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10 Strange Facts About What Physical Intimacy Was Like in Revolutionary America

Updated January 7, 2020 1.6m views10 items

America is frequently characterized as a land founded by uptight Puritans – people who viewed physical intimacy as a sin to be avoided at all costs. However, early Americans still hooked up. After all, settlers had to populate their new home somehow.

Intimacy during the colonial period was somewhat restricted - and hygiene was a whole other matter to take into consideration - but this time wasn't without its passion. While people weren't quite as liberated as today, premarital relations were known to take place. At the time, though, if you were caught engaging in the act, you were expected to do the socially acceptable thing and marry your partner.

The Founding Fathers themselves were some of the most notable proponents of physical intimacy during the Revolutionary War. John Adams was known for telling dirty jokes, and Benjamin Franklin frequented Philadelphia's notorious red light district.

While the times may have changed, intercourse continues to fascinate the average human mind. And if you lived in Revolutionary America, it was as much an escape as it was a marital duty. 

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  • Benjamin Franklin Offered Indelicate Advice

    Benjamin Franklin was known for his suave demeanor. In fact, it was partly why he was selected to win France's support during the Revolutionary War. But he also used that charm to court women and was very open in discussing romantic relations.

    One of Franklin's letters outlines advice on finding a mistress. His biggest piece of advice: always go for older women. According to Franklin, their age and wisdom makes them discreet partners. But he was hardly respectful in his aims, stating, "The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts [continue] to the last as plump as ever."

  • Dating Sometimes Involved Partners Being Stuffed Into A Burlap Sack

    Premarital relations was frowned upon in colonial America, but that didn't prevent it from happening. As such, the practice of "bundling" was created to allow betrothed couples to stay at the girl's house under parental supervision. The young lovers would be placed into a sack, similar to a large sleeping bag with the middle sewn together, preventing any body parts from touching.

    There were variations on this tradition too. The unmarried couple might be permitted to share a bed to keep warm, as long as a board separated them. Or they might simply be watched closely by parents. Naturally, these methods weren't always successful. In the mid- to late-1700s, an estimated one in three brides was pregnant when she said "I do."

  • Commonlaw Marriage Was An Easier Path Towards Acceptable Intercourse

    In colonial America, physical intimacy was supposed to be reserved for married couples. Luckily, it was easy to get married - all a couple needed to do was clasp hands and declare themselves husband and wife. This quick and easy method was called "common law marriage," or "handfasting," and was brought to the Colonies by English settlers.

    Not all of these marriages lasted though. Since there weren't legal documents to certify the union and witnesses weren't required, it was all too easy for a "spouse" to walk away from the relationship after the marriage had been consummated.

  • There Were Same-Sex Relationships

    While history books tend to avoid the issue, same-sex relationships have existed since the dawn of humankind - and the colonial period was no exception. According to historians, there were not only such relationships in Revolutionary America, but many of them have been documented through correspondence.

    Intimate relationships between men were forbidden by most institutions, but records strongly suggest same-sex partners existed during the war for American independence.

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