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BUNDLING PART 2
While the advice literature about passionlessness applied to a literate, urban middle class, the controversy over bundling that erupted after 1750 reflected how tensions over female sexual vulnerability affected rural people from lower and middling families. Among these groups, bundling had been widespread. The practice rested upon the assumption that courting couples either refrained from sexual intercourse when they stayed together overnight, or that they would marry if pregnancy did occur. As premarital pregnancy and illegitimacy increased and familial controls over young people declined, some authorities began to attack bundling as a symbol of immorality. In the 1750s, a few towns had attempted to prohibit it, but without much success. In the 1770s, a renewed attack came from New England clergymen who preached that bundling was "unchristian," much to the dismay of young women and their mothers, who saw nothing wrong with the practice.'9 For several years, critics and defenders of bundling voiced their opinions.
The popular debate on bundling offers a glimpse into the changing meaning of sexuality at a moment when sexual attraction and sexual experience were gaining in importance within American society. The new view of courtship appeared in the verses and songs composed by opponents of bundling, who could not believe that a young couple spending the night in bed together would be able to resist sexual temptation. "A New Bundling Song," published in a 1785 almanac, satirized the claims to chastity during bundling:
A bundling couple went to bed, With all their clothes from foot to head, That the defence might seem complete, Each one was wrapped in a sheet
But 0! this bundling's such a witch, The man of her did catch the itch, And so provoked was the wretch, That she of him a bastard catch'd.
In contrast, traditionalists who argued for the practicality and safety of bundling waged a counterattack on the morality of nonbundlers:
Cate, Nance and Sue proved just and true, Tho' bundling did practice; But Ruth beguil'd and proved with child, Who bundling did dispise.
Whores will be whores, and on the floor Where many has been laid, To set and smoke and ashes poke, Wont keep awake a maid.
Bastards are not at all times got In feather beds we know; The strumpet's oath convinces both Oft times it is not so."
Two themes recur on both sides of this popular debate. First, the publication of these verses attests to the fact that premarital sexual desire had become a subject of public discourse, not in the form of condemnatory sermons, but rather in relatively lighthearted jesting that referred to strumpets, whores, and bastards as social, rather than moral, problems. Second, all observers recognized that young couples could find ways to satisfy their desires if they chose. In short, the sexual component of courtship was in clearer public view than in the past. According to opponents of bundling, an earlier period of innocent courtship had passed, and more effective controls over premarital sexuality would have to be found to replace bundling. In fact, the practice of bundling did decline after the late eighteenth century, except in rural areas of New England and Pennsylvania, where it persisted well into the nineteenth century." SOURCE: Intimate Matters A History of Sexuality in America. John D"emilio and Estelle B. FreedmanPerennial Library Harper and Eow Publishers (1989) :pp 46-47
CINTINUE ON TO EARLY AMERICA SEX, MARRIAGE, CHILDREN, GAYS, LESBIANS, BOYS AS GIRLS, ABORTION, BREECHING, FAMILY AND OTHER MYTHS. PART 15