Those nutty heterosexuals. They come up with all kinds of ways to have sex without, er, having sex! Take the old (anglo?) custom of "bundling."
A writer looked into it for the February 2001 Beaver magazine:
"An Upper Canadian journalist cautiously attempted to describe it in 1824 in the Colonial Advocate:
'Common in some parts of the Canadas... A young man visits a young woman to court her for marriage and is allowed to sleep with her, each keeping on a part of their clothes.' Indeed, bundling actually took place in the young woman's house, with her parents' permission.
"In an era when courtship was a closely monitored public display, bundling offered the betrothed couple a modicum of privacy that they would otherwise not have enjoyed. Such privacy permitted young couples to develop a personal intimacy and experiment with sexual compatibility. It was firmly expected, however, that erotic contact would halt prior to intercourse."
Anyway, researcher Constance Backhouse
suggests that the custom allowed parents to protect their daughters, and the new daddy (if such came about) was thus easy to identify, with marriage the immediate result. And all this behind closed doors! No public embarrassment!
"However, two bundling scandals in Upper Canada in the mid-1820s created an outraged public sensation. Both cases, which went to trail, involved young men who had abused their bundling privileges, impregnated their female suitors, and then refused to marry them. During the Niagara bundling fiasco of 1824, a court reporter for the Colonial Advocate denounced bundling as 'a disgrace to the country.' If only the girl and her probundling family had 'lived where an evangelized priest was made manifest, I am convinced that the disclosures she made... would never have shocked the ears of Niagara audience.'" Indeed, it's suggested that increasing evangelization smushed the practice.
I'd be inclined to add that its working-class roots may also have doomed bundling as Canada's middle class grew and felt the need to crush the less civilized behaviors of their immediate pasts. But mayhap that idea is belied by this Welsh tourist's 1807 observations: "The [inn's] landlord has been scolding one of his maids, a very pretty, plump little girl, for not having done her work; and the reason which she alleged for her idleness was, that her master having locked the street door at night, had prevented her lover enjoying the rights and delights of bundling, an amatory indulgence which, considering that it is sanctioned by custom, may be regarded as somewhat singular, although it is not exclusively of Welsh growth.
"The process is very simple; the gay Lothario, when all is silent, steals to the chamber of his mistress, who receives him in bed, but with the modest precaution of wearing her under petticoat, which is always fastened at the bottom -- not infrequently, I am told, by a sliding knot. It may astonish a London gallant to be told that this extraordinary experiment often ends in a downright wedlock -- the knot which cannot slide." I'm still not quite sure why a lack of snuggles leads to an inability to mop the floor.
To continue: "A gentleman of respectability also assured me that he was obliged to indulge his female servants in these nocturnal interviews, and that too at all hours of the night, otherwise his whole family would be thrown into disorder by their neglect; the carpet would not be dusted, nor would the kettle boil."
Those last two anecdotes are taken from my 1932 copy of Henry Reed Stiles'
"Bundling: Its Origin, Progress & Decline in America" (originally written around 1870 and promptly banned in Boston),
and available here for free.
The tome traces bundling back to the U.K., Holland (harmless chatting beneath the bedsheets), Afghanistan ("the innocent endearments are not to be exceeded"), and even to ancient Rome. It's thought that bunking together began simply because it was darned cold to sleep alone before central heating. Most lived in one-room, and one-, or at most two-, bed homes. Plus -- what was one to do with a traveling stranger or two in winter? Surely not toss them out into the stable with the slop and pigs?
Stiles writes that New England bundling's "comparatively innocent and harmless character has, however, been fearfully distorted and maligned by irresponsible satirists, and prejudiced historians." The custom "was kept up with religious strictness by the more bigoted and vulgar part of the community," noted one finger-wagger. In larger American cities, sniffed another, bundling was forbidden and parents introduced the sitting room sofa as a warming but safer option.
Others accepted the custom as it was (supposedly) meant to be: "Why it should be thought incredible for a young man and young woman innocently and virtuously to lie down together in a bed with a great part of their clothes on, I cannot conceive," wrote Dr. Andrew Burnaby
in 1775, after traveling through Connecticut. "Human passions may be alike in every region; but religion, diversified as it is, operates differently in different countries."
Stiles points to religious Bible-thumpers and larger, warmer houses as encouraging the decline of bundling. "Probably no single thing tended so much to break up the practice as the publication of a song, or ballad, in an almanac, about 1785.... This ballad described in a free and easy style the various plans adopted by those who bundled, and rather more than hinted at the results in certain cases." We're talkin' large circulation here, and easy archetypes that seeped into bar-room chatter and popular culture. "[S]uch a general storm of banter and ridicule [ensured ] that no girl had the courage to stand against it, and continue to admit her lovers to her bed." In the United States, eh.
And yet in truth I'm not afraid
For to describe a bundling maid;
She'll sometimes say when she lies down,
She can't be cumber'd with a gown,
And that the weather is so warm,
To take it off can be no harm
I leave for others to relate
How long she'll keep her virgin state.