ENGL 350: Sex

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Source: http:pubpages.unh.edu/~jel/images/sex_select_Darwin.jpg

Contemporary Definitions:

1. The process required for reproduction between males and females within certain homogeneous, or compatible species, that undergo sexual reproduction.

2. Synonymous with "gender" defined by the OED as "In mod. (esp. feminist) use, a euphemism for the sex of a human being, often intended to emphasize the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes"

3. Sex can also refer to sexuality. In a broad sense sexuality can be defined as sexual character; “of the structural and functional traits of sex.” In our society this may refer to ones preference on gender, male or female, or to a broader transgender preference. Sexuality can also be a way to characterize and distinguish one person from another. The issue of sexual preference has become a big controversy in our current day and age in reference to same sex marriages. Many religious groups have fiercely fought against same sex marriage and as the law stands now, have prevailed in most states. "As of 2007-MAR, almost all states have "Defense of Marriage Acts" or constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage, Exceptions are:. New Mexico and Wyoming in the West, and Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont in the Northeast" [1].

Franklin and Sex

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Courtship & Gender

In the “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” often times Franklin refers to sex or his relations with women in terms of marriage and courtship. He approaches women early on with seemingly pure intentions, “I grew fond of her Company and being at this time under no Religious Restraints, & presuming on my importance to her, I attempted Familiarities…” (44). These arrangements of “attempting familiarities” seem to be mediated by the women’s family and also by whatever station he has in life at a particular time. For Franklin relations with the opposite sex are tempered by socioeconomic concerns and social norms that govern courtship and relations with the opposite sex.

Franklin page 68 – During this section of the Franklin novel he gives a brief overview of his “sexual journey” saying explicitly that he had to avoid certain women of ill repute. It is interesting that he mentions his health as one of the reasons he would avoid these women’s. In other places in the book he mentions distemper as a reason to avoid women who may be promiscuous. Today sexual health is a huge part of how people function in their sexuality especially in the United States where sexual education is mandated in public schools. Perhaps Franklin was referring to those women of "ill repute" as ones that have been with many men, indicating a certain awareness in sexually transmitted diseases.

Franklin's association of "sex" and "familiarities" is interesting because it alludes to what we might call intimacy.

One important aspect of sex during Franklin and Wheatley's time is the lack of contraception so I imagine sex was more closely associated with children. I think this is important because it brings up questions about responsibility and changes the gender relations of the time. Because there were no contraceptions women would get pregnant more, therefore have more children than today. This continued the cycle of the "home maker." With so many children the women had to stay home to keep control/nurse/feed all of them--just perpetuating the norm of house mothers and the idea that women were only capable of duties in the house and family. By the way, Franklin had an illegitimate son who he raised with his other children as one of his own. So he was not immune to extramarital temptations. I believe it is also this lack of sexual education and protection that led Franklin to avoid women of "ill repute" for his "health", where STD transmission and education did not exist yet due to lack of scientific research. This connects to our other keyword science. Without the science of "safe sex" and diseases people during this time could have easily aided in transmitting.

Franklin – “…educating the female sex…” See page 16 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Here Franklin discusses the value of giving women the kind of education which during his time was reserved for men and boys. One of the strongest reasons Franklin would like to see women educated is surprisingly simply a financial one. He sees the value in a wife being able to take over the business of her husband in case he is to pass on. If this were to take place the woman would then simply be able to give the business over to her son when he is of age and their family would not be forced into homelessness or to some other disastrous end. Sex here is obviously referring the female sex and we can see quite obviously as in other moments in Franklin he uses the word sex to apply to one gender or the other.


Franklin pg 151 - During Franklin's time, in Moravian marriages, young men who became of age told the elder of his class. The elders would then find a suitable match for the young man to marry, have sex, and essentially procreate with. I suppose one who is born into this Morovian society must fulfill the gender role of being a heterosexual.


Wheatley and Sex

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In Phillis Wheatley's poems on Virtue (p. 13) she refers to virtue as a woman, specifically an "Aufpicious queen", and asks her for protection from "false joys" or sins. This is an interesting contrast to the traditional Christian god who is male and is reminiscent of Greek mythology. Since she seems to have knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology, she is perhaps an interesting point of transition from European schooling to a new "American" curriculum based more in Christianity.

From the Wheatley reading we can definitely see that her personal identity is wrapped very intimately with her Christian identity. Her sexual desires, urges, and even her thoughts about sex would be mediated through this insinuation and its beliefs. Sexual purity would have been of the upmost importance but also being a slave she would not have technically been able to engage in sexual activities unless her master allowed it. The use of the phrase “false joys” also seems to be dealing with the Christian idea that one should remain chaste and free of the world’s temptations which might seem to bring joy and pleasure but in the end are sin.

