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Promoting Healthy Sex Lives — the Orthodox Way

Two courses are underway to teach the teachers of Orthodox brides, grooms and married couples how to better prepare their students for healthy sex lives.

In Israel, a course for male teachers of grooms is currently being held at the Puah Institute and in New York, a course for female teachers of brides will be held for the second time by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.]( “Puah Institute]1 and in New York, a course for female teachers of brides will be held for the second time by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.”).

According to this article the Puah course, run in conjunction with Bar-Ilan University, is training marriage counselors and rabbis to address sexual problems among married Orthodox Jews. The JOFA course is titled “Demystifying Sex & Teaching Halakha: A Kallah Teacher’s Workshop,” and is being held in conjunction with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Yeshivat Maharat. March 13th-16th.

But as I wrote in this New York Times piece, there has been a growing embrace, in recent years, of the need to address — or even prevent — such problems.

It isn’t easy, after all, when men and women have no physical — or even social — contact with members of the opposite sex outside of their families before they get married, to end up with two people who know how to communicate and relate to each other. While the hope is that the young couple will explore and develop a healthy sexual relationship together within the framework of Jewish law, there are lots of times when that just doesn’t happen.

According to friends who work with Orthodox women on sexual issues before and after their weddings, problems are common. One friend, a teacher of kallahs (brides) told me that she occasionally gets students (who already have a wedding date booked) who aren’t familiar with how babies are made or even with their own physiology. When that happens, she sends them right back to their mothers, though one has to wonder why their mothers haven’t taught them the basics before they get engaged.

Another friend, who works with the already-married, told me of one Haredi young woman, brought in for examination by her mother because after more than a year of marriage she wasn’t yet pregnant (fairly unusual when the bride is perhaps 19 or 20). After being examined and interviewed, it became clear that the couple wasn’t actually having sexual intercourse, and had no idea that they weren’t doing it correctly.

In the context of a culture where there is deep bifurcation of the physical and the spiritual, where physical desires are considered something that need to be controlled and a topic that shouldn’t be directly addressed, I suppose it’s no surprise. Still, when talking about sexuality becomes so fraught with negativity that men and women aren’t taught what it means to have a healthy sex life, it’s a real shame.

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