The early modern demographic dynamic : celibates and celibacy in seventeenth-century England
By interpreting marriage as a life-cycle phenomenon with procreative sex as its ultimate aim, historians have given primacy - whether wittingly or unwittingly - to the act of intercourse between man and a woman, and relegated a range of other sexual activities to a position of lower value. In contrast, this chapter argues not only for the presence of other forms of sexual gratification within Tudor and Stuart society, but suggests in addition that rather than view them as the precursor to full penetrative intercourse, they should be understood as satisfactory and fulfilling expressions of sexuality in their own right. The final chapter examines the role of the marriage discourse in directing the employment opportunities, social status and cultural identity of single people in seventeenth century England. Here the effects of the discourse, which sought to promote the inevitability of entry into marriage as a general truth, are revealed in a gendered approach to training and employment, differential levels of access of men and women to land and property, and a concept of personal and social identity that for women was linked almost exclusively to marriage as a lifecycle phenomenon. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the extensive social and cultural ramifications of a rise in the proportion of lifelong celibate females, a situation that, regardless of its causes, required single women to reassess the image of themselves as wives and mothers and construct an alternative personal and social identity outside the standard marital paradigm.