Power and Sex: As a slave and woman Wheatley's social status is low thus her ability to determine her own course in life is all but nonexistent. Her introduction to her poetry demonstrates her subservience to the white men who have allowed her to write and publish her work and provide a window into her own conception of herself both as a slave and a woman at the time. In her first poem "To Maecenas" she concludes the poem with "Then grant, Maecenas, thy paternal rays, Hear me propitious, and defend my lays" (Wheatley, 12). Her oppression is two-fold here in that she must adopt the language of her oppressor--the language of a white, male patriarchal system--in order to express herself and also that her poetry, to be acceptable, must reflect the superiority of that system.

Jefferson and Sex

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Jefferson's most frequent use of the word 'sex' is in relation to gender and gender based relationships.

Jefferson discusses his opinion of each sex under "Animals" in his survey of Virginia and America. His opinion is that the women are the weaker sex but that through civilization they are accorded equal status with men. (pg. 64) To him it is barbarism that produces gender inequality "It is civilization that alone which replaces women in the enjoyment of their natural equality" (pg. 64) It is important to note his belief that it is "natural" for women and men to be equal.

This is a nice joining of ideas of science and sex in that he discusses the impact of the environment on the physical development of the different peoples (European and Indian) and how each of the sexes' characteristics are in part developed in response to the environment and the labors of each.

Jefferson also talks about "traditional" characteristics of the sexes when he discusses the sensibilities of the Native Americans. He is impressed by their expression of emotion and associates this public display with a more female persona.

Jefferson alludes to the contemporary idea of sex as lust and stimulating when comparing white Americans to African Americans. When referencing African Americans he states, “They are more ardent after their female; but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation” (Jefferson 146). His tone is that of curiosity and almost disgust for what he views as appalling and animalistic behavior. Ironically, these African Americans that were viewed as unintelligent and unworthy, were actually two steps ahead of white Americans in defining sex and all of it’s counterparts

“The Stronger Sex”

See pages 185 & 186 in Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. Here Jefferson is referring to his observations of the Native American’s and is giving a description of their strength and character. He lists their desire to die rather than surrender and their courage in the face of enemies. Jefferson goes on to describe their familial set up saying that the “stronger sex imposes on the weaker.” In this instance he basically saying that the men in Native American culture are the ones who are in control. Sex seems to be dealing with the difference between men and women, and even more that that societal rolls as Jefferson sees it in Native American society. He goes on to talk about how the woman labor and how childbearing becomes “extremely inconvenient.” Interestingly enough he makes a quick remark in which he says “the sex which is indulged with ease is least athletic.” Again sex seems to be dealing with male and female. Especially because all of the text around this quote is dealing with the differences Jefferson finds in women’s roles in Native society versus the role of American women during his time.

Some of the keywords which seem to come to a head in the Jefferson especially when dealing with the word sex are politics, religion, marriage, and science. In fact it seems as though politics hijacks science many times in Jefferson and use it for its own benefit. What Jefferson begins as a somewhat objective look at the population and how it is distributed turns into a discussion of how the most intelligent, vibrant, and fertile population could be created using the people that were inhabiting the land at the time. This is where we get his long discussions of the potentiality of Native Americans to be mothers and how many children they could have when compared with people of European descent. In this discussion we also see the melding of another key word, marriage. In his development of how this new American population could develop Jefferson mentions racial marriage combinations and speculates as to which groupings would be the most fertile. Sex and the amount of offspring where especially important in Jefferson’s opinion and he even goes so far as to basically say that Native American women would be more fertile if given the chance, as opposed to having to work as hard as they did. The discussion of sex cannot be separated too far from religion and marriage because Jefferson’s contemporaries and indeed Jefferson himself would have valued the institution of marriage and the sanctity of the marriage bed. In Jefferson’s time religion is another keyword which is intimately connected with the process he is going through in looking at the population. It was viewed as sinful to have sex before marriage during this time and this would have been especially important for Jefferson coming from a Protestant Christian background. Therefore marriage and sex are closely tied together.

After the naturlization presentation I think that word can be a cluster word with "sex" during Jeffersons time period. My reasoning is as follows; Jefferson saw sex as a tool for reproduction and increasing the total population in order to achieve survival and eventually greatness. Part of the role of a parent, also part of gender roles, is to teach offspring the American ideology. This American ideology connects to naturlization.

