marital sex was common and the popular perception was that there was nothing wrong with it, if the man and woman fully interested to become husband and wife.This sexual value is reflected in some of Shakespeare work particularly in the play ‘Measure for Measure,’ which portrays the moral conduct of society at the time. The drama unfolds in a city where people have long been living in immorality.
Brothel, Bawds and other flesh reducing business thrives and residents enjoy the pleasure of the flesh without of reprisal. The cast of the play involves the duke who rules the city and he wanted to implement sexual reforms but fear his own refutation might suffer. So, he appointed Angelo as his deputy. He was a deeply religious man empowered to execute ruthless reform. He did his job well but at the end of the drama, he subsequently fell in his own lust of the flesh. The play unveils two things: First, the general perception that there was nothing wrong with pre-marital sex; and second, the weakness of men to abstain from sexual desire that even the deeply religious man cannot firmly control his own lust.3The seventeenth century novel entitled the Idle of Pines revealed the dominant sexual values of the colonial era.
It tells of a young man named George Pine who was shipwrecked on an island with four women. Two were servants, a fourteen year-old daughter of his master, and a Negro slave named Philippa. After months of living in the island, George persuades the two servants to have sex with him, initially in private. Later, they were doing it openly. Soon, the young girl joined them. George had no problem sleeping with any of the girls any time.
But he could not stomach the Negro slave. The story ends with George having twelve children with Philippa.4.
What the story tells about was that, man will set aside all his inhibition to fulfill his own lust, regardless of color and physical appearance. Indulgence, harmless to society and a way to enjoy life, were the dominant sexual values during the colonial era. Indeed, the sexual lust seemed to have gone too far that crushed the morality of the society of that era.
The principal challenge to the sexual behavior and values was the Puritans’ campaign to impose sexual revolution upon the colonial population,5 which achieved very little success due to lack of popular support from the society and due to the practical challenges of sexual regulation implemented as part of the popular culture.6 Besides, they had provoked wide spread resentment due to their condemnation of those who failed to meet their exacting standards.7 The play which portrays Angelo and his sexual crusade became a text of counterchange against them. Hypocrisy is the main argument. It was quite evident that the sexual reforms, which the Puritans was pushing, achieved only little result because as presented in a letter from England published by London Press in 1682.
8The deviant sexual behavior was actually the divergent values, which was brought by the intermingling of different races including Indians, Negro and Americans people which made sexual culture volatile. The author of the Sexual Revolution in Early America pointed out that the need for workers of the fledgling colonies necessitated the presence of people who have different behavior. Their behavior was notorious and abhorrent as a breeding ground for all manner of dissipation and disorder.
9Sex during the colonial era was viewed as harmless and anyone can indulge with this activity because it is a way to enjoy life. Thus, the practice of premarital sex was common. And yet, despite the fact that it was a way of life, still this was within the bound of normality only that it went against the standard of morality which the church and the Puritan Movements were preaching. But with the influence of workers having different behavior and attitudes especially towards sex, everything went too far. Therefore, the relationship between what was normal and what was deviant was that during that period, though illicit sex was common, yet, they were within the bounds of normality.Sex had an important role in the Southern elites’ articulation of power and gentility,10 which proves that their attitudes towards sex is within the bounds of personal purpose and decency.
In the deviance, sexual attitude was already out of control.Reading Godbeer’s American’s sexual revolution shocked us to learn of sexual culture and behavior of the colonial Americans. They seemed to be more liberal than of today.
The deviant social values made morality worse of all times; but today, it is only the shadow of that dark cloud of moral and sexual values which reduced men’s attitudes to no more than an animal where women were also reduced as mere objects of men’s desire. This was perhaps the very reason why Americans developed a liberal attitude toward sex.