Just to review, the Puritans were not obsessed with sex. It is closer to the mark to say that moderns are obsessed with sex and therefore disapproving of anyone who has got any rules about it. The Puritans were in fact among (A commenter points out that Aquinas was on the scene for that earlier) the leaders in Western Christian thought that sex was not only for having children – which virtually every culture in the world has stressed. (Except for rich and powerful people, especially men. They get to regard sex as entertainment and expression of power.) Puritans believed it was also “to knit the heart of a husband to wife,” a charming thought. One of the supposedly oppressive rules of the Puritans was that men should not get away with taking advantage of women. They were strict. They did not believe that a man and woman who were not husband and wife should be alone together, because they thought the temptation was likely to be too much for one or both of them. We threw that rule out, and guess what? It turns out it has a good deal of truth to it. Just because adultery does not occur in 100% of such situations, or even 30% does not mean it doesn’t happen more than is good for both individuals and society as a whole.
Hawthorne had his own hatreds – we needn’t share them.
Puritans were obsessed with death, with the final moment when whether they belonged to the elect or not would be revealed. They were both horrified and fascinated by death. They were obsessed with time, with “improving the time” and not wasting it. They were not Docetists, falling into the oft-recurring heresy that material things were evil and spiritual ones were pure. Many Christian groups have leaned this way over the centuries, and the Puritans had some of that, but they did not foreswear the flesh, they merely believed it should be held under short rein. They drank beer and enjoyed it. They had folk dances, but not dances with pairs of men and women. They had sports and recreations, though they believed these should be limited.
(Screwtape:) In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life. CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (#10)
Stop blaming the Puritans.