David Walker and Sex

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Rowson and Sex

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The first mention of "sex" in Rowson's novel Charlotte Temple occurs in the first sentence of the Preface, "FOR the perusal of the young and thoughtless of the fair sex, this Tale of Truth is designed; and I could wish my fair readers to consider it as not merely the effusion of Fancy, but as a reality" (1). Sex refers here to male versus female and the young female sex is characterized by thoughtlessness and innocence. Already the novel alludes to distinctions in character based on sex.

Rowson – “...the other sex...”

See page 5 Charlotte Temple

As Jamie mentioned in the above post Susanna Rowson many times uses the term sex to delineate gender. She also uses the term in a negative way when describing how men treat the women in their life and can at times take advantage of them. On page 5 of the preface Temple is describing her reason for writing this cautionary tale and she mentions how she wants this story to live on even for her own children so they will be protected from the “…unfeeling world…” and avoid the “…snares not only of the other sex, but from the more dangerous arts of the profligate of their own” (5).

Rowson – “...her sex to follow...”

See page 22 Charlotte Temple

Again on page 22 Rowson uses sex in connection with gender when Temple’s Father is commenting on Lucy Eldridge’s purity “…no doubt in your opinion she is a pattern of excellence for all her sex to follow…” (22). In this context although we see sex used in a positive light when referring to Lucy’s pure and upright example. At this point in the novel a pattern is developing in which sex when talked about in conjunction with women is paired with a positive context while sex and male is not.

Rowson – “...her sex to follow...”

See page 65 Charlotte Temple

Rowson also pairs sex with very cautionary concerned tone when discussing the female sex. In this quote Temple is worried that there is no one to go to, no one of her own sex who she can confide in, “…no kind friend of her own sex to whom she can unbosom her griefs, no beloved mother, no woman of character will appear in my company, and low as your Charlotte is fallen, she cannot associate with infamy…” (65).

Rowson – “...without a friend of my own sex...”

See page 95 Charlotte Temple

The sense of sadness and melancholy throughout this novel is almost overpowering. Rowson uses the unfortunate plight of Charlotte not only as a cautionary tale but as we see increasingly by this point in the novel to make a comment on all women. She seems to not only to make the point that men of ill repute cannot be trusted but also a call to women to be supportive of those around them who are in this plight of being misused by men. The novel drowns on and on about how Charlotte has feels like there is no one to help her and that all is lost. Again we see sex used to in connection with gender but more and more sex is grouped with a call for women to support each other.

Rowson often inter-links "sex" with concepts concerning "passion," "pleasure" and so called "virtue." Strongly implimenting specific gender roles of her time, Rowson uses Charlotte as means to further explore the boundaries of these roles.

Pg 34: " Of all the pleasures of which the human mind is sensible, there is none equal to that which warms and expands the bossom." "Pleasure is a vain illusion; she draws you on to a thousand follies, errors and I may say vices, and then leaves you to deplore your thoughtless credulity."

Pg 93: " Oh Charlotte, conscience tells me it was I, villian that i am, who first taught you the allurements of guilty pleasure; it was i who dragged you from the calm repose which innocence and virute ever enjoy."

This "virtue" or "honor" often refers to Charlotte's "innocence" or "virginal" status within society. Once she essentially looses this to her seducers, she "falls from grace" to a miserable and tragic end.

Pg 65: "He had little to devote to the woman, whom he had brought from all her connections, and robbed of innocence."

Pg 80: "i was conscious of having forfeited the only gem that could render me respectable in the eye of the world. I locked my sorrows in my own bossom, and bore my injustices in silence." Sex is a type of status symbol for Charlotte and her society much like a scarlet letter. The idea of sex is in direct opposition to itself--on the one hand Rowson talks about the pleasure of sex yet the pleasure brings pain and disrespect.

Pg 98: "He left the unhappy girl to sink unnoticed to the grave, a prey to sickness, grief, and penury; while he, having triumphed over the virture of the artless cottager, rioted in all the intemperance of luxury and lawless pleasure."

pg. 27: "The mind of youth eagerly catches at promised pleasure: pure and innocent by nature, it thinks not of the dangers lurking beneath those pleasures." Again, describing the word "sex" in pleasurable terms and arousal instead of just an act of procreation. Rowson makes sure to state that the pleasure is "innocent" probably alluding to virginity.

