Bundling (tradition)

Bundling was the traditional practice of wrapping one person in a bed accompanied by another, usually as a part of courting behavior. The tradition is thought to have originated either in the Netherlands or in the British Isles and later became common in Colonial America, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The aim was to allow intimacy without sexual intercourse.

Traditionally, participants were adolescents, with a boy staying at the residence of a girl. They were given separate blankets by the girl's parents and expected to talk to one another through the night. The practice was limited to the winter and sometimes the use of a bundling board, placed between the boy and girl, ensured that no sexual conduct would take place. More often, this rule was merely implicit, and was not always honored. In Colonial America, for instance, there are known instances of bundling leading to premarital pregnancies.

The use of bundling boards allowed an expedient use of the practice of bundling in the early United States, where, in the case of a scarcity of beds, travellers were occasionally permitted to bundle with locals. This seemingly strange practice allowed extra money to be made by renting out half a bed. Hotels rented rooms for the night, shared by many occupants, and sharing a bed entailed an additional fee.

As late as the mid 19th century, there are indications that bundling was still practiced in New England, although its popularity was waning. The court case of Graham vs. Smith, argued before Judge Edmunds in the Orange Circuit Court of New York State in 1846, concerned the seduction of a 19-year-old woman; testimony in the case established that bundling was a common practice in certain rural social circles at the time. By the 20th century, bundling as a practice seems to have died out almost everywhere, with only isolated references to it occurring in Amish Pennsylvania.

An article in the Dec. 12, 1969 issue of Time Magazine referred to a tongue-in-cheek effort to revive bundling by a so-called "Society to Bring Back Bundling."


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