Cupid’s Yokes

Ezra Heywood

Found below is Ezra Heywood’s controversial free-love essay, “Cupid’s Yokes,” in various formats.  As time permits, I hope to add clickable notes to the page in order to help the reader put the essay in context.





The free love movement’s goal was to separate the state from sexual matters, such as marriage, adultery, and birth control.  Free love advocates unflinchingly oppose forced sexual activity, even between spouses, and advocate that the individual be free to nonviolently use her or his body in any way that she or he pleases.  In other words, relationships freely entered into ought not be regulated by law.

Heywood was an abolitionist, an anarchist, and a prominent advocate of free love.  He and his wife ran the radical individualist periodical, The Word (1872–1890, 1892–1893).  According to Wendy McElroy, The Word initially “presented free love as a minor theme which was expressed within a labor reform format.  But the publication later evolved into an explicitly free love periodical” (The Libertarian Enterprise, no. 15, 1 October 1996).

Not everyone in the nineteenth century was pleased with the free love movement.  Anthony Comstock, in particular, despised it, and considered it vile.  Thus, the Comstock laws were passed in the 1870s, aimed at prohibiting the mailing of “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” materials.  This is important to any discussion of Cupid’s Yokes because, as McElroy puts it,

Ezra Heywood became notorious because he refused to accept the restrictions that the Comstock law imposed on the circulation of sexual information, especially birth control information.  His rebellion against censorship led to years of legal persecution and imprisonment, much of which sprang from the distribution of his pamphlet Cupid’s Yokes through which he advocated placing sexual urges under the control of reason rather than ‘animalism.’  Perhaps no other work was as influential as Cupid’s Yokes in opening 19th century America to a discussion of free love and birth control.

Heywood was arrested on 3 November 1877 for mailing his essay.