Document Type

Presentation

Publication Date

4-30-2016

Abstract

During the religious revival of the nineteenth-century, known as the Second Great Awakening, several Perfectionist communitarian societies were established in the United States. One such society was the Oneida Community, founded by leader John Humphrey Noyes and his followers in Oneida, New York, in March of 1848. Contemporaries and historians alike have debated the unique and controversial practices of the Community members. The members lived in what they called "complex marriage," where all Community members were married to each other, and sexual activity between all men and women was encouraged to promote bonding, pleasure, and a strong sense of community. However, this broad sexual activity was not meant to lead to indiscriminate pregnancies. To prevent such pregnancies, Noyes adopted a practice called coitus reservatus, or male continence, which required men to control their ejaculation during and after sexual intercourse. For many outside the community, this practice was seen as strange and unnatural. Contrary to this belief, members of the community, in their own words, reveal that this practice actually removed many problematic elements placed on women during the nineteenth century, such as anxiety about pregnancy and childbirth, ridicule for various birth control methods, shaming for sexual activity, and even the erasure of components of female sexuality. Therefore, one might argue that male continence actually did achieve progress for Oneida Community women, including preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing for a full, pleasurable sexual experience, as well as an appreciation of the realities of female sexuality. Their contemporaries struggled to gain these liberations, and they remain goals of present-day American women.

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