Reinventing Sex in The Oneida Community

Group-1860sPeter von Ziegesar at Lapham's Quarterly:

How was intercourse accomplished using Noyes’ innovation? In the 1920s, long after the Oneida Community had ceased to be, a sex research pioneer named Robert Latou Dickinson came to the Mansion House to discover exactly that. Dickinson was fascinated with the variety of ways people could make love. Decades before Alfred Kinsey made a habit of taking notes on the erotic lives of everyone he met, Dickinson jotted down thousands of sexual histories. He found an aging grandniece of the founder, a physician named Hilda Herrick Noyes, who was happy to offer details. A bout of amative intercourse would last for an hour or more, she remembered, and the women were particularly happy at the “long play.” Typically, during a “love interview” a woman would lie on her side with one leg cocked while the man entered her from behind. Holding her very much as he might hold a cello, he’d reach his hand around to the front and manipulate her to a climax. At the same time, he refrained from having an orgasm himself. Thus, amative intercourse involved coitus, but the primary stimulation was by hand. The male’s assigned role was as a skilled musician who received his pleasure through the mastery of his instrument and through the vicarious enjoyment of the pleasures he was instilling. Noyes thought the connection profound and spiritual. A follower of Franz Mesmer, the doctor who sometimes caused followers to go into mass orgasms by hooking them up to enormous batteries, Noyes believed sexual intercourse was nothing less than “the interchange of magnetic influences, or conversation of spirits, through the medium of that conjunction.”

To hold a woman closely, flesh to flesh, to feel her pulse and breathing rise, to hear her exhalations and know that she has surrendered to your will, to set off the final detonation with the touch of your finger—these are primarily masculine concerns. But consider this: the women in the Oneida Community were liberated as few Victorian women were.

more here.