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Jump to . A redbrick edifice weighed down with cornices, dentils, towers, porticoes, gables, and other oddments of the Victorian architectural imagination, the Mansion House is fronted by a curved drive and sloping lawn, and lacks only a polite scattering of whitewashed Appalachian chairs to complete the picture of a prosperous Victorian resort, or perhaps a genteel insane asylum. The Oneida mansion was deed for the pursuit of love and the encouragement of sexual pleasure. Noyes came from generations of New England aristocracy. Hayes was his first cousin.
Portraits on the walls depict a short man with a tight collar, bulging forehead, and determined chin. Noyes was inspired by perfectionism, a distinctly underground Protestant sect that had adopted the almost Buddhist view that a man could reach spiritual perfection before his death, and when he did so the normal laws of man and religion would no longer apply.
Noyes could often be seen through the open door of his tower bedroom reading from his favorite work of erotic literature, the King James Bible. The scriptures were replete with lurid couplings of all kinds, and often equated religious grace with the delights of sexual intercourse. They gave ample proof, to Noyes at least, that his most far-out theories about group marriage, birth control, incest, adolescent sexuality, and the virtue of sexual pleasure were divinely sanctioned. Upon entering the Mansion House, I passed quickly through bookstore and lobby and into the marrow of the museum.
I encountered a few of them walking with difficulty down the corridors that their ancestors had trod so confidently, their he blessed by halos of white hair that flared in the overhead lights as they passed. On the second floor I found the reading room, a tall, cool chamber with a wraparound balcony surrounded by a balustrade. Oneidans prided themselves on keeping up with the times, and many from the second generation attended Yale and Harvard or the Berklee College of Music. Oneida may have been a cult, but it had no intention of becoming an isolated one. The most distinguished feature of the reading room is a series of small staterooms modeled after those on a steamboat, running around the walls and upstairs in a kind of porch.
Any woman who wished to have sex with a particular man simply asked through an emissary, and a man who wished to have sex with a woman did the same. In other parts of the museum I viewed bear traps, silk skeins, silverware sets, and precision-engineered airplane parts manufactured by Oneidans. So is the Oneida silverware company, now an international concern, which also started at the Oneida Community—I had passed its squat, castle-like headquarters on the way to the Mansion House. The Three Graces , by Raphael, c. Noyes was a gentle, caring man, and his first thought was that he must give up having sex with his wife forever, and if that proved impossible, to live apart from her.
He greatly enjoyed the pleasures of the marriage bed, however, so he began to hunt for ways to avoid unwanted pregnancy. Noyes had a methodical mind. And now Noyes reasoned further. He created a mental picture of the act of intercourse in terms of a skillful boatman rowing on a wide river. Calm ripples spread out all around him, perhaps causing his skiff to rock a bit. His ears could hear the roar of a waterfall downstream, but for now this was not a threat. As long as the oarsman remained in the shallows he could ply his oar with ease and pleasure as long as he wished.
Farther down, though, where the river narrowed, he would enter a set of rapids. But to the skilled boatman the rough waves gave only more pleasure. He could pull and push against the tossing white water, dodging here and there, but the boat would remain safe. Even in the rapids he could dally without danger, enjoying his skill and the heady sensations of rocking and speed.
This would be climax. Having brought his thought experiment to its logical end, Noyes decided to try his idea with his wife, Harriet. It can be intensely erotic to be with a woman who is having an orgasm, even at the cost of not having one yourself. It transformed the sexual experience for both Victorian men and women.
It prolonged and magnified the act of intercourse and promoted a deeper connection between partners, while putting male gratification on the back burner. Finally, it allowed men and women to choose their partners free from the bonds of monogamous marriage. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. In the s, long after the Oneida Community had ceased to be, a sex research pioneer named Robert Latou Dickinson came to the Mansion House to discover exactly that.
Dickinson was fascinated with the variety of ways people could make love. Decades before Alfred Kinsey made a habit of taking notes on the erotic lives of everyone he met, Dickinson jotted down thousands of sexual histories. He found an aging grandniece of the founder, a physician named Hilda Herrick Noyes, who was happy to offer details. At the same time, he refrained from having an orgasm himself. Thus, amative intercourse involved coitus, but the primary stimulation was by hand.
Noyes thought the connection profound and spiritual. To hold a woman closely, flesh to flesh, to feel her pulse and breathing rise, to hear her exhalations and know that she has surrendered to your will, to set off the final detonation with the touch of your finger—these are primarily masculine concerns. But consider this: the women in the Oneida Community were liberated as few Victorian women were. And they did work—such as editing the community newspaper—that few women of their times were allowed.
