In the 17th century, the word Puritan was a term applied to not just one group but many. There continues to be debate among historians over the definition of Puritanism. Historically, the word Puritan was considered a pejorative term that characterized Protestant groups as extremists. According to Thomas Fuller in his Church History, the term dates to 1564. Archbishop Matthew Parker of that time used it and precisian with the sense of the modern stickler. Puritans, then, were distinguished for being "more intensely protestant than their protestant neighbors or even the Church of England".
Some Puritans are known as "non-separating Puritans", those who were not satisfied with the Reformation of the Church of England but who remained within it, advocating further reforms. This group disagreed among themselves about how much further reformation was possible or even necessary. Others thought that the Church of England was so corrupt that true Christians should separate from it altogether; they are known as "separating Puritans" or simply "Separatists". The term Puritan in the wider sense includes both groups.
Puritans should not be confused with more radical Protestant groups of the 16th and 17th centuries, such as Quakers, Seekers, and Familists. These groups taught that individuals could be directly guided by the Holy Spirit and prioritized direct revelation over the Bible.
In modern times, puritan is often used to mean "against pleasure". In this usage, hedonism and puritanism are antonyms. In fact, Puritans embraced sexuality but placed it in the context of marriage. Peter Gay writes of the Puritans' standard reputation for "dour prudery" as a "misreading that went unquestioned in the nineteenth century", commenting how unpuritanical they were in favour of married sexuality, and in opposition to the Catholic veneration of virginity, citing Edward Taylor and John Cotton. One Puritan settlement in Western Massachusetts banished a husband and sent him into exile because he refused to fulfill his marital duties to his wife.