How Love Came of Age: God, Sex and Socialism in the Long Nineteenth Century tells the story of a sexual practice that taught that by caressing without orgasming, partners would build up their magnetic “vital forces,” which would liberate white women to become the vanguards of the evolution of civilization, allowing them to bear “racially” superior children.
The sexual practice at the heart of my manuscript first emerged in 1848 in the socialist commune of Oneida, in upstate New York, where it was termed “male continence.” From there, it travelled as “Dianism” and “Karezza” through the hearts of the anarchist, socialist, and women’s rights movements in the United States, closely tied to the new religious movements of spiritualism and New Thought. In the 1920s, the practice travelled to Germany and Switzerland, where it was adopted by both fascists and socialists in the popular religious movement of Mazdaznanism. Amidst a renewed 1950s fascination among white people with the “Orient,” the practice reemerged as “tantric sex.”
How Love Came of Age argues that attention to social reproduction and the transformation of the family was central to United States socialist and social reform movements in the long nineteenth century, and that the effort to develop egalitarian marriages and homes was essential to nineteenth-century radicalism. At the same time, it argues that many of these movements became popular by promising to redistribute the spoils of racialized regimes of exploitation more equally among white people, a formation I call “settler socialism.