views updated May 14 2018


Historically, bundling was a courtship practice in which, as a part of an ongoing courtship process, a couple spent a night together, usually in bed, dressed or half dressed. During the night, the young couple got to know each other intimately and sexually through various kinds of stimulation and mutual gratification. However, these were supposed to fall short of penetrative sex that could lead to pregnancy. The custom was practiced with either parental permission or at least tacit knowledge, and took place mostly in the female partner's home. Most of the surviving evidence for the practice is from eighteenth-century New England. However, variations of premarital nonpenetrative sex customs similar to bundling are known from earlier times in many parts of Europe as well as other parts of the world. It is probable that bundling increased in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, partly reflecting a high average age at marriage (midto late twenties) and a growing emphasis on affection.

Variations of Bundling

Essentially, bundling was a social mechanism that helped to insure the stability of sacred matrimony. In traditional societies, where divorce seldom took place, minimizing the risk of broken marriages was one aim of the courtship period. It was therefore accepted that the courtship, as a kind of trial period, included some sexual acquaintance, though amid constraints. It has also been argued that the custom of bundling in premodern times had a circumstantial cause, namely that the harsh climate as well as poor housing was conducive to the growth of physical intimacy. Even the supposed widespread existence of bundling in New England is usually explained as due more to the harsh climate and the long distances between the dwellings of early settlers than to the alleged economic and moral independence of young couples. The young courting mate, having traveled a long way to visit his woman, perforce stayed the night in her home, usually in the same one large room where the rest of her family slept. These sleeping arrangements surely helped to control the intimacy of the couple and minimized the risk of abusing the privilege. An eighteenth-century New England ballad emphasized this practical aspect of the custom: "Since in bed a man and maid/may bundle and be chaste/it does no good to burn out wood/it is needless waste."

Like many other popular European practices concerning courtship and marriage, prenuptial nonpenetrative sex is also believed to be rooted in pre-Christian culture, especially in Germanic societies. Henry Reed Stiles, whose 1871 Bundling: Its Origins, Progress, and Decline in America remains one of the most cited books on the practice, traced its origin back to ancient rural Wales and parts of Scotland. Stiles also gave examples of what he viewed as bundling in medieval Holland, as well as in central Asia. Not all scholars are in agreement with Stiles about the exact time of the custom's appearance, but most recognize the validity of evidence on bundling variations at least from late medieval and early modern Europe. The evidence comes mostly from Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, and less so from Germany, Switzerland, and parts of France. Evidence of nonpenetrative sexual courtship practices also exists for Eastern Europe.

The Swiss-German customs that shared the characteristics and purposes of bundling were Kiltgang, Fenstreln, or Nachtfreien. In early modern times in southern Germany these customs included young men climbing through the window of young women's rooms at night with the intention of gratifying mutual desires, but without incurring the risk of pregnancy. In the Netherlands queesten was probably comparable to bundling. It is described as a custom of wooing in which lovers sit in an open room, the man sitting on top of the bed covering, wooing the girl who is underneath. A New England equivalent was tarrying, in which a young man who wanted to marry a woman was allowed, with her parents' consent, to tarry with her for one night.

In most cases involving premarital nonpenetrative sex customs, the defining structures of class and geography were significant. Usually, but not exclusively, bundling was more common among people of the lower classes of society and in rural areas. It was also in these social classes and geographical settings that youngsters enjoyed greater freedom in choosing their spouses.

Youth Sexuality

By creating an accepted social space for practicing bundling, adult authorities gave young people in the medieval and early modern periods a socially legitimized framework for their sexual desires. As in other youth customs, such as the European charivari, young men and women used bundlingto express their sexuality in a specific time and place within the boundaries of social consent. Although marriage rather than sociability was the premise of bundling, the youngsters received a space where their urgent sexual adolescent needs were tolerated. However, the unwritten behavioral code of bundling, which excluded penetrative sex, left the expression of the couple's sexuality controlled, supervised, and restrained by society. The restraints usually implied a gender bias. Young women were at much greater risk while negotiating their sexuality during courtship, not just of pregnancy, but also of damaging their matrimonial prospects.