They were encouraged to be sexual equals, and the children who were born were raised by the community as a whole in nurseries that were staffed as much by men as by women. E ventually I arrived at the large upstairs meeting hall and took a seat in the gloom on one of the long Shaker-like benches. Before me was a tilted platform upon which Oneida residents had once staged entertainments and concerts.
The meeting hall may have been set for yet another use. From its cars as many as 1, tourists per day would step out. They came to buy traps, canned peaches, and other handiwork; to marvel at the laughing children as they ran to and from school; to see the hard muscles in the arms of the men, who despite years of ejaculatory self-denial were clear-eyed and healthy. But most of all, they came to ogle at the red cheeks and happy smiles of the women, who had partaken of the forbidden fruit of pleasure and could sleep with whichever men they pleased. As dusk fell, tourists were invited to share a meal in the vast dining hall and view musical performances and dramatic plays the talented communards put on the stage of the meeting hall.
Bacchante by the Sea , by Camille Corot, Metropolitan Museum of Art , H. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. Havemeyer, A couple would be chosen from the audience. The British novelist Aldous Huxley thought not. Huxley had learned about John Humphrey Noyes and male continence in the s on his first visit to America and remained an enthusiastic fan all of his life.
The Oneida Community inspired his last book, Island , about a utopian tropical paradise whose sexually liberated inhabitants practiced intercourse just as the Oneidans did. In every culture and time, he speculated, there has always been a small but energized minority of men and women who deliberately avoided conventional orgasm in order to lengthen and broaden their sexual experience. He mentioned Tantric sexual ritual, the early Gnostics, a heretical medieval Flemish cult called the Adamites, and another medieval group, known as the Cathars, that thrived in northern Italy and southern France, as well as the Romans.
In none of these places, Huxley noted, had there been any attempt to throttle sexual pleasure. Just the opposite. Men and women had learned to control their orgasmic states in order to enhance and extend them although the desire to stem pregnancy certainly played a role. Since religion in those times was less separable from everyday life than it is now, and because sexual feelings are so far beyond the other pleasures one normally experiences, that purest sense of ecstasy and oneness one received from stretching out and even indefinitely delaying orgasm was considered identical to religious ecstasy.
Huxley also quoted a passage by D. Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres. Noyes was well aware that his program of a social order built around sexual pleasure had the potential to shake the world.
Baranco was of a type that was to become increasingly familiar in countercultural circles, a charismatic leader who invented his own religious precepts as he went along and incorporated sex at the center of his belief system. His revelation occurred while shooting poker chips off the fence of his backyard in suburban Lafayette, outside Oakland. It seems likely that Baranco had simply stumbled upon the perfectionism of John Humphrey Noyes while seeking practical advice on how to run the twenty or so communal homes he owned.
Baranco came to regard his sexual research as the center of his enterprises. In the s, he legally incorporated his flagship Morehouse commune as a state-accredited university, and in following decades trained thousands in the techniques of ecstatic orgasm control. N oyes kept his communistic utopian community humming in relative harmony for a full generation, long enough so that the children of children were being introduced—at puberty—into the ways and means of sexual amativeness.
But men and women were for the most part content with their relations. The image of the hedonist mansion house devoted to free love was to have amazing durability in the American imagination. Eventually, the Oneida Community fell of its own weight. Noyes grew old and his sexual allure faded. A contributing factor was his ill-advised late venture into eugenics. Is he a crazy enthusiast who is just experimenting on human beings? He fled to Canada and remained there for the rest of his life, instructing his followers to reinstate monogamous marriage and transform their home into a stockholding corporation.
Noyes remained proud of his accomplishments at Oneida, however. Peter von Ziegesar. He lives in Brooklyn. How the improbable marriage of an actress, courtesan, and daughter of an animal trainer to a Byzantine emperor The story of the Caillaux affair—a murdered newspaper editor, a web of adultery, and the road to World War I. Willa Cather throws a bride to the wolves. Harpo Marx, Ferdowsi, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isocrates, John Lewis and more We are wonderful musical instruments; made to give and receive great pleasure in love. Related Re. Essay Eros. Essay Scandal.
Voices In Time. From the Archives.Wife seeking sex Oneida
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The scandalous story behind a popular silverware brand: free love, religion and eugenics