. . . about college students having sex. Got your attention? It’s not what you think. My attention was called on Facebook to a piece on the NYT site: “At Tufts, an Attempt to Prohibit Sex When a Roommate Is in the Room.” Kids having sex in public naturally did not turn the incisive historical minds on FB to our own college experiences — speaking for myself, we ate a lots of pizza, drank a lot of beer, and studied a lot, without nearly as many opportunities to test our sexual ethics as they seem to have at Tufts these days. Instead, we early American historians thought of bundling, the scandalous youth sexual practice of colonial New England.
For civilians who happen on this post, bundling was a courtship custom where unmarried young men and women slept together, bundled up in blankets on a bed. Lest it seem too sexy, a board was put in-between the two and the girl could be encased in a stout bag to protect her the virtue. Mom and Dad (and presumably others) often stayed in the room, just like a Tufts roommate.
Bundling is probably the best known courtship practice of colonial America, even though very little research on the topic has ever been published. It appears to contradict the otherwise sexually strict mores of the Puritans. It meant that a courting couple would be in bed together, but with their clothes on. With fuel at a premium, it was often difficult to keep a house warm in the evenings. Since this is when a man would be visiting his betrothed in her home, they would bundle in her bed together in order to keep warm. A board might be placed in the middle to keep them separate, or the young lady could be put in a bundling bag or duffel-like chastity bag. The best protection against sin were the parents, who were usually in the same room with them. It may not have been good enough, however, as records indicate that up to one-third of couples engaged in premarital relations in spite of the public penalties, such as being fined and whipped, that often resulted (Ingoldsby 1995).