In eighteenth-century New England bundling was often condemned as immoral. Washington Irving, in his Knickerbocker's History of New York, argued that a large number of pregnancies outside of marriage were a result of bundling. Other religious authorities, however, defended the practice. They even occasionally used examples of "religious" bundling or tarrying, such as that of the biblical Boaz and Ruth at the threshing floor ("Tarry the night " Ruth 3:13). One material clue that points to the prevalent as well as conservative aspect of bundling is the Pennsylvanian centerboard. This was a wide board running through the length of the bed in which a courting couple lay, preventing too close a physical intimacy. A contemporary ballad in favor of bundling, called "The Whore on the Snow Crust," encouraged youngsters to practice it rightly: "Since bundling is not a thing/that judgment will procure/Go on young men and bundle then/But keep your bodies pure."

Bundling was declining in America around the time of the Great Awakening in the early 1700s, due to a combination of material as well as moral factors. The improvement in living conditions, which meant less isolated dwellings and larger homes in which there was more than one heated room, reduced the necessity of providing a couple with a warm bed to court in. The decline of bundling was also due to the changing climate of ideas regarding female sexuality around 1800. The nineteenth-century ideal of the pure asexual woman further limited the theoretical as well as the practical scope in which men and women could express their sexuality within accepted social norms.

In America as in other parts of the world such as Russia or Scotland evidence of the persistent customs of premarital nonpenetrative sex exists well into the nineteenth century. The balance between sexual expression and sexual restraint continued to be the rule in these encounters. Secularization and modern birth control rendered penetrative sex less threatening. In time the back seats of cars in drive-in theaters and dark city street corners replaced in many ways the traditional bundling bed.


Adair, Richard. 1996. Courtship, Illegitimacy, and Marriage in Early Modern England. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.

Beck, Rainer. 1983. "Illegitimität und voreheliche Sexualität auf dem Land: Unterfinning, 16711770." In Kultur der einfachen Leute: Bayerisches Volksleben vom 16. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert, ed. Richard Van Dulmen. Munich, Germany: C. H. Beck.

Caspard, Pierre. 1974. "Conceptions prénuptiales et développement du capitalisme dans la Principauté de Neuchâtel (16781820)." Annales ESC 29: 9891008.

Engel, Barbara Alpern. 1990. "Peasant Morality and Premarital Sexual Relations in Late Nineteenth Century Russia." Journal of Social History 23: 695708.

Fischer-Yinon, Yochi. 2002. "The Original Bundlers: Boaz and Ruth and Seventeenth-Century English Practices." Journal of Social History 35: 683705.

Flandrin, Jean-Louis. 1977. "Repression and Change in the Sexual Life of Young People in Medieval and Early Modern Times." Journal of Family History 2: 196210.

Rothman, Ellen K. 1950. Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America. New York: Basic Books.

Shorter, Edward. 1975. The Making of the Modern Family. New York: Basic Books.

Stiles, Henry Reed. 1999 [1871]. Bundling: Its Origins, Progress, and Decline in America. Sandwich, MA: Chapman Billies.

Yochi Fischer-Yinon


views updated Jun 11 2018


Bundling is probably the best known courtship practice of colonial America, even though very little research on the topic has ever been published. It appears to contradict the otherwise sexually strict mores of the Puritans. It meant that a courting couple would be in bed together, but with their clothes on. With fuel at a premium, it was often difficult to keep a house warm in the evenings. Since this is when a man would be visiting his betrothed in her home, they would bundle in her bed together in order to keep warm. A board might be placed in the middle to keep them separate, or the young lady could be put in a bundling bag or duffel-like chastity bag. The best protection against sin were the parents, who were usually in the same room with them. It may not have been good enough, however, as records indicate that up to one-third of couples engaged in premarital relations in spite of the public penalties, such as being fined and whipped, that often resulted (Ingoldsby 1995).

There was no dating per se in colonial times. A man would ask the parents for a young woman's hand in marriage and once they agreed courting could begin. The young couple had already determined that they were in love, of course. Parents would approve of bundling for their daughter with the man she intended to marry. Although it was not always this strictly controlled, it is clear that the women determined when and with whom bundling occurred. It provided the opportunity for some physical closeness in an otherwise strict society.

The beginning of bundling is unclear, though it does seem certain that it was a practice brought by the Puritans from Europe. Some feel that its origin can be traced to the Biblical story of Ruth and Boaz, where she laid at his feet and he invited her to "Tarry this night" (Ruth 3:6–13). Bundling was occasionally referred to as tarrying.

