The main thesis of ‘The Puritans and Sex’ by Edmund S. Morgan claims that the Puritans did not consider every possible source of satisfaction as an immoral and sinful deed. The author describes the Puritans not as a powerful religious society who disapproved and outlawed earthly pleasures but as people who actually were aroused by simple desires and fragility; therefore, according to Edmund Morgan, the Puritans understood that the human nature is weak to sins and succumbed to the temptations of the pleasures of the flesh.
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It was believed that the Puritans considered marriage as an only proper way to have sexual relations. Moreover, people that were accused of adultery were sentenced to death according to the Puritans’ laws; and those who were caught for sexual relationship within marriage were whipped.
However, Edmund Morgan advanced doubts about the authenticity of these statements and claimed that sexual relation within the wedlock were widespread and practiced throughout the Puritans’ community. However, the author claims that sexual intercourse is an indispensable element of a healthful and hearty relationship within wedlock.
The author supports the thesis of his work with several arguments. First of all, Puritans treated sexual intercourses as any other pleasure: on celebrations where delicious food and drinks were presented, sexual relations were allowed as well, only between two persons who were married. Secondly, surely there were certain laws that forbid adultery; however no more than three victims were sentenced to death.
This could indicate that the Puritans had no desire in strictly following the law. Another argument in favor of sexual intercourse within marriage is getting the children of the Puritans to get marries as soon as possible; thus preventing the sin of adultery.
And the last but not the least point of the author is an aspiration of the Puritan society to have a healthy, strong and successful marriage. The Puritans “took every means possible to make husbands and wives live together and respect each other: if a husband deserted his wife and remained within a jurisdiction of a Puritan Government, he was promptly sent back to her”.1
The purpose of the author is to persuade a modern society that the concepts considered to be true for the Puritans’ lifestyle are wrong, and they were not strangers to earthly pleasures.
The Puritans were a “group of English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England from all Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed”2. The idea of this society as pure and religious people firmly rooted in the thoughts of nowadays mankind. However, an article by Edmund Morgan laid doubts in this; and although people and I included would need more historical proof, there is a possibility that our imagining of the Puritans was misguided3.
I used the documents available on-line about the generally accepted principles of a lifestyle of the Puritans in order to better understand the evaluation of ‘The Puritans and Sex’. I have used all references in the bibliography at the end of the document.
Edmund Morgan made an effort of bringing his contribution to the history of the Puritans, and many would agree that he has succeeded. The document can be considered as historical, as it includes historical proofs to every thesis of the author.
- Morgan, Edmond. “The Puritans and Sex.” In The New England Quarterly 15, 591-660. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1942.
- “Puritans” 2015.
- Delbanco, Andrew. “Puritanism.”, 2015.