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Survey Released on Jewish Women’s Sexuality

Orthodox Jewish women experience a relatively high level of frequent sexual activity, but low levels of emotional and physical satisfaction, according to the results of a survey released Wednesday at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in New York. The study was based on anonymous, self-administered questionnaires filled out by 382 Orthodox women in the New York area and Israel.

The researchers only analyzed data from women who strictly adhered to the laws of family purity, including active use the mikvah, or ritual bath, every time it is warranted. According to the laws of family purity, husbands and wives refrain from physical contact during menstruation and then for one week after bleeding has stopped. At the end of this period, the woman immerses herself in a mikvah, after which she and her husband can resume sexual relations.

“We learned that despite having a period [of no contact] that lasts anywhere from 12 days to two weeks, observant Jewish women have an even greater frequency of sexual contact compared to married women in the U.S,” said Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and the Bronx Veteran Affairs. Yehuda co-chaired the survey with Michelle Friedman, a psychiatrist based in New York, in conjunction with Talli Rosenbaum, a pelvic-floor rehabilitation specialist from Israel.

Friedman and Yehuda were inspired by a 1999 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that 43% of American women experience some form of sexual dysfunction, defined loosely as everything from low sexual desire and performance anxiety to pain during intercourse.

Compared to the married women queried in the American survey, religiously observant Jewish women experienced a greater frequency of sexual contact but less emotional and physical satisfaction. About 93% of women in the American survey experienced a high level of physical satisfaction, and 89.9% reported a high level of emotional satisfaction; in contrast, only 70.4% of observant Jewish women reported physical satisfaction, and 72.1% said they experienced emotional satisfaction.

Yehuda cautioned against reading too much into the discrepancy, given that 25% of the married women who answered the American survey did not respond to the questions about sexual satisfaction.

The survey also found that 15.7% of Jewish women claimed to have experienced sex abuse before the age of 13, 9.9% after 13. These numbers were not much different than those of the larger American survey, which revealed 17.2% experienced sexual abuse before 13, 9.2% after the age of 13.

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