Historian Henry Reed Stiles railed against the practice:

This amazing increase may, indeed, be partly ascribed to a singular custom prevalent among them, commonly known by the name of bundling—a superstitious rite observed by the young people of both sexes, with which they usually terminated their festivities, and which was kept up with religious strictness by the more bigoted and vulgar part of the community. This ceremony was likewise, in those primitive times, considered as an indispensable preliminary to matrimony. . . . To this sagacious custom do I chiefly attribute the unparalleled increase of the Yankee tribe; for it is a certain fact, well authenticated by court records and parish registers, that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annually born unto the state. (Stiles 1871, p. 50–53)

Some of the New England ministers defended the practice and saw no harm in it. Others condemned it as inappropriate. The Reverend Samuel Peters opined:

Notwithstanding the modesty of the females is such that it would be accounted the greatest rudeness for a gentleman to speak before a lady of a garter, knee, or leg, yet it is thought but a piece of civility to ask her to bundle, a custom as old as the first settlement in 1634. It is certainly innocent, virtuous and prudent, or the puritans would not have permitted it to prevail among their offspring. ... People who are influenced more by lust, than a serious faith in God, ought never to bundle. . . . I am no advocate for temptation; yet must say, that bundling has prevailed 160 years in New England, and, I verily believe, with ten times more chastity than the sitting on a sofa.

A Reverend James Haven is given credit by Stiles for helping to end the practice. He urged his congregation to abandon a practice which placed many in too much temptation and they were apparently shamed into more proper behavior:

Mr. Haven, in a long and memorable discourse, sought out the cause of the growing sin, and suggested the proper remedy. He attributed the frequent recurrence of the fault to the custom then prevalent, of females admitting young men to their beds, who sought their company with intentions to marriage. And he exhorted all to abandon that custom, and no longer expose themselves to temptations which so many were found unable to resist. . . . The females blushed and hung down their heads. The men, too, hung down their heads, and now and then looked out from under their fallen eyebrows, to observe how others supported the attack. If the outward appearance of the assembly was somewhat composed, there was a violent internal agitation in many minds. . . .The custom was abandoned. The sexes learned to cultivate the proper degree of delicacy in their intercourse, and instances of unlawful cohabitation in this town since that time have been extremely rare. (Laurer and Laurer 2000, p. 145)

In spite of such opposition, many women supported the practice, as evidenced by this poem from the period:

Some maidens say, if through the nation, Bundling should quite go out of fashion, Courtship would lose its sweets; and they Could have no fun till wedding day. It shant be so, they rage and storm, And country girls in clusters swarm, And fly and buzz, like angry bees, And vow they'll bundle when they please. Some mothers too, will plead their cause, And give their daughters great applause, And tell them, 'tis no sin nor shame, For we, your mothers, did the same. (kephart and jedlicka 1991, p. 63–64)

Courtship must adjust to environmental conditions, and young women were given greater freedom in frontier settlements than their parents had in Europe. Limited space in living quarters may explain the revival of the folk custom of bundling. It became common in New England in spite of being frowned upon by many community leaders. Eventually the advent of singing schools and other opportunities for young people to gather provided other settings for courtship (Groves 1934). After colonial youth returned from the French and Indian wars, bundling was attacked as immoral and became a vice rather than a simple custom, and it appears to have withered away over time.


groves, e. (1934). the american family. chicago:lippincott.

ingoldsby, b., and smith, s. (1995). families inmulticultural perspective. new york: guilford press.

kephart, w., and jedlicka, d. (1991). the family, society, and the individual. new york: harpercollins.

laurer, r., and lauer, j. (2000). marriage and family: thequest for intimacy. boston: mcgraw-hill.

stiles, h. (1871). bundling: its origin, progress and decline in america. new york: book collectors association.

bron b. ingoldsby


views updated May 23 2018


Bundling is the process of combining multiple products or services and selling them as a single package. Most major telecommunications and computer technology firms bundle at least some of their products and services. In some cases, both products and services are bundled together. For example, Internet service providers sometimes offer personal computers free to customers who are willing to sign up for two or more years of service. E-commerce site builders bundle page design software and online traffic monitoring tools with e-marketing services. Online content providers like the Wall Street Journal Online offer subscriptions that not only include access to an online version of a publication, but also accounts with other online publications, the ability to retrieve archived articles, real-time stock quotes, stock tracking services, and more.

For years, personal computer manufacturers have sold their machines with several software programs already loaded onto the hard drive, and leading word processing programs like Microsoft Word and Word-Perfect have come bundled with spreadsheet, database, and presentation software. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the communications industry in the United States, allowing broadcasting, cable, wireless, and telephone industries to compete in one another's markets for the first time and opening up a host of new bundling opportunities. Cable television companies began bundling their traditional cable service with Internet access, as did telephone companies. For example, using digital subscriber line (DSL) technology, which offers a much faster connection speed than traditional modems, in late 2000 Sprint began offering a bundle of local and long-distance telephone services that also included five e-mail addresses, a data line, and six megabytes of Web space.

