Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America

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Beacon Press, 2007 - History - 223 pages
2 Reviews
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.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - JBD1 - LibraryThing

A bit repetitive, but overall an interesting study of male sexuality and its social contexts in eighteenth-century Massachusetts (and more broadly extensible at least to a certain extent). Limited in scope, but it seems to be well-researched. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - snash - LibraryThing

Includes many quotes from court cases, sermons, and newspapers to illustrate the attitudes of Massachusetts people in the 1700"s to what a male's sexual role was supposed to be, much of that ... Read full review


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Page 210 - Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: WW Norton & Company, 1975); Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982). 21. Joan W. Scott, "The Evidence of Experience," Critical Inquiry 17 (Summer 1991): 776.

About the author (2007)

Thomas A. Foster is an Associate Professor in the department of history at DePaul University. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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