Characterizations of the "Female Sex":

Charged with exemplifying morality, innocence, ensuring happiness and tranquility in the home. Not intended to partake of issues pertaining to the public, government or formal investigation. Frequently in the text there are various cautionary tales and examples to the dangers that threaten the female sex. Roswon often warns the reader of the dangers of pleasure within this context.

Charlotte's naive, perhaps endearing quality of "judging of the gentleness of every female disposition" (89). Women, for the most part, are the kinder, gentler sex.

Characterizations of the "Male Sex": "morals and conduct have so powerful an influence on mankind in general" (Preface)

As evidence in Chapter XXIII Rowson implies that (some) men possess an evil quality to them, "A MAN MAY SMILE, AND SMILE, AND BE A VILLAIN." The same way as referenced before to the actions of Montraville and the plotting of Belcour. In the novel the male sex seems to have an underlying evilness which can be used to manipulate the female sex and their naietivity. 

I see the definition of sex in this novel as having taken a huge leap since the time of Jefferson and Franklin. While the term "sex" may well still be used in reference to men and women the words surrounding the word are saturated with the more contemporary ideas of lust and arousal. Genders are alluded to on page 9 and 10 when Montraville and Belcour are walking along to see girls (female sex). Rowson describes the scene as " such an assemblage of youth and innocence naturally attracted the young soldiers...[he was] awakened in his bosom new and pleasing ideas" (10). This quote is also referring to the idea of the two men being aroused by young innocent women. The idea of innocence is most likely symbolizing virginity which brings about a whole new idea about men and the desire to have virgin women as sexual partners.

Hobomok and Sex

In chapter 1 page 16 "Among all my conjectures, I could not possibly imagine for what purpose she could be making an excursion at that lonely hour of the night. I remembered the hint, which her father had given, concerning the beguilement of her silly heart, and I could not but suspet that this walk was, in some way or other, connected with the young Episcopalian." These sentences are talking about the actual act of sex but what is interesting is that Mary feels the need to hide her relationship. During this time women who had sex outside of marriage were still seen with disrespect, and like Charlotte, wore an invisible scarlet letter

Narrative of Robert Adams

"Illicit intercourse appeared to be but little regarded amongst the lower orders; and chastity amongst the women seemed to be preserved only so far as their situations or circumstances rendered it necessary for their personal safety or convenience..." (43).

"The practice of procuring abortion is very common. Adams was informed that in cases of pregnancy from illicit intercourse, where the woman would not submit to this alternative, it was no unusual thing for the father secretly to poison her" (43).

Sex and Religion, Marriage

I think because sex is both a "duty" in order for a species to procreate and also pleasurable and thought to be associated with lust and more primal or base acts it is complicated and hidden or censored in the public sphere.

Sex and marriage seems to have a heavy weight in Franklin's time, where Ralph runs away to England, leaving behind his wife and child because he did not like her relatives. Instead of simply divorcing her, Ralph chose to run away to England penniless, constantly borrowing from Franklin, in order to escape his wife and her relatives. This act indicates that divorce, or separation, was particularly troublesome in Franklin's time, where the effort of Ralph living with his family in Pennsylvania outweighed the effort of running away to a foreign country penniless. In the end, the price Ralph was willing to pay was his home, his business, his family, and ultimately, his friend, Franklin. This gives the reader a glimpse of what divorce and separation was like in Franklin's time. Divorce was once seen as a weakness and was looked down upon by society. Today divorce rates for first marriages are between 40 and 50 percent [2] (Franklin p39, p42)

In Rowson, sex and marriage are related by the roles each sex plays and/or is socially sanctioned to play in a relationship between a man and a woman. Marriage is viewed as a financial, moral and social contract.

Sex and marriage become linked. Because sex out of wedlock is considered sinful and because of the lack of contraception, pregnancy and children born out of wedlock are public displays of "immorality". Charlotte Temple is an example of the impact of sex before marriage on early American society, family, women and children. In practical terms, without the contract of marriage mediating the responsibilities of men to their children and the women they have sex with, nuclear families are not formed, ostensibly the "morality" of children, supposedly imparted by fathers, suffers and thus the moral and religious strength of families and communities suffers.

The current rules and regulations of marriage in Washington state indirectly relate to sex. One of the requirements of marriage as stated by the Washington State Bar Association is that both parties must be 18 years of age. This most likely has to do with the assumption that marriage leads to sex and if one member is not 18 but the other is older, then legally any sex would be considered rape. By making the the age requirement for marriage 18, the state is essentially covering its own tracks.

