Essay on Sexual Revolution in Early America: Unveiling the Conventional Wisdom

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1665 Words
Date:  2023-02-09


The book, Sexual Revolution in Early America was written by Richard Godbeer, and published in the year 2002; it is a historical book that I based on the accounts of the early sexual revolution in the United States. In most cases, history books are based on the true story of particular events that took place in the life of certain groups of people. In the book, Richard Godbeer upends the conventional wisdom concerning the sexual customs and values among the colonial Americans. Specifically, the book is based on colonial North America's sexual cultures. The author, therefore, contradicts the typecast of the puritanical self-denial that sticks in the popular imagination. The theme of the book is Women Sexuality in colonial America. In the book, Godbeer challenges the reaction of the communities to different forms of sexuality, through the elaboration and historical discussions, Godbeer touches on bestiality, sodomy, rape, and incest. In the historical perspective, the book elaborates that people saw antisocial acts and not innate behaviors. Women sexuality is a topic that is deeply entrenched in American history. However, some forms of sex were not regarded, for instance, homosexuality was not highly recognized as they were only regarded as sinful acts. During the time, the book states that sexuality was perceived as reproductive act. The paper involves the review, summary, as well as the explanation of the major sections of the book.

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Summary of the Book

The book, Sexual Revolution in Early America, overcomes the conventional knowledge concerning sexual customs and values among the colonial Americans. The author, Richard Godbeer offers eye-opening chronological accounts that extend to two centuries. The book is mainly based on the culture of British in North America; it explores the political, social and legal undercurrents that transformed the diverse sexual cultures in North America. While writing the book, Richard Godbeer drew exhaustive research from the letters, diaries, as well as other private papers and legal documents to provide a historical account of the persistent struggle between the widespread expression of the common customs and the moral authorities. From the book, Puritans had complex attitudes towards sexuality. For example, even though there was a belief that sexual acts could be morally corrupting, it was also regarded as the essential requirements in an honest and healthy in marriages (Godbeer 17). In the colonial times in North America, race and class greatly impacted the deliberations on the sexual mores from the apprehensions of Anglo-Indian erotic relationships to the sense of sexual entitlements that the colonial masters held over the African slaves. During the colonial times in North America, Richard Godbeer detailed that there was a fundamental change in sexual cultures. In other words, the shift was mainly directed towards the general acceptance of more individualistic concepts of sexual fulfilments and desires.

One of the main points in the book is that in the early twenty-first century, it was natural that each person had a discrete sexual orientation that was to consist of the main part of the personality identity, sexuality. In most cases, early European Americans, specifically those who lived in North America, lacked such understanding of sex. In the colonial times in North America, sex was a site of conflict, especially between the bulk of people who were either rebellious or controlled by the customary notions and officials. Puritans officials mainly celebrated the pleasures brought about by the marital sex, and as a result, they exploited the explicit sexual imagery within the theological writings. The above scenario was possible as there was the need for the people to distinguish themselves from the view of the Catholic teachings; but, there were worries on the tendency of the illegal sex to demoralize godliness. In colonial North America, officials were worried concerning the post-revolutionary declarations of sexual liberty (Godbeer 19).

The strength of the book lies in the ability of the author to apply the source-driven materials. However, Godbeer does not fully elaborate the biases of the sources. In North America, Americans together with the colonial officials became increasingly troubled by the effects of more tolerant sexual cultures, and especially because it affected younger women. From the book, women are perceived as the variables while men are constants; therefore, in most cases, the author spends a lot of time tracing the development of seducible females or women who are morally responsible for their sexual purity. However, the author has no time questioning the reasons why many men assumed the persona of the sexually libertine reprobate. The feminist historians have, in most of the times, overstated the liabilities of women recognized in the sexual double standards. Sexual harassment is also evident in the book, the colonial officials have in most cases, abused the slaves sexually and this was tolerated by the culture.