A particularly noteworthy example of bundling is Microsoft's inclusion of its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows 95 operating system in the mid-1990s. The move allowed the firm to compete with browser rival Netscape, but some critics believe it worked a bit too well. It resulted in an antitrust investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice that eventually made its way to court. A judge ruled that Microsoft must offer a version of Windows 95 unbundled from Internet Explorer, although that verdict was later overturned on appeal. The litigation sparked by the bundling continued, however, until 2000 when Microsoft was found guilty of monopolistic practices and ordered to split into two companies, a ruling that also was appealed.


Arnst, Catherine. "The Coming Telescramble: Deregulation is Launching a $1 Trillion Digital Free-for-All." Business Week. April 8, 1996.

Buckman, Rebecca. "Looking Through Microsoft's Window." The Wall Street Journal. May 1, 2000.

Dix, John. "The Future is Bundles, Even for DSL." Network World. October 23, 2000.

Hamilton, David P. "With Free PCs, You Get What You Pay For." The Wall Street Journal. April 4, 1999.

Schwartz, Evan I. "Turning Surfers Into Subscribers." Mediaweek. October 30, 2000.

SEE ALSO: Microsoft Corp.


views updated May 14 2018


Bundling (or "tarrying") comprises a number of socially condoned courtship practices primarily documented among northern and northeastern European Christian communities as well as among homogeneous, non-urban Christian communities in the United States. The practice is documentable from the late Middle Ages until its dwindling in the nineteenth century, with some anecdotal evidence of its continued existence into the early twentieth century. The practices of bundling revolve around a young, unmarried man sleeping, fully clothed, in the same bed as a young, unmarried woman. These non-urban communities are usually small in scale and primarily practice agriculture. Communities practicing bundling were close-knit, in that the young men and woman knew each other, as did their respective families.

Details of this practice vary from whether the woman wore clothes or a night dress, was sewn into a sack (bundling sack), lay under the covers and the male above the covers, both lay under the covers or both were on top, whether there was a board placed between them (bundling board), whether the couple was sleeping in the same room or same building as the guardians or in a separate building, whether there was a candle in a particular window, and whether the door or the window must be rapped upon in a particular way. The young man and woman were not normally joined by other young men and women. This practice contrasts with the practice of inviting all the young people of the community to a festival which included sleeping in the same barn or outbuilding.

Bundling was performed with the full knowledge and assent of families and the community. Many reasons are given for this practice: finding compatible marriage partners, permitting courtship while not wasting firewood and candles, and communal recognition of sex without penetration among the young in courting. Another reason given in the United States is that distances between homesteads on the frontier required a young man to spend the night when courting a woman.


Aurand, A. Monroe, Jr. 1941. Little Known Facts about Bundling in the New World. Harrisburg, PA: Author.

Fischer-Yinon, Yochi. 2002. "The Original Bundlers: Boaz and Ruth, and Seventeenth-Century English Courtship Practices." Journal of Social History 35 (3): 683-705.

Hoffman, W. J. 1888. "Folk-Lore of the Pennsylvania Germans, Part I." The Journal of American Folklore 1(2): 125-135.

Gjerde, Jon. 1985. From Peasants to Farmers: The Migration from Balestrand, Norway, to the Upper Middle West. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leeuwen, Marco H.D. van. 2002. "Partner Choice and Homogamy in the Nineteenth Century: Was There a Sexual Revolution in Europe?" Journal of Social History 36 (1): 101-123.

                                         Carol E.B. Choksy


views updated May 18 2018


BUNDLING was a mode of courtship during the colonial period. According to this practice, a young couple would go to bed together, either fully dressed or partially dressed, with a "bundling board," or long wooden slab, between them. Sometimes the woman's legs were bound in a tightly fitting "bundling stocking." This custom, inherited from Europe, apparently originated as a matter of convenience and necessity where space and heat were lacking. It became most prevalent in New England, where Puritan parents tried to provide young couples opportunities to court freely while still supervising their conduct. Bundling seems to have declined in the late eighteenth century.


Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Thompson, Roger. Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649–1699. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.

Hugh T.Lefler/s. b.

See alsoFamily ; Marriage ; Sexuality .