Now I can’t get that tune from Jason Mraz out of my head
I decided to write about a website called, Halachically Yours, that states it’s purpose as being:
“…a workshop and collection of resources for strengthening physical intimacy in the halacha-observant community…this need has also become apparent through conversations with individuals from a range of observant communities who expressed a wish that there was more education, more conversation, more openness, and fewer assumptions. “
I mentioned this website in the comment section of my post about going to the mikvah, or the lack thereof, and it sparked an interesting conversation.
Basically, Halachically Yours is an attempt to get frum couples to have open and explicit conversations about what goes on their bedrooms. Their seminar materials would probably be eye opening even for non-religious couples. It doesn’t seem that the organization is being run under any particular rabbinic guidance, but rather, the advice is to AYLOR (ask your local orthodox rabbi) as to whether any of the suggested activities are permissible.
The seminar is intended to be conducted with a mixed gender group of married couples, with the allowance for separate sex breakaway sessions for some of the more sensitive topics. Men and women are to gather together again at the end of the seminar to share what they found to be most helpful, and come up with questions to be addressed at future seminars.
Some of the discussion topics are admirable, such as discussing the right to say no and what constitutes abuse. They also discuss female and male sexual dysfunction and provide some suggested resources. There is also a list of books and organizations on sex education topics. The guide also discusses the shame factor that many people have if they are turned on by something unconventional, and how it’s important to learn how to be open with your partner.
The curriculum opens the door for this kind of sharing by providing an “Intimate Exploration Sheet,” where couples can tick off boxes of various sexual scenarios to let each other know what they would be open to trying. The one obvious factor that’s missing in this sex seminar for the halachically observant community, is any discussion of taharat mishapacha, and how that observance affects the sex lives of frum couples.
While I applaud the effort, I don’t see this becoming mainstream in the orthodox community, especially in haredi communities. I can’t even imagine my modern orthodox shul, for example, giving this kind of seminar in mixed company. I can’t even see them giving this seminar to separate sex classes either. I think there should be a happy medium, and the right time to discuss some of these issues is in chosson/kallah classes. Maybe those same teachers could give refresher courses for married people.
In my community there are classes for taharat mishpacha and communication within marriage, but nothing about what role sex plays (other than the platitudes about husband and wife becoming as one in the “holy act,” yada yada). There is a discussion about the Halachically Yours seminar on a frum women’s forum I look at, and none of the women think something like this would take off in the frum community. Most of them laugh at the idea that this seminar is coming from an orthodox perspective, indicating that the suggested activities are not kosher, which is kind of sad too, in a way.
One commenter wrote –
“Wow, just read the seminar outline download.
It is pretty full on. Even while saying it can be done separately, it encourages the leader to bring the men and women together at the end for a joint discussion.
I’m guessing the suggestions for exercises such as taking your clothes off and looking at each other and in the mirror are supposed to be in private by couples, rather than at the workshop, although it isn’t 100% clear.
My problem with this is, while I do think that couples should talk about and explore/ enjoy their sex life, I find it shockingly untznuis to be discussing it outside the marriage, unless you are talking confidentially to a rav or therapist about a problem.
Normal, non Jewish people grow out of sharing and discussing their sex lives at around the time they start having serious sex, ie when it is all experimental stuff in high school and college, they talk a lot, when they start having a serious relationship, it all stops.
Normal married people don’t sit around in workshops discussing sex. Too intimate, too embarrassing.
And if it is too embarrassing for the relatively open society that surrounds us to discuss, except in the swinging 70s, it is definitely not ok for a community who prides themselves on living a more modest lifestyle where some of us won’t even share that we are pregnant even when it is obvious.
My husband and I are pretty laid back, we hold hands in public, we are ‘obviously tahor’, we aren’t bothered by bodily functions and talk openly to each other in private , which we are comfortable with. I guess most people would call us liberal minded, albeit in private.
But we’d never ever discuss sex with anyone else, however close the friendship.
There is a role for some resources for people who need advice to be able to seek it. Their collection of pamphlets and books they list sounds good.
But no way ever would I condone group discussions or workshops on this subject.”
Her viewpoint was echoed by the other women on the board.
There isn’t much in the way of sexual intimacy education in the orthodox community. The kallah classes that I took before my wedding were completely focused on the mechanics of how to observe taharat mishpacha and the harchakot. There was no discussion at all about sex. what to expect, or what was permissible.
After I was married 1 or 2 years, I went to a taharat mishapacha refresher course for young married women. In that class, there was more explicit conversation about sex within marriage. There were even discussions about masturbation, oral sex, and the halachic issues. Actually, it was a great class with lively discussion, as you might imagine! The rebbetzin who gave the course is married to a rabbi who gives a similar shiur for married men. However, this was many years ago, and it was an informal class that wasn’t widely advertised. I know this couple continues to give chosson and kallah classes, but I don’t know if they do their “refresher course” on a regular basis.
I have also been to lectures on “How to Make Your Great Marriage Even Greater!” or something similarly titled. Those classes mainly focused on the “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars” discussion on the different communication styles between the sexes. These talks never spelled out how men and women view sex differently, or what kinds of sexual activities are halachically permissible, or how the laws of taharat mishpacha can sometimes throw a monkey wrench into the works (instead of being the set of laws that supposedly keep intimacy fresh and exciting within a marriage).
I do think that the issues addressed in the Halachically Yours curriculum guide are important. Certainly, husbands and wives should be able to talk about their most secret desires. After all, frum married couples only have one outlet for their sexuality. If there is a discrepancy there, it can lead to problems outside the bedroom as well. I doubt that this exact seminar will become popular, but I do think that chosson and kallah teachers should be expanding their roles beyond the mechanics of taharat mishpacha by learning how to openly discuss sex with both brides, grooms, newlyweds, and older couples.
Chosson and kallah teachers should use their roles to encourage couples to talk openly to each other about their wants, needs, fears, and frustrations. Alternatively, chosson and kallah teachers could pair with licensed sex therapists so that their courses have two components – both the halachot and the intimacy education – each taught by the relevant professionals. More importantly, there should be parenting classes that help parents discuss some of these sensitive issues with their children. If we teach our kids that it’s ok to ask questions about sex, and we are willing to speak openly with them, they will have a better chance at being able to openly communicate with their future spouses.