What People Believe: The Oneida Community
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The Oneidans: guilt-free sex with everyone, male responsibility for birth control, and generally making a success of yourself. Sounds pretty decent. So where did it all go wrong? The concept The newspaper ad would be enticing: “Join the Oneidan community and get your free pass to shag the contents of a mansion, 100% guilt-free! Live here, use our library with enough information to make you a prodigy, and even play a round of golf!” Small print: “We are also conveniently located near the Canadian border for when reality strikes and we get arrested.” The history Founder John Humphrey Noyes was taken by the idea of spiritual fulfilment through “perfectionism” during his time at Yale, having recently converted to Christianity following a near-death illness (a really bad cold). From 1848-1881 he led the Oneida community, bringing together a “family” which unsurprisingly grew from 37 to over 300 members (with some leaving their existing families to partake). He and his followers held the core belief of achieving personal and social perfection, with religion at the centre. Noyes believed that the key to bonding with God and maintaining successful relationships free from jealousy was openness and “complex marriage”, or loving each other “en masse”. Its label suggests that keeping multiple partners is a sign of higher intelligence. All other slaves to society, meanwhile, are only able keep track of one partner at a time. In practise, however, the concept seems to fit pretty concisely into five words: sex for (and with) all. In order to support this endeavour, the community built an Eden-inspired Mansion House in 1861, with 14 acres of ground and an “Upper Sitting Room”, home to tiny bedrooms reserved for sexy time. Birth control All was not as simple as it seems, though. According to Noyes’ vision, men should be responsible for birth control. This was not achieved through earlier versions of the condom, as you might imagine. Instead, men were required to practise “male continence” or coitus reservatus. That’s right; men were not allowed to come. The idea was that the fleshly orgasm overshadowed the spirituality of love-making, which Noyes related to the “shame of the Fall”. This could lead to intimacy problems where blame was projected onto the partner for feelings of sin. Younger men, who were still unable to control themselves, were allowed to practise on post-menopausal women. This conveniently left ripe young ladies to the likes of Noyes and his more experienced male peers.
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