Recent articles in the Forward have raised the issue of Orthodox Judaism’s so-called repression of sexuality. Although I thought the articles were not particularly respectful of Orthodoxy’s moral codes, they do indeed raise a point. Arguably bad mannered, they are undoubtedly on to something.
This past summer, an article in The New York Times, presumably overlooked by many Orthodox Jews, examined the propriety of allowing teenage children to be sexually active at home. The author, who admits to being childless, suggests that the ideal attitude of parents be a “well-mixed cocktail of caution and tolerance.”
Continuing the conversation, the online magazine Slate lent support for a suggestive approach by reporting how Dutch parents enjoy more open dialogue with their children about sex than American parents do, all while “demonstrating acceptance and respect for their kids’ relationships.” Such parental candor is proposed as grounds for the low rates of teenage pregnancy in the Netherlands.
The discussion is not irrelevant to Orthodox Jews. While they will probably not consider in-house licentiousness — and I am not suggesting they should — having more open dialogue with children about their personal lives may help to promote more fruitful relationships. When it comes to sex, acceptance and respect are said to correlate with safer, healthier lifestyles.
Showing young people that we trust them to act responsibly seems to increase the likelihood of their responsible behavior. Allowing sex at home need not be a green light for promiscuity but can be a red light for undeclared, unpredictable, unsafe activity. Permission sometimes helps to prevent.