Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

With the attack on fact went an attack on fiction. The theatre had long been an object of puritan hatred; naturally the attacks were resumed and it was declared that to visit the theatre was not merely unsuitable but absolutely unlawful for a Christian. John Styles, a Methodist minister, earned himself a sort of fame by declaring that it was “a luckless hour” when Shakespeare became a writer for the stage. The development of printing, however, had provided the patrists with another object of detestation in the novel. In 1793 the “Evangelical Magazine” roundly declared that

“All novels, generally speaking, are instruments of abomination and ruin.”

Joshua Collins said that parents would be wise to establish “an immutable law” forbidding their charges to read novels.

“It is much to be questioned”, he said, “whether any sort of fictional representation ought to be put into the hands of youth.”

In any case to compose fiction was to assert what was not true and was thus a form of lying.

The patrist character of the reform movement could be further demonstrated — for instance, Wesley, like Knox and Calvin, was a confirmed believer in witchcraft — but it is just as important, and perhaps more interesting, to emphasize some of the ways in which the period differed from previous patrist periods. There were two, in particular, and psychologically they were closely connected. The first was the tremendous preoccupation with symbolic, and especially verbal, representation of matters which had sexual connotations. In the Middle Ages, the Church had preached the strongest condemnation of sex, but it had never hesitated to call a spade a spade. Neither had it objected to representations in art of the sex organs and even of the sexual act, in both normal and perverted forms, as Witkowski has demonstrated in his “L’Art Chretien: ses Licenses“. It is, of course, quite inconceivable that the Victorians could have placed any such representations in their churches. This we might easily accept; what is stranger is that the taboo was extended further and further, so that actions and objects only remotely connected with sex could not be named, but must be referred to periphrastically. In time even the periphrases became objectionable and had to be replaced by expressions even more circuitous. Thus not only standard nouns, used repeatedly by the Bible, such as “whore” and “fornication” became taboo, but references to childbirth became indelicate: the word “accouchement” began to replace “delivery” and “pregnant” the more native “with child“. But in time even “pregnant” — which in those days had a half-metaphorical connotation which it has almost lost today — became objectionable and led to the more ambiguous “in an interesting condition”.