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Learn From Talmud on Valentine’s Day

(JTA) — Many students want to emulate their teachers, but at least one early rabbi took this to an extreme.

The Talmud records that Rav Kahana was so eager to learn his master’s secrets that he even once observed his teacher having sex. Kahana lay under the bed of his teacher Rav, heard him talking and laughing with his wife, and exclaimed: “The mouth of Abba (Rav) seems as if it has never sipped this dish before!”

Rav responded, “Kahana, are you here?! Get out, for this is not proper behavior!”

To which Kahana replied, “It is Torah, and I need to learn it.”

The passage leaves a key question unanswered: What exactly did Kahana learn when he listened to his master having sex? Here’s a hint: Of all the things Kahana surely noticed and considered while hidden under the bed, only one made him break his silence. One thought forced a cry of astonishment from him: “The mouth of Abba seems as if it has never sipped this dish before!” In other words, Rav was really enjoying himself.

As a Jewish sex therapist, I’m impressed that Kahana was able to identify the essential concept right away. The essence of good lovemaking is to enjoy yourself.

Sounds obvious, huh? You’d be surprised.

I see hundreds of couples in my office where the man thinks the essence of good lovemaking is to give his partner erotic pleasure — especially to bring her to climax. Books on sex repeat this lie again and again, going on and on about how you need to “pleasure your partner.” This produces an endless parade of men in my office who have been trying to pleasure their wives just right and in the process boring these poor women to tears.

Yes, there are men who make the opposite mistake and don’t care enough about their partners’ pleasure. But that’s rare these days. The most common complaint I hear from women in my practice is that their husbands’ lovemaking feels earnest and dedicated, but devoid of passion.

When I talk to the husbands alone, they usually admit to being mainly concerned with doing a good job. And when one of them has gone looking for advice, very often he’s found some version of the old lie that good sex means giving your partner pleasure.

Many religious books on sex make the same error, waxing euphoric about how sex is such a marvelous opportunity to be generous to your partner in bed. That makes no sense. The sexual mind is primitive and selfish. It doesn’t understand the concept of generosity any more than a 2-year-old.

But like any toddler, your sexual mind definitely knows how to have a good time if you get out of its way. Rav clearly understood that there’s a time to surrender your usual seriousness. In bed with his wife, this distinguished rabbi revealed an unexpected ability to enjoy himself like a 2-year-old at a party.

We don’t know how Rav’s wife felt about seeing her ordinarily serious husband so happy and excited to be in bed with her. The text is unfortunately silent there. But if she was like most modern women I talk to, it probably pleased her immensely. Some people think that foreplay is just to supply the woman with enough physical stimulation to get her excited. Not so. It’s also important during foreplay for a woman to feel that her body gives her partner joy.

When a man makes love with his wife, he should be like Rav and let himself feel as if he has “never sipped this dish before.” When his passion reaches its greatest height, he should be as mindlessly smitten as any 2-year-olds stuffing their mouth with birthday cake.

Of course, it’s also important to remember what your wife likes and doesn’t like in bed. But simply knowing how to give her pleasure is not enough. She also needs to know that her body is giving you pleasure.

This year on Valentine’s Day, let’s all of us husbands remember to give our wives the greatest gift of all: Let’s enjoy them.

We shouldn’t totally forget our manners in the process. But let’s follow our illustrious forebears and make sure to bring a good appetite to the party.

Stephen Snyder is an associate professor of psychiatry and a sex therapist in New York. His writing has appeared in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

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