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Ideas

Brainiac

How to catch a fornicator, 17th-century style

And other highlights from the Ideas blog

It’s an obvious point that still manages to seem surprising every time you’re reminded of it: Even in olden times, even in austere early New England, people had a lot of sex.

Earlier this year, JoAnne Sweeny of the University of Louisville law school published a research paper called “History of Adultery and Fornication Criminal Laws.” She notes that in New England in the 1600s, women were prosecuted for fornication—including what was termed “open and notorious” fornication—more frequently than for any other crime. In Massachusetts, they’d get you if you had a child outside of wedlock or within eight months of being married. In some states, these laws were prosecuted well into the 20th century.

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