Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in Americaby Thomas A. Foster
Pub. Date: 09/03/2007
Publisher: Beacon Press
With few exceptions, sex is noticeably absent from popular histories chronicling colonial and Revolutionary America. Moreover, it is rarely associated specifically with early American men. This is in part because sex and family have traditionally been associated with women, while politics and business are the historic province of men. But Thomas Foster turns this conventional view on its head. Through the use of court records, newspapers, sermons, and private papers from Massachusetts, he vividly shows that sex—the behaviors, desires, and identities associated with eroticism —was a critical component of colonial understanding of the qualities considered befitting for a man.
Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man begins by examining how men, as heads of households, held ultimate responsibility for sex—not only within their own marriages but also for the sexual behaviors of dependents and members of their households. Foster then examines the ways sex solidified bonds in the community, including commercial ties among men, and how sex operated in courtship and social relations with women. Starkly challenging current views about the development of sexuality in America, the book details early understandings of sexual identity and locates a surprising number of stereotypes until now believed to have originated a century later, among them the black rapist and the unmanly sodomite, figures that serve to reinforce cultural norms of white male heterosexuality.
As this engrossing and surprising study shows, we cannot understand manliness today or in our early American past without coming to terms with the oft-hidden relationship between sex and masculinity.
- Beacon Press
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Table of Contents
"He Is Not a Man, That Hath Not a Woman" 3
Sex and the Shattering of Household Order 23
Rape and Seduction: Masculinity, Misogyny, and Male Sexuality 53
Sex and the Community of Men 77
"Half-men": Bachelors, Effeminacy, and Sociability 101
"When Day and Night Together Move": Men and Cross-Cultural Sex 129
"The Paths of Monstrous Joy" 155
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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The best part of this book were the historical anecdotes written in the language of the day. The place of sex in the 18th century was not just in the bedroom but also part of the core of the stability and survival of the colonies. Procreation was important. So much so that if a man was unable to do his duty his wife could and did divorce him on those grounds. Adultery was seen as the fault of the man. Either he couldn't control himself or he couldn't satisfy and control his wife. Homosexuality, contrary to what some modern day people may think, was part of the landscape. It was seen as un-desirable principally because it could not lead to children. Some of the religious types railed against it but the societal stigma was the lack of procreation. Interracial unions were condemned be they whites with any nonwhites which is something that continues today though it such relationships are growing in acceptance. Again, it was seen as the fault of the white male if he could not control himself or his wife in these kinds of pairings. The history of sexual mores during the colonial era still have life today despite the so called sexual revolution of the 1960's.
This monograph is a much needed addition to the history of America. Foster opens up his work explaining that sex in early America did in fact occur, although one would not realize it from the texts taught in most U.S. History courses. I chose Foster's book for a critical book review in a History of Sexuality university course. It was an engaging read that did not speak over my head, nor was it too simplistic. Foster's argument is sound and his source material is rich and creative. With exerpts from diaries, letters, official documents, and newsprint Foster shows the depthfulness of male sexuality in eighteenth century America. Beyond simply telling the reader that men in eighteenth century America had sex, Foster shows the reader how the sexuality of these men connected to their political, economic, and social lives. Highly recommended read for students and professors of American history...and anyone else interested in learning what the founding fathers were up to behind close doors.
This is a smart and interesting account of what colonial men thought about sex and how it was part of their daily lives and their identities as men. Eighteenth-century people were surprisingly openly about sex. This was definitely not part of my college history class! The book covers a lot of topics including marriage, homosexuality, race, and courtship. I recommend this book to people interested in the history of homosexuality, sexuality, or colonial America. I learned a lot about eighteenth century America while being entertained by interesting stories about colonial relationships. I love the stories depicting 'courtship' and divorce. It was interesting to see how some of these ideas still carry forward to today.