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The Curious Courtship Practice Known as Bundling

Bundling was an 18th-century custom that allowed a clothed couple to carry on their courting in bed, even while that same couple was being reminded of the evils of having sex before marriage.

a courting couple sharing a bed

Despite the apparent inconsistency of preaching abstinence before marriage while at the same time allowing a courting couple to share a bed, those who practiced the custom defended bundling on practical grounds. In rural areas especially, where a suitor might have to travel many miles to visit his beloved, an overnight stay made perfect sense. Allowing the couple to share a bed and whisper in the dark saved valuable candles and fuel after everyone else had gone to bed. And, in large households the young woman's bed might very well have been the only place that the courting couple could find privacy.

The practice was called "bundling" because the young man and young lady were each fully clothed, each had a separate set of linens, and the couple was usually separated by a board or bolster. Since all was done openly, with family members often helping the young woman by knotting her securely in her clothes, it was assumed that such courtships would remain chaste; and, quite often, they did.

But youngsters then were no different than youngsters today, and temptation was not always fully resisted. As the numbers of premarital pregnancies rose in the 18th century, some people maintained that bundling was at least partially to blame. And, as homes were gradually being equipped with improved lighting, parlor stoves, and comfortable furniture, bundling gradually faded from practice. By the early 1800's only couples in the most remote rural areas were still courting beneath a quilt.

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This page was last updated on February 03, 2017.