In 1848, John Humphrey Noyes established a utopian Christian community in a sprawling mansion in Oneida, New York. Their most defining feature was the practice of complex marriage, in which every man in the group was married to every woman.
That we might someday somehow come to master the old despair, the weakness of our bodies, the vicious ignorance of one another, we shared ourselves completely with each other. We knew that every man could be the master, not of desire, but its sway upon his body. That which begins with the spirit ends in the body, but neither is the prison of the other. Every night, we’d pray to the Heavenly Master for the strength to overcome ourselves, to master our fear of God and His will, our fear of our bodies, our bodies’ powers. In one room after another, men and women turned to face each other, each of us, at once, both slave and master in that impossible land of the other’s body.