To the Puritans, marriage only officially took place after a church ceremony, and sex only took place within marriage. El Paso Map They wholeheartedly promoted active sex lives between husbands and wives, both to populate New England and to discourage illicit, nonmarital unions. Ministers hoped that a strong sexual marital relationship would remove the temptation of adultery. Sex was so essential in the lives of Puritans that a wife could divorce her husband for failing to satisfy her sexually. New England courts held that a women had a right to expect sexual satisfaction in bed and that a man who failed to provide such contentment had failed as a husband. Marital sexuality did have limits, though.
Puritan teachings warned that marital sex could become illicit if a husband and wife allowed their desire for each other to surpass their love of God. The first generation of Puritan settlers only engaged in debates over sexuality with nonbelieving outsiders, who occasionally chose to shock their devout neighbors with public displays of lewdness. As time passed, however, the sons and daughters of the original settlers developed different ideas about marriage. Additionally, long-standing popular traditions condoned premarital sex, and these beliefs proved stronger than official dogma in shaping sexuality. Many couples dated the start of their marriages to the time of their commitment to one another and engaged in sexual relations in the belief that they were doing so within the marital bond. The Puritan fathers disagreed.