A fascinating article on Alter Net by Alyssa Goldstein:
In the 1600s, a man named James Mattock was expelled from the First Church of Boston. His crime? It wasn’t using lewd language or smiling on the sabbath or anything else that we might think the Puritans had disapproved of. Rather, James Mattock had refused to have sex with his wife for two years. Though Mattock’s community clearly saw his self-deprivation as improper, it is quite possible that they had his wife’s suffering in mind when they decided to shun him. The Puritans believed that sexual desire was a normal and natural part of human life for both men and women (as long as it was heterosexual and confined to marriage), but that women wanted and needed sex more than men. A man could choose to give up sex with relatively little trouble, but for a woman to be so deprived would be much more difficult for her. …The idea that men are naturally more interested in sex than women is ubiquitous that it’s difficult to imagine that people ever believed differently. And yet for most of Western history, from ancient Greece to beginning of the nineteenth century, women were assumed to be the sex-crazed porn fiends of their day. In one ancient Greek myth, Zeus and Hera argue about whether men or women enjoy sex more. They ask the prophet Tiresias, whom Hera had once transformed into a woman, to settle the debate. He answers, “if sexual pleasure were divided into ten parts, only one part would go to the man, and and nine parts to the woman.”
The story of how this stereotype became reversed is not a simple one to trace, nor did it happen evenly and all at once. Historian Nancy Cott points to the rise of evangelical Protestantism as the catalyst of this change, at least in New England. Protestant ministers whose congregations were increasingly made up mainly of middle-class white women probably saw the wisdom in portraying their congregants as moral beings who were especially suited to answering the call of religion, rather than as besmirched seductresses whose fate was sealed in Eden. Women both welcomed this portrayal and helped to construct it. It was their avenue to a certain level of equality with men, and even superiority. Through the gospel, Christian women were “exalted above human nature, raised to that of angels,” as the 1809 book The Female Friend, or The Duties of Christian Virgins put it. The emphasis on sexual purity in the book’s title is telling. If women were to be the new symbols of Protestant religious devotion, they would have to sacrifice the acknowledgement of their sexual desires. Though even the Puritans had believed that it was perfectly acceptable for both men and women to desire sexual pleasure within the confines of marriage, women could now admit to desiring sex in order to bond with their husbands or fulfill their “maternal urges.” As Cott put it, “Passionlessness was on the other side of the coin which paid, so to speak, for women’s admission to moral equality.”
By positioning themselves as naturally chaste and virtuous, Protestant women could make the case for themselves as worthy moral and intellectual equals.
I sometimes wonder how people in 100 years time will look back on our society today?