The Petting Parties That Dominated Fitzgerald’s WritingsThe 1920s: The Sexual Revolution
The 1920s was a monumental change in nearly every aspect in American life, especially sexuality. Ever since the Puritans’ arrival in America, mainstream society dictated sex was only acceptable in marriage, birth control was condemned, etc.
But after the First World War, new forms of entertainment and communication begin revolving around sexuality. It became clear: people were interested in seeing sexual behavior.
And by 1900, American women began to have fewer children than three generations earlier, thanks to increased access to birth control. With fewer kids around, parents became more lenient with discipline. As a result, children began to explore their sexuality more.
Even though police, churches, and reform groups were trying to restrict sexual behavior, it didn’t stop American kids from exploring their sexuality, especially in the form of “petting parties.”
The Petting Parties
The 1920s gave women newfound freedom, creating a generation of women known as “flappers.” Many women also began earning their own money. As such, women felt no compulsion to marry. These single flappers drank, smoked, dressed in short skirts, dated multiple men, and used slang.
With the rise of the flapper, “petting” parties — a 1920s and 1930s fad — started to become popular. They were first mentioned in a Washington Times story from New Year’s Eve 1915; the reporter asked:
Did you ever hear of “petting parties? That, they tell me, is the name applied in Baltimore to the haunters of cosy corners and “twosing” in general.
Petting parties were actually extremely varied, and they usually stopped before sexual intercourse. But, of course, there was a lot of kissing and fondling. The parties allowed people to explore their sexuality without losing their virginity, get pregnant, or get an S.T.D. And the petting parties could break out anywhere secluded: dance halls, cars, etc.
The drinking, automobile, and petting parties were constantly featured in the writings of the time. In the novel, This Side of Paradise, author F. Scott Fitzgerald mentioned that “great current American phenomenon” ‘the petting party.’ The petting party became so universal the Flappers’ hand-knit, sleeveless jerseys where nick-named “petting shirts.”
And over the next few years, petting parties became extremely popular. In 1924, one study found 92% of college women had tried petting. The petting parties started to get called different names: necking parties in the South, mushing parties in the West, and spooning across the general United States.
Some flappers even started to call it snugglepupping.
Many Americans believed petting parties were tearing the social fabric. Mrs. Augustus Trowbridge, a Princeton professor’s wife, protested against the parties. She called them loose-moraled gatherings with unchaperoned dancing and lipstick. Conservative Americans complained about the flappers’ refusal to settle down and marry like traditional girls.
As a result, the establishment began to crack down on the parties. In Atlantic City, N.J., beach cops threw ice water on seaside petting parties. And in 1921, 15 couples were fined for spooning in Pittsburgh.
The Great Depression: End of the Flappers
The petting parties eventually started to fade, for the flappers began to enter adult age. After all, why do you need to go to petting parties when you’re already at a mature age? Many flappers also started to get married, and due to the petting parties, sexual expression became more commonplace in society.
But the flapper lifestyle really ended in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. With the Great Depression’s onset, many flappers couldn’t afford their glamour and glitz lifestyle. And the flappers’ high-spirited attitude and hedonism became less acceptable in the hardships of the 1930s.
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