After Susan Perry and Robert Watson were found guilty by a jury, they were immediately transported to prison, stripped to the waist, tied to a cart and flogged through the streets until the blood ran freely down their backs.
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Their crime? The two unmarried people had produced a baby. It was 1612, in Westminster, England, a time when all sex outside marriage was strictly prohibited.
The Christian church, the state, local governments and ordinary citizens had a stake in repressing every erotic transgression with harsh penalties ranging from whipping to death.
Two among many thousands punished, Perry and Watson were also exiled from their community, never to see family and friends again. They also lost their homes and livelihood.
It was not until the following century that most private sexual encounters passed beyond the reach of English law.
I spoke with Faramerz Dabhoiwala, author of “The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution,” on the following topics:
1. Sexual Repression
2. Prisons for Immorality
3. Enlightenment Attitudes
4. Celebrity Courtesans
5. Double Standard
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
Today’s Muse highlights include reviews of the play “Clybourne Park” and the film “The Lucky One.”
To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.