Study Guide

Tom Jones Sex

By Henry Fielding

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Of course, we know intellectually that people had sex before the 21st century. Otherwise, how would we all be here? But it's still kind of surprising to see just how raunchy Tom Jones can be. There isn't anything explicitly pornographic in this book, for sure—Fielding even jumps in to reassure us that he's not going to get X-rated (13.9.1).

But even if this isn't a particularly graphic text, sex is still a major part of the plot, from Tom and Molly Seagrim having to explain her pregnancy to Mr. Nightingale and Nancy and their shotgun wedding. Still, while Tom Jones is pretty free and easy about sexuality outside of marriage, there are definite limits: Tom's love of sex leads him to some serious trouble, particularly when he realizes that he may have accidentally committed incest with his own long-lost mother. Oops.

Questions About Sex

  1. What are some of the differences between Tom and Mr. Blifil's sexual desire? What can their sexual desires tell the reader about their contrasting moral qualities?
  2. When Tom has sex with Molly Seagrim and, later on, with Lady Bellaston, what concerns does he have on behalf of his partners? What do Tom's choice of sex partners tell us about his character as a whole?
  3. How does Tom Jones portray the morality of sex outside of marriage? What are some of the ethical issues that the novel raises about sexuality?

Chew on This

By emphasizing the naturalness and inevitability of human sexual desire, Fielding suggests that strict moral codes forbidding sex will always fail, leading to hypocrisy and deception.

Tom's concern for Molly's moral character and Lady Bellaston's honor demonstrates his character's sensitivity to the social consequences of sex outside of marriage even before his relationship with Sophia requires that he gives up all vice.

Tom Jones Sex Study Group

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