INTIMATE MATTERS: A History of Sexuality in America by John & Estelle B. Freedman D'Emilio

INTIMATE MATTERS: A History of Sexuality in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Private sexuality and public morals in America, from early settlements to present day. The Protestant ethos of the first New England settlers permitted sexual relations only within family-arranged marriages, the major function of which was to produce children. However, say D'Emilio (Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, 1983) and Freedman (The Lesbian Issue, 1985), copulation was regarded as a duty and a pleasure that strengthened marital ties. Southern settlements--primarily populated by single men rather than by families as in New England--tended to wink at casual sex with indentured female servants, prostitutes, and, later, black slaves. This situation eventually fostered the myth of ""pure southern womanhood"" that turned dashing rakes into adoring husbands who, in turn, protected lily-white ladies from ""oversexed"" black males and white ""riffraff."" Throughout America, families were large until the 19th century, when, apart from land-rich frontier areas, the birth rate began dropping. As contraceptives and abortions proliferated, the centrality of procreation to marriage began to weaken. An increasing number of unions were made for love rather than for childbearing. In a peculiar twist, Victorianism promoted the concept that ""good"" women were too pure to enjoy sex at a time when waves of destitute immigrants brought widespread prostitution to cities. In the 20th century, the Pill, the decriminalization of abortion, and the feminist movement greatly weakened the double standard and elevated pleasure and personal intimacy above procreation in male-female relations. In attempting to document 350 years of private sexuality and public attempts to control it, D'Amico and Freedman have bitten off more than they--or the reader--can comfortably chew. They amass details without much reference to their significance: the ""scandalous"" sexual practices of Indians (interesting but mostly peripheral); detailed histories of short-lived ""utopian"" communities (one might have sufficed); and the overly familiar (almost everything from 1950 to the present). As a result, the thrust of history is repeatedly entangled in the thickets of marginalia.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1988
ISBN: 0226142647
Publisher: Harper & Row