'He came to her bed pretending courtship': sex, courtship and the making of marriage in Ulster, 1750-1844
The history of sex and sexuality is underdeveloped in Irish historical studies, particularly for the period before the late-nineteenth century. While much has been written on rates of illegitimacy in Ireland, and its regional diversity, little research has been conducted on how ordinary women and men viewed sex and sexuality. Moreover, we still know little about the roles that sex played in the rituals of courtship and marriage. Drawing on a sample of Presbyterian church records, this article offers some new insights into these areas. It argues that sexual intercourse and other forms of sexual activity formed part of the normal courtship rituals for many young Presbyterian couples in Ulster. Courting couples participated in non-penetrative sexual practices, such as petting, groping and bundling. Furthermore, while sexual intercourse did not have a place in the formal route to marriage, many couples engaged in it regardless.