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Q: sexual mores 1920s. ( No Answer,   7 Comments )
Subject: sexual mores 1920s.
Category: Relationships and Society
Asked by: mattdemaret-ga
List Price: $150.00
Posted: 17 Feb 2005 10:11 PST
Expires: 19 Mar 2005 10:11 PST
Question ID: 476066
How much casual sex (not with prostitutes) went on in big cities
(Chicago, New York) in the 1920s? Was it commen for people to have
one-night-stands, or not?

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 17 Feb 2005 12:30 PST
I'm not sure how much -- or what sort -- of detail you're looking for,
but here's some excerpts from an article that appeared in the Chicago
Tribune in 1926:

Chicago Tribune
June 14, 1926


"Autombiles with predatory divers were blamed by a Salvation Army
official for "an astounding number of young unmarried mothers."  Col.
Margaret Bevil....said that forty-two per cent of the unmarried 15 Salvation Army maternity homes had been "school girls
of high or elementary grades, averaging 16 years of age."

...the majority of girls..."attributed their difficulties to
automobile flirtation."

Twenty years were filled with women of mature age.  Now
"...they are filled to capacity by school children."

Does that get at what you're looking for?

What sort of additional information would you like as a full answer to
your question?


Clarification of Question by mattdemaret-ga on 17 Feb 2005 15:24 PST
I am a professional screenwriter writing a script set in the 20s in
Chicago and I want to understand the way that men and women
interacted, dated, had sex...was there, despite the lack of
sophisticated birth control, much consensual unmarried sex?  Were
women who had one night stands considered out of the norm?  Was it
typical for a man and woman to meet in a bar (which, even during
Volstad did exist) and go somewhere and have sex without there being
some sort of relationship between them, or would that sort of thing
have been a rare, and strange occurance? Did women who slept around
immediatly acquire a bad reputation, or were they, in some circles,
merely considered independent? This is the sort of information for
which I am looking. Thank you.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 19 Feb 2005 16:19 PST
The theme that's repeated over and over in discussions of the 20's is
the emergence of dating.  This lead to some formalized forms of
"petting", and human beings being what they are, a fair amount of
behavior that was something more than just petting.

I found one book that provided a bit of an overview:

Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain 
by David E. Kyvig; Greenwood Press, 2002 

Greater Sexual Freedom 

The shift from calling to dating encouraged greater sexual exploration
and intimacy. Long before the rise of the dating system, young people
regularly experimented with kissing games. Engaged couples often
enjoyed what was coming to be called ?heavy petting,? and enough
people engaged in premarital intercourse that nearly one-in-ten
late-nineteenth-century brides went to the altar pregnant. Dating,
however, brought with it freer attitudes about sexuality and more
freedom to explore them. Movies provided ?how to do it? guides for the
inexperienced, and the culture of high schools and colleges, which
more were attending, encouraged young people to try things for
themselves. Prolonged kissing and embraces became accepted aspects of
romantic relationships. Necking and petting (the distinction depended
on whether the contact was above or below the shoulders) were
customary if not universal practices; evidence compiled later pointed
to a sharp rise in premarital sexual intercourse after World War I
with over four-fifths of males and nearly half of females
acknowledging participation. These gender differences reflected the
persistence of the ?double standard,? the widespread attitude that
sexually active mles were just ?sowing wild oats? and couldn?t be
expected to be faithful to a single mate, while women who behaved in
the same fashion abandoned their virtue. Although gender distinctions
and sexual attitudes in general were beginning to change, most of the
sexual activity that did take place was only with a single partner
whom the individual expected to marry.

Is this sort of thing helpful, or are you looking more for an actual
write-up of what how a hot date might have unfolded in the Roaring

Let me know.


Clarification of Question by mattdemaret-ga on 19 Feb 2005 17:15 PST
Yeah, that is helpful, but I guess the deeper thing I am trying to
find is something about how slightly older women (late 20s say), who
worked with men (as secretaries I guess), who did not aspire to
marriage, but who did want to date and have sex--how these women
negotiated the times.  How they were perceived, how they  got through
their lives romantically.  This character about whom I am writing is
single, has more than one partner, and does not feel bad about
that--but how did the community see women like this, and were women
like this able to live their lives out in the open at all.  Please ask
for further clarification if necessary. Thanks.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 19 Feb 2005 19:36 PST
Here's another excerpt that suggests many women felt quite comfortable
with having it be known that they weren't at all prudish, and got
physical with men on more than occasion, BUT, it also seem important
to have eveyone believe a firm line had been drawn between getting
physical and going to far (whether the line actually was drawn or not
is another matter entirely...but the appearances were important). 
Anyway, here's the excerpt:

That petting should lead to actual illicit relations between the
petters was not advised nor countenanced among the girls with whom I
discussed it. They drew the line quite sharply. That it often did so
lead, they admitted, but they were not ready to allow that there were
any more of such affairs than there had always been. School and
college scandals, with their sudden departures and hasty marriages,
have always existed to some extent, and they still do. But only
accurate statistics, hard to arrive at, can prove whether or not the
sex carelessness of the present day extends to an increase of sex
immorality, or whether since so many more people go to college, there
is an actual decrease in the amount of it, in proportion to the number
of students. The girls seemed to feel that those who went too far were
more fools than knaves, and that in most cases they married. They
thought that hasty and secret marriages, of which most of them could
report several, were foolish, but after all about as likely to turn
out well as any others. Their attitude toward such contingencies was
disapproval, but it was expressed with a slightly amused shrug, a
shrug which one can imagine might have sat well on the shoulders of
Voltaire. In fact the writer was torn, in her efforts to sum up their
attitude, between classifying them as eighteenth century realists and
as Greek nymphs existing before the dawn of history!