Sex vs Gender

Sex can be distinguished from gender in that sex refers to the physical distinction between males and females and gender according to the Oxford American Dictionary is "often intended to emphasize the social and cultural, as opposed to the biological, distinctions between the sexes". In Franklin's time it is used it to refer, ostensibly, to biological differences that were thought to justify cultural and social norms of the time. As he says, "A question was once, somehow or other, started between Collins and me, of the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal to it. I took the contrary side, perhaps a little for dispute's sake." Science and sex intersect here in that discovery of knowledge through investigation is the primary way Franklin acquires knowledge, and indeed it is his preferred method of learning, and he employs this principle in his assessment of the differences between the sexes.

Tracking the use of "sex" from Franklin through Rowson there is a shift in meaning that connects to the concerns of each time period. Earlier references refer more to the physical, biological sense of the word with emphases on physical distinctions in the sexes between races, differences in physical characteristics and fitness between the sexes and characterizations of each sex generally related to the concerns of a modest population attempting to evolve into a more dominant one. Later works seem to transition to more socially relevant characterizations of each sex and so the meaning begins to shift from physical qualities of the sexes to temperamental and aptitude characterizations of the sexes.

How has "sex" changed over time and what does it mean today?

We've found that you can’t discuss gender without sexual identity and you can’t talk about sexual identity without talking about the actually act of sex. We’ve found you also cannot talk about sex without bringing in all these different keywords that at first seem unrelated. This complicates sex even more because if you can’t separate the meanings it’s hard to put your finger on the actual word and fully understand sex. Which may be why sex is so misunderstood. What I found interesting is that all the authors we’ve read try to separate the different meanings of sex. They say the most simplistic usage of sex yet they are really bringing in all these other ideas of sex and other keywords that don’t necessarily go with sex. It’s like theyre hiding the complex issues of sex. Yet, like I already said, you can’t really separate sex into parts so these authors are essentially complicating the word even more through their hidden definitions. An easy example is in Charlotte Temple. Rowson never even uses the word sex to actually mean intercourse which when you think about it is strange because the entire book is based on the actual act of intercourse which leads Charlotte to suffer the consequences of a loss of innocence and rejection from society. Or there is Franklin who uses the word sex to mean in the most simple terms, gender. Yet when he speaks of gender he is really also discussing virtue, public appearance, and property.

It is apparent that during Franklin's time, it was not uncommon for men to act sexist towards women, considering them mentally inferior. This opinion that reflects the image of women at the time is revealed by John Collins. The opinion is then reinforced by Franklin, who argues this point for "disputes sake", not for the sexist generalization the argument represents. In modern times, this statement is obviously incorrect, where women have contributed to major roles in society, proving that their mental capacity is in no way inferior to men. See Franklin's The Autobiography: "A Question was once somehow or other started between Collins & me, of the Propriety of educating the Female Sex in Learning, & their Abilities for Study" (14).

I think it would be interesting to discuss this definition further because sex as gender was much more straight and obvious in Franklin/Jefferson's time. Today sex and gender are often discussed together yet are not as obvious as they were once. Judith Butler theorizes that sex and gender are performance roles; that the biological sex a person is born with does not necessarily determine gender. "Butler says: 'There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; ... identity is performatively constituted by the very "expressions" that are said to be its results.' (Gender Trouble, p. 25). In other words, gender is a performance; it's what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are." An example of this is in the increasingly evident prevalence and voice for gay marriages, as well as open sexual identity choices. One may be born a man but may choose to love men, or even choose to become a woman through gender changing procedures, such as surgical or medical, and vis versa.

Within his essay in Keywords, Bruce Burgett states, “the keyword ‘sex’ names something an individual either is or has. It refers to both the material foundation of binary gender difference, and the real and imagined acts that ground various sexual identities” (Burgett 217). While Thomas Jefferson seems to use “sex” solely to distinguish between the biological categories of male/female, his observations of the Indians often (unknowingly) included these very “sexual identities.” Overly concerned with the existence of disparities in how power was distributed in “Indian” societies, Jefferson’s observations of different “sexes” would today be referred to as differences in “gender,” or more specifically, “gender roles.” This distinction between “gender” and “sex” seems to be the difference between socially and culturally created roles and the physical division of male/female. “A gender role is defined as a set of perceived behavioral norms associated particularly with males or females, in a given social group or system” (wikipedia.). As Jefferson’s time held no distinction between the two, his usage of “sex” initially involved differentiating between male/female animal species. However, this terminology eventually expanded alongside his study of Indian societies, to include “sex” as both a reference to biological categories, as well as to refer to genderized social and cultural categories.