Romancing the Age: A Sexual Revolution

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Do you remember the first time you went on a date or experienced your first passionate kiss? Did you appreciate the pleasurable and romantic aspect of it?

While today’s provocative presentation of sensuous love-making in the media leaves little to the imagination, it is amusing to learn how the early days of courtship were displayed in the New World and how they evolved in Modern America.

During colonial times, courtship and marriage added a touch of romance to the wilderness. For example, a young, robust man in his early twenties, after spending an enormous amount of time in the wilderness, might amass a small fortune from the sale of his furs. Satisfied with his venture, he returned to his village, ready to buy land, and find a fledgling maiden with whom he might settle down. This was not difficult, since the village was small and the inhabitants that lived there were either related or closely acquainted. With money in hand, the young man promised a secure future for someone’s daughter.

As the young man walked about the village, his eyes swept over the sun warmed land he wished to purchase. Suddenly a young maiden, whom he had not seen before, emerged from one of the nearby houses, distracting him. He was instantly smitten by her, by her tall, slender figure and ravishing beauty. As much as he resisted, his eyes kept wandering back to her. She sensed the strength of his gaze, turned her head and their eyes locked.

There he stood in front of her, displaying a bright, friendly smile, wavy brown hair just at his shoulders and that muscular physique. She found him to be irresistible, which made her heart begin to pound, her cheeks flushed to a rosy color. The young swain determined to win her affection and make her his wife, approached the young maiden, proclaiming his love and his intentions with her.

Although parental authoritarianism existed during the colonial days, when it came to falling in love, the young maidens would exert considerable independence. She liked what she saw, and was just as determined as he was. She asked him to meet her parents. This was an English custom that prevailed throughout the colonies, which the approval of the parents should be obtained before the courtship would continue. The continuation of Courtship led to marriage and children.

Since the houses were small in the village, the fireplace and kitchen seemed to be the nucleus of family life. The pride of the house would be the dominant four-posted family bedstead. At the fireplace, where everyone would gather to feel its warmth, especially in the winter, the master of the house would smoke his pipe, tell stories, or read from the old Bible. Although it was alleged that couples in courtship would have the benefit of a six-foot long wooden tube, called a “courting stick,” so they could whisper sweet nothings to each other under the careful observation of the parents, “bundling” was the rage of those times. It was an English custom practiced in Colonial America during the 1600′s, rampant all along the Atlantic coast. The practice of this custom was also used by the Dutch, and would be limited to wintertime.

Bundling allowed the courting couples to get into bed together, fully clothed, except for their shoes. A quilt or blanket would be tied over the girl’s legs. A bundling board would be placed between the courting couple as a precautionary measure by the careful parents. This allowed the couple to have their privacy, they could engage in a dialogue, friendly kissing, and fondling one another in the warmth and safe confines of the girl’s family home, always under the mother’s watchful eyes, ensuring that no sexual intercourse would take place. Because it was so cold in the small colonial houses, this was the only way the couple could keep warm, and at the same time, have some sort of privacy, even though the girl’s family would also be in the same room, clustered around the fireplace.

The Victorian Era (1837-1901) was a period of true passion, and offered striking expressions of love. The moonlight walks and whispered words of affection revealed a romantic love which was an essential element for marital success. Courting began to adopt a more precise and formal nature, especially amongst influential society.

Most of the courting would take place in the girl’s home, under the eye of her watchful parents. Although having a chaperon was not widely practiced in the United States, at the end of the nineteenth century, notable aristocratic families demanded it, therefore, couples were never allowed to be alone with each other without the presence of a companion until their engagement. The chaperon, acting the part of the mother, accompanied her young lady everywhere, going with her to all the balls, dinners, and especially to the theater parties. All in her efforts to protect the naive girl from the dangers of being sexually exploited.

After the Civil War, the presence of a chaperon began to decline, and the young 19th century couples were able to enjoy their moments of intimacy without supervision. This was acceptable in the northern part of America, but not so in the South. Marriage was the ultimate goal for the young ladies of high society in the South. The gentlemen viewed marriage as a business deal, a commodity to be gained, which he would use to his fullest benefit. In order to ensure that the marriage would be a worthwhile investment for both, bank accounts and familial lineages were to be presented as a preliminary requirement to courtship approval. Few of these marriages ever started with love, and as the years went by, many of the couples would become quite fond of each other, which sometimes resulted in a strong bond, almost as powerful as love.

In the later part of the 19th century, same-sex relationships flourished. Casual romantic liaisons existed between unmarried women, especially among female college students.

The 20th century erupted with a forceful roar, pulverizing previous sex standards and patterns, with respect to American courtship norms, while introducing a modern understanding of sexual freedom and the nature of life among women and young people. America’s social scene was changing at a rapid pace, especially in the 1920′s. It was a remarkable, dramatic era in all aspects. The economy was in an upswing after World War I; there was uncontrollable wasteful spending and massive profiteering. The automobile was one of the leading consumer products of the 1920′s. It was a decade distinguished by creative people and their famous works, and their dangerous. Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Etc., they all lived large and fast and wrote sorrowful, poignant tales, so true to life. Gangsterism was dominant, with its fast cars, machine guns, prostitution, and gambling, bootleg booze and corrupt officials. It was a decade granting full woman suffrage in all states of the U.S.

It was also the start of the Harlem Renaissance.

Most importantly, it was the decade of the revolutionary Flapper girl, throwing off her chains of restriction, demanding sexual and personal liberation. She was the original free spirit, the modern woman, who smoked in public, lived on her own, voted, drank booze with the boys, danced, and bobbed her hair. She also wore cosmetics, painted her lips bright red, and went to wild petting parties where she was sexually promiscuous. The Flapper defied all the rules of acceptable feminine behavior, God bless her. She rebelled against corsets by flattening her chest with strips of cloth, giving herself a boyish look.

Courtship or dating began to change with the 1920s. Kissing and fondling were no longer preliminaries to marriage, but indulgent for fun and pleasure. By the 1920s, girls were known to say “they were going all the way, and men were already calling condoms rubbers. “There was little regard for parental consent. Necking and petting were major factors in the courtship or dating trend.

Necking involved, passionate caresses to the neck, lips and ears, leaving visible red marks, called “hickies.” Petting involved other sexual sensitive areas of the body, although fully clothed. The romanticism of courtship was now replaced by the act of instant gratification. Dating eventually would lead to substantial intimacies for some couples. So while nice boys and girls were courting, others were having sex.

The 40′s and 50′s exhibited a greater aspect of sexual intimacy. After World War II, there were many job opportunities resulting from economic prosperity. This allowed the men to earn and spend more. So when a man asked a girl out on a date, he would end up paying for the entertainment, refreshments and transportation. Naturally the more he spent on his date, the more he expected as a return on his investment, so he treated her like a commodity. With the 60′s came the accessibility of the birth control pill, sexual changes, and the Stonewall Police Riot in 1969. This was not only the true turning point for the gay rights movement, but, was the emergence of a new concept of gay identity known as: “Gay Pride versus the closet.”

Thus the sexual revolution began. Women stood up for their rights. Minorities stood up for their rights. Gays stood up for their rights. Peaceful protesters were killed at Universities. It was awkward, but people stood up for their rights.

It’s funny adolescence is awkward, but that’s where you discover your sexuality. Nonetheless, the protests in the 60′s were awkward. Perhaps that was America discovering its sexuality; feeling its oats after 200 years.

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