Does that help?  If so...what more can I provide to make for a
complete answer to your question?

Let me know.


Clarification of Question by mattdemaret-ga on 20 Feb 2005 06:43 PST
...I guess the complete answer needs to explain the dating life,
sexual conduct, societal view on the working woman.  All these bits of
answers seem to concern the young girl, of typical marrying age;  I am
more interested in the slightly older woman, in her late 20s and how
she navigated the conventions of the day--how she dated and had sex if
she wanted to and how she was regarded for same.  And also, how common
the one-night-stand was. Thank you.
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: kriswrite-ga on 18 Feb 2005 06:01 PST
I'd suggest you read cutting edge literature of the time period. (Like
F. Scott Fitzgerald.) You will find that while there was much talk of
the liberation of women, in reality their position wasn't much
different from it had been ten or even twenty years prior, except that
women could now vote, wearing makeup was generally acceptable, and
smoking and drinking were generally acceptable. Young women no longer
needed a chaperone for a date, and there was a lot of "making out,"
but contraception was still illegal, and therefore sex outside of
marriage usually led to pregnancy. Perhaps there were more pregnant
brides during this period, but that would be hard to prove or
disprove. Nonetheless, the morals of the 19th century had a long way
to go before they were completely obliterated. Women who had one night
stands were considered floozies. There have always been some circles,
however, where sexual active women have been accepted...but not by the
bulk of society.

I hope this helps,
Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: bobbie7-ga on 18 Feb 2005 06:06 PST
The following paragraph might be helpful:

Petting parties abound in college 

"Teens of the 20's invented dating. It was a more flexible way of
meeting and seeing each other that was not as supervised as it had
been in the past. Previously, boys had to be courting a girl, they had
to be committed, and girls had to be engaged to them in order to go
out with them. Dating permitted people to see each other, discover
each other without proclaiming an intent to marry. Petting was of
course a popular and well received pastime for the youth. It allowed a
girl to have erotic interaction without endangering herself with an
unwanted or out of wedlock child. Petting could mean kisses or
fondling, but it stopped just short of intercourse, and while parents
equated petting with fornication, teenagers did not, and their peer
group would still accept them and respect them. Intimacy and eroticism
was explored within the confines of a majority of virginal women."

Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: bobbie7-ga on 18 Feb 2005 06:22 PST
Some  additional information that might interest you:

On the social legacy of the 1920s dating system in the USA

?The US dating regime that emerged signified the escape of young people
from under parental wings and the formation of a relatively autonomous
courting regime of their own, leading to a head start in the
emancipation of sexuality and to the rise of the first western youth
culture, which was restricted to the USA. This emancipation of young
people in the USA made young women less dependent upon their parents,
but in regard to their relationship to young men, the dating regime
kept women rather dependent upon men and their ?treats?. The then
prevalent uneven balance of power between the sexes was
institutionalized in an attitude that linked ?petting and paying?.
Necking and petting as inherent possibilities made dating highly
sexually oriented, but also sexually restrained, as the sexual
exploration was to remain without sexual consummation. In that sense,
the youth-culture dating code was
oriented toward sex and marriage, maintaining the adult-code of
abstinence of sex before and outside marriage. The responsibility for
sufficiently restrained sexual emotion management was put in the hands
of women. This double standard demanded that women developed
increasing subtlety in the art of being both naughty and nice, of
steering between yielding and rigidity, prudery and coquetry: a highly
controlled indulgence of sexual impulses and emotions.?

Going out for a date. 

?After 1900, getting acquainted in the home was replaced by going out
for a date. By the 1920s, this new style of courting was fully
accepted. Dating imposed a new set of challenges for women.

The requirement to remain virginal was still in force. But now a young
woman had to contend with the pressures for sexual intimacy and her
own sexual desires away from the parental home. She had to do it while
she was on his territory - in his car. Not only that, the male was
expected to plan and pay for the cost of the dates.

A young woman had the responsibility of resisting and controlling any
sexual overtures her date would make. This required a new level of
assertiveness and self-confidence to maintain control in private

Best regards,
Gogle Answers Researcher
Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: mattdemaret-ga on 18 Feb 2005 07:40 PST
Thanks for the helpful comments.  More are welcome.
Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: mapoftheworld-ga on 23 Feb 2005 16:44 PST

This seems like a very interesting topic.  I don't know if you've
already done this, but if I were you I'd talk to people who were
around back then...

Why don't you ask your older relatives to be open with you?  Also, a
great thing would be to visit a local retirement/nursing home.  Anyone
over the age of 90 should be able to give you some insight.  The
elderly love visitors, and I'm certain they'd appreciate the
opportunity to help you out.  And you might be surprised at how candid
they'll be!

What do you think?
Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: myoarin-ga on 25 Feb 2005 13:46 PST
You might look for info on "dime-a-dance."  I didn't find much right
off on Google, but from a comment by my mother, who lived in Chicago
in the twenties and once, hard up for cash, applied to be a
dime-a-dance girl.  Her story:  the guy looked at her and told her it
wasn't the right kind of thing for her.
That suggests that ... well, you understand ... 
Good luck.
Subject: Re: sexual mores 1920s.
From: dirtybuffalo-ga on 09 Mar 2005 03:00 PST
People have always been people.  Expect that nothing was different
then except perhaps that it wasn't as well known.

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