It’s my birthday, so naturally, I’d like to write about sex. Yesterday Laurel posted about how dumb the the OU’s new pro-abstinence website is, and I totally agree with everything she said, with everything Mobius said, with everything Jewesses With Attitude said, and everything Josh Yuter wrote, too. But I have two problems with all of the outrage going on:
1) This is not news. It’s not like abstinence was a secret new policy position that the OU just revealed. Not just abstinence, but a complete lack of physical contact between the sexes has been consistent and heavy rhetoric in the Orthodox community for several years now. There was even a shomer negiah themed shabbaton (on Valentine’s Day, of all times) at University of Iowa Hillel when I was a freshman there. So yeah, all the crap they say on the website is infuriating and insane, but some of us have been rolling our eyes at this BS for years. Welcome to the party.
2) Nu? So now what? Thus far, no one has offered a viable alternative to the OU’s whacky website. The only comprehensive discussion of sexual ethics for teenagers that I’ve ever even heard of came from the Orthodox movement. Everyone else is afraid to touch it, and even if they weren’t, what could the Conservative movement say? The majority opinion says you shouldn’t have premarital sex, but the minority opinion says you can if you go to the mikva and lie to the mikva ladies. Yeah, that’s clear. So okay, we need something to tell Jewish teenagers that draws on halacha, that points towards an observant lifestyle, but that remains realistic and honest. I can answer half of this problem. Below you’ll find the things I think every observant Jewish teenage girl should know about sex, complete with biblical and rabbinical sources. I feel way less equipped to talk to teenage guys about this for a number of reasons, but I hope someone like Steven Weiss, or Rabbi Yonah will take the challenge. Anyway, here we go…
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Your Chumash Teacher Told You Was Assur You will love sex. You’re probably not worried about this, but just in case, I want you to know that you will. You might not at first, because it’s not easy or simple, and it can be embarrassing to ask for what you want or need, but trust me when I tell you that after you work at it, you’ll love it. Sex has serious consequences. Pregnancy is the simplest of these consequences, and it’s not even remotely simple. Do you want to be a single Jewish teenager mother? No, you do not (trust me on this). Neither do you want to have a shotgun wedding. If you think your friends won’t notice that your baby is only six months older than your wedding pictures, you’re wrong. Besides pregnancy, sex can lead to a variety of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. You can get Chlamydia and not find out until years later that you’ll have trouble having a baby. You can get genital warts or crabs, both of which are painful and unattractive. You can get HPV, which may not cause any problems for you until years later, when you get cervical cancer. And you can get HIV, a virus that will ultimately kill you. If you want to be absolutely sure that you won’t have to deal with any of these problems, you should wait to have sex until you’ve gotten married, (although of course even then your husband can give you an STD, or infect you with HIV, and there are unwanted pregnancies within marriage). The best method of protection from this stuff is to use a condom every time. Though condoms are not a hundred percent effective, they are simple to use and cheap (often free). The vast majority of the time, using a condom will keep you from getting pregnant, and from contracting STDs and STIs. Be honest with yourself about your sex life. If you’re uncomfortable with something, it’s your responsibility to speak about it, and it’s your partner’s responsibility to listen. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you’re too embarrassed to tell your partner that something he’s doing doesn’t feel good, then you’re not ready to be in the situation at all. Waiting to have sex until you get married can seem arbitrary and even impossible. When you’ve found someone you love, someone you think about all the time, someone you want touch and be touched by, the idea of holding back seems ludicrous. But within Jewish law, a marriage constitutes a certain kind of privacy and oneness that you can’t get without some wine under a chuppa. Being married entitles you to a secret that only you and your husband will know. Sex is a big part of that. It may also help to know that in marriage a man has an obligation to satisfy his wife sexually. The gemara even sets out a minimum number of times a man has to satisfy his wife per week (once a week for scholars and mule drivers, twice a week for laborers, and daily for people who can afford not to have a job, (Ketubot 61b)). The Shulchan Aruch adds that a man is obligated to satisfy his wife if he notices her hinting towards wanting intimacy (Orach Chaim 240:1). These obligations are great, but they only apply within marriage. It can seem even more difficult to hold by these rules when you don’t have anyone special in your life, when you’re just lonely or sad or bored, and an opportunity for sex presents itself. In those times I hope you’ll remember that sex is a holy thing, and that casual sex means treating kedusha, holiness, with a lack of respect. It’s not an ethical call here. It’s not about premarital sex being wrong, it’s about premarital sex not being holy. More than likely, you will have regrets about choices you made in regards to sex and relationships. In a few years, you’ll look back on these days and shake your head. Tanach is full of people who learn from mistakes they make in relationships, and even from mistakes they make in their sex lives. Judah slept with a prostitute (he thought she was a prostitute, at least), and faced possible public humiliation, but from it he learned humility and responsibility. King David took Batsheva as a wife, and tacitly sentenced her husband to death, and from this he learned about jealousy and greed. Jacob took two sisters as wives, and from their competition and resentment he learned the importance of peacemaking and compromise. If you get hurt, it’s worth it to spend some time thinking about where you went wrong, and trying to figure out how you can avoid it in the future. Regardless of when you decide to have sex, I hope you’ll observe the laws of niddah. They, too, are part of our tradition, and they help create a rhythm and a flow in your relationship that will, I hope, keep the connection between you and your partner strong, and maintain a sense of desire and intensity.