Book Review

The book offers an illuminating and a delightful survey of evolving and competing views of sexuality in the colonial times in North America. The author, Godbeer organizes the book into the series of chapters that easily stood alone. Succinctly, Godbeer includes the efforts of the civil and religious leaders in New England in an attempt to showcase the sexual behaviors. Besides, the author applies the above factors to shoe the attitudes towards the interracial marriages experienced in the southern and Mid-Atlantic colonies of North America. Besides, the book was very clear on the ways families attempted to support and protect their daughters at the time when there was increasing freedom through the invitation of the courting into their houses. The book succinctly captures different policies from various communities. Also there is a clear indication of the reasons why the colonists started constructing and describing the responsibility of women in the mid-1700s (Godbeer 21). The book contains a lot of information; there are both specific examples derived from the court record as well as the diaries. Godbeer after that offered the overreaching analysis. From the book, the theme of sex is fundamentally interesting, and the author was able to keep the discussion moving. However, the topic is not accurate as what Godbeer described was not a revolution but a cultural multiplicity across space, as well as the slow evolution of different views or perception in the similar places over time.

Most parts of the book were quoted from the diaries and court cases. Generally, the book was interesting since there was a demonstration that the colonial era had constant exposure to couples that lived together or cohabited or even those who had premarital sex, as well, being either homosexual, polygamous or interracial. Richard Godbeer elaborates on different sexual revolutions that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries (Godbeer 21). In most cases, it is hard to imagine a book concerning sex being so sleep-inducing and dry; however, Godbeer pulls it off. At some points within the book, the book gets interesting. The author covers everything in the book. The book is divided into three major parts or sections; the first few chapters are based on the New England, the Middle chapters mainly talks about the south while the last sections emphases on the American Revolution. The book is very thorough, and it is written clearly and accessibly. The book is readable, and the information and the historical accounts are given are easy to follow. It also elaborates on the cultural aspects of sexual encounters in colonial North America. From the book, there are a lot of extracts from the primary sources that help in substantiating the facts being made. The book is therefore exceptionally enlightening, substantial and thorough when it comes to the accounts of the colonial society that could have gone unexposed. The authors interlaced analysis reveals that earlier societies need to accommodate its margins to ensure that the book becomes a model for academic literature. Sexual themes have been in existence in different times periods; however, only very few authors have managed to write succinctly about the topic. Richard Godbeer, therefore, explores different pieces of evidence about the sexual encounters in the colonial North American societies. In the book, Godbeer considered evolving sexual behaviors in the 19th century especially in rural New England (Godbeer 14). In other words, the author elaborates that couples need to know each other by engaging in sexual intercourse or by sleeping together. The author also describes the growing attitude about the sexual nature of women as well as the existence lively seaport culture in the early year of the North American people. The last part or chapter of the book depends heavily on the work of earlier authors who tried to write on the sexual topics. From the book, it is clear that leaders who are unfamiliar revolutionary history of sexual relations may find the contents to be more interesting, and especially by considering the historical perspectives taken by the author. In the chronological order of events, the author, Godbeer states clearly the impacts of sexual encounters in the colonial societies and elaborates on the perception of both the officials and the people in these societies.


The book, Sexual Revolution in Early America, overrides the conventional knowledge about the sexual customs and values within the colonial North American societies. The book is well structured to enhance the understanding of the sexual life and nature of the people in the historical cultures. The book is mainly based on the culture of British in North America, it explores the political, social and legal undercurrents that transformed the diverse sexual cultures in North America. In the book, the author attempts to state the roles of the feminist historian. The evidence of the sexual harassment in the book indicates that the belittling of women began in historical times. In the North American culture, sex was only considered as an aspect of family life, of developing racial identities, of religious beliefs, and for shaping attitudes of the people towards the authority of the church and the states. However, in some cases, sex was regarded as an innate predisposition.

Work Cited

Godbeer, Richard. Sexual Revolution in Early America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. Print.

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