A nice interview about the ever-interesting 18th century. The most remarkable thing to my eyes:
We have very good data on births outside marriage and births within seven months of marriage, which is a pretty good indicator of people having had sex before marriage. These are aggregate statistics covering the whole [of England], and show that in the 16th and 17th century the effect of this sexual discipline resulted in a very low number of births outside marriage. In 1650, 1 percent of all births were illegitimate. But by 1800, almost 25 percent of all first-born children were born outside marriage and 40 percent of women came to the altar pregnant. That explosion is unprecedented, and that kind of level was the new norm. So I think we can measure a real change in behaviour that went along with these changes in attitudes to sex in the 18th century.
I have written before about how I don’t believe in any “sexual revolution,” and I’d be more inclined to doubt the pre-18th century data suggesting that human sexual mores have changed. But it may be the case that the Puritan era was different, but just a blip in the history of “merrie olde England,” which resumed its true nature soon enough.
Peter Annet appears to be a character worthy of further exploration:
He applies to the question of sexual morality the same kind of reasoned, rational outlook that he applies to all other subjects in life. He becomes mildly infamous for doing this with respect to religion in the early 18th century, in trying to strip away what he sees as the superstitions of priests and so on and return to what he understands as the essence of Christianity. He has an archetypal 18th century faith in reason as the only true guide. The second thing he does is think: “What does this mean for sexual ethics? Is it true and right that we should, as the Bible and church teaches us, only restrict ourselves to sex within marriage?” His answer is a resounding “no”.
He tries to reason – from natural law, from conscience and from all the other bases that 18th century people like to use – for a new kind of sexual morality. In doing that he puts forward in this book a remarkably modern set of proposals. He says men and women should be free to have sex with whomever they like for as long as they like, and to co-habit freely and divorce freely. The only thing that mattered, in his eyes, was the care of children.