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Book Examines Founders' Sex Lives

UCR Research Examines Sexual Lives of Colonists

(May 23, 2002)

Richard Godbeer, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, has written “Sexual Revolution in Early America,” a book that provides an eye-opening reexamination of the sexual lives of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press for release this month, the 448-page book has been included as an Alternate Selection of the History Book Club.

Godbeer overturns conventional wisdom about Puritan attitudes toward sex: although deeply hostile to sex outside of marriage, Puritans considered sexual intimacy so crucial to a healthy marriage that they excommunicated those who denied "conjugal fellowship" to their spouses.

Later in the book, Godbeer examines rural courtship practices in the late 1700s, including "bundling," which allowed courting young couples to spend the night together with undergarments on, to get to know each other better. He also considers the ways in which race and class affected sexual values and behavior.

Based on archival research of sermons, laws, governmental degrees, diaries, letters and court transcripts, this sweeping study crosses two centuries and territory from New England down to the southern colonies and outward to the West Indies. It includes discussion of pre-marital sex, homosexuality and adultery, as well as sexual coercion. One chapter examines the rise of prostitution in post-revolutionary urban areas such as Philadelphia.

“My intent was to examine the place that sex occupies in the moral and cultural architecture of early American society,” Godbeer said. “America's sexual culture has always been vibrant and contentious.”

Richard Godbeer can be reached at (909) 787-5401, x1877 or via email at

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