Love, lust, romance. We're obsessed. We always have been. Since the Garden of Eden, we've been tortured by temptation and the regulation of sin, which history tells us has always been synonymous with sex.

A selective trip through American history reveals that we've always been torn between the promiscuous and the prohibitive. We've gone from eighteenth-century church tribunals that meted out punishment for premarital sex to the free-sex, uninhibited Sixties - and back.

With the advent of AIDS awareness in the mid-Eighties, Americans headed back to morality. Abstinence is again being hailed as the salvation of youth. And just as campaigns were waged early in this century to fight venereal disease and promote contraception, the federal government is now spending millions to promote teen chastity. Lots of luck.

In the late Thirties, crusaders against sensuality in film created the Hays Code to sweep smut under the rug. Now parents' groups march to save the world from sexual lyrics in rock music.

Time passes and the rules change, but the song remains the same. And so the history of romance just keeps repeating itself.

Imagine the desperation of poor Samuel Terry. In 1650 the confused young man from Springfield, Massachusetts, took it upon himself to make an appearance at church one Sunday - but it wasn't for the sermon. He stood outside, brazenly "chafing his yard to provoke lust." No darkened adult movie theater was necessary for this early pioneer of sexual freedom. But the townspeople didn't understand what a trendsetter he was, and Terry was publicly flogged for flogging his you-know-what. Eleven years later the frisky Terry again was punished for sexual misconduct when his blushing bride of five months gave birth to their first child. Twelve years later he was fined for performing an "immodest and beastly" play with some other men in town. Still, he managed to serve as the town's constable for many of those years, setting a double-standard example for politicians and law enforcement types to follow for hundreds of years - and inspiring late twentieth-century kiddie TV-show hosts.

A century later, standards were becoming less straitlaced. Lustful couples began to publicly express their desire for each other, choosing romantic love over property deals as a basis for marriage. Writer Mary Stevenson announced that "a union without affection is the most deplorable situation a woman can be in." The amenities of wedded amor did not escape revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, either. When a storm kept him from visiting his beloved Abigail Smith, he wrote her a letter that claimed their separation was "blessed," for otherwise their lust for each other could have led to "Itches, Aches, Agues, and Repentance." (Sounds like what Samuel needed more than Abigail was a dose of twentieth-century antibiotics.)

Young women who had trouble convincing their parents that times were changing figured out a way to avoid arranged marriages, anyway: They got knocked up before mom and dad could seal the deal. In some parts of New England in the late 1700s, one-third of all brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage, when the century before fewer than ten percent of all brides had reason to blush at their nuptials.

In a perhaps not-unrelated development, controversy erupted over bundling - the practice of engaged couples sleeping together fully clothed but allegedly not doing the dirty deed. Men, concerned the quaint custom would be abolished, promised to marry their betrotheds if they became pregnant - setting a good, early example for Warren Beatty. New England clergymen scorned the practice and proclaimed it "unchristian," enraging young women and their mothers who liked having fiances around the house to take out the garbage while dad was out trying to put food on the table.

Around 1780, couples - most likely under pressure from exhausted women - began to practice contraception. Wives took to quoting the biblical Rachel: "Give me no more children, or else I die." In Philadelphia, Quakers started snapping up contraceptive syringes like hotcakes. Women began breastfeeding longer, and couples brushed up on their Latin, rediscovering coitus interruptus. Couples soon found that sex without procreation could be buckets of fun.

Even churches began to lighten up on punishing premarital fornication, although some still whipped the fun-lovers and others levied large fines for adultery. Some parishes even allowed sinners to submit write-in, rather than public, confessions for sex crimes in order to speed up the paperwork. Many communities abolished church courts entirely, depending on early moral-majority chapters to hunt down offenders.

The industrial revolution inevitably resulted in sexual revolutions as well. As urban areas developed in the early nineteenth century, husbands began checking out of the domestic arena and into the world with paying jobs, leaving women to work "inside the home." As a result, men started amassing power related to their ability to vote and to earn money; the double standard of extramarital sex was born. For men, it was normal; for women, illegal. Purity remained the female ideal. It wasn't until the end of the century that women began talking about their orgasms with Dr. Clelia Mosher, a physician and college professor. Perhaps that's what made the Nineties gay.

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