Do you think rabbis and educators in the Jewish community should take a more active role in sex education to newlyweds in light of stories coming forth about couples who can’t consummate their marriage because of certain painful gynecologic conditions?
Rabbis and educators who have the necessary expertise and qualifications can indeed help newlyweds. When couples "who can't consummate their marriage" are reluctant to seek help from therapists, the problem may be prolonged unnecessarily. One way that educators can help is by sharing their knowledge of the meanings of intimacy from a Jewish perspective and by dispelling erroneous beliefs of what Jewish tradition requires in halachic restrictions of modesty (tziniyut) and family purity (taharat hamishpacha). A recent trend in modern Orthodox circles is to have trained "hatan and kallah" counselors guide the young couple prior to marriage and suggest improved communication skills on the emotional-sexual level. In addition, they offer workshops to help develop positive sexual self-images and prevent post marriage sexual trauma,
As to your question, I would suggest that many sexual difficulties are not purely “gynecological” or "medical"; they may also involve religious notions and emotional concerns. For example, the conditions of vaginismus and dyspareunia are often related to anxiety and fear of pain, which is frequently exacerbated by misleading religious assumptions. Concerns about modesty, inadequate knowledge about human sexuality and lack of a common language for discussing intimacy easily trigger for marital and emotional stress. The direction for a more encompassing solution is to begin to explore the sources in Judaism which deal with the sanctity of loving intimacy.
I will conclude with an example from an article that I wrote on conjugal intimacy in Kabbalah as explained by R. Moshe Cordevero, the RaMaK. RaMaK reprimands those who advocate pious sex by using the "hole in the sheet" method because they created an artificial separation between male and female and prevent a truly intimate union. RaMaK offers specific instructions how to arouse love, intimacy, and joy. He frames conjugal sex as a redemptive undertaking that creates harmony in both interpersonal relations and in the spiritual world of the Divine Sefirot. RaMaK details the Kabbalistic premises underlying physical-mystical sexual intimacy as essential to channeling erotic desire. Perhaps, this is an example of how already in 16th century Safed, there was a Rabbi taking an active role in sex education.
 Dr. Natan Ophir, "Meditative Instructions For Friday Night Conjugal Intimacy: Romantic Kabbalah in the Writings of R. Moshe Cordovero", Massekhet, vol. 10, October 2010, pp. 87-113 (in Hebrew), pp. 12-13 (English abstract). For a copy of the complete article please contact Natan@JewishMeditation.org.il
 , R. Moshe Cordovero (1522–1570) was one of the most prolific Kabbalist thinkers in Jewish history. In Ohr Yakar, his commentary to the Zohar, and in Tefillah LeMoshe, his commentary and meditative manual to the liturgy, RaMaK provides guidance on why, when and how to make love.
You have asked whether Rabbis and other educators should take an active role in sex education of newlyweds.
The Jewish tradition has always emphasized modesty and privacy in sexual relations.Sexual behavior has traditionally been considered a private activity within marriage, and was not to be flaunted or discussed openly.And yet, the rabbinic tradition includes significant passages of instruction on the psychological aspects of sexuality, as well as the physical aspects of intercourse. People often looked to Rabbis for guidance.One classic text is found in The Talmud (tractate Berachot 62b):Rav Kahana once went in and hid under Rav's bed. He heard Rav chatting [with his wife] and joking and doing as he would.
Rav Kahana said “One would think that my master's mouth had never sipped the dish before!”
Rav said to him: Kahana, are you here? Go out! It is unseemly!
Kahana replied: It is a matter of Torah, and I must learn.
Today we do not expect students to literally hide under the bed, butRabbis and other educators who work with couples through the marriage process should be prepared to guide couples towards success in all aspects of their lives together, including sexuality.How this help is provided may vary significantly in different segments of the community, and rabbis and others should also be aware of the limits of their skills and knowledge and when outside medical or psychological resources must be brought in as well.
In my own work with couples who are preparing to marry, I find that the majority have access to information about sexuality- they taken a course in human sexuality as part of their secular or religious education, have previous experience with intercourse, or have a physician with whom they feel comfortable discussing medical issues that may arise. And yet, should troubles arise, couples may be reticent in seeking out the appropriate resources, and rabbis and other counselors can be helpful in providing accurate information or encouraging the couple to pursue the right resources.
In some other streams of Judaism, the primary source of information before marriage is a ‘Chattan and Kallah’ class or individual meetings with a rabbi, rebbetzin , or other educator. Often, these classes cover specific mitzvot and procedures related to the laws of “family purity.”Ideally, such classes would also discuss practical knowledge that both members of the couple would need to be successful in physical and emotional intimacy. Indeed, there are important efforts underway to train rabbis and other educators to provide guidance in this area, and provide sensitive and accurate responses to questions that may arise.
Healthy sexual relations are a vital and sacred part of Jewish marriage. Rabbis and Jewish educators should certainly take an active role in educating newlywed or about-to-be-wed couples on this topic in general, and about Jewish traditions and teachings regarding conjugal sex in particular.
Most if not all couples I have met with in my experience as a Reform rabbi have received information and even formal education about sexuality and sexual relations before I see them, and many have had prior sexual experience as well.
I always ask couples I am counseling for marriage to speak about their expectations and any concerns, questions, or anxieties regarding sexual relations with their partner. With a sexually inexperienced couple or individual, I consider it even more important as part of my rabbinic duties to establish adequate access to educational resources and to discuss with some specificity the full range of feelings, both physical and emotional, one might reasonably experience in a first-time sexual encounter. I also talk with couples about the importance of seeking counsel or advice from a rabbi or therapist if they meet any serious or persistent difficulties in their relationship, sexual or otherwise, that they cannot resolve themselves.
Especially considering the pervasive, distorted images of sexuality and sexual relationships surrounding us in popular culture, and the social barriers to discussing sexual problems openly in most circles, a conversation about healthy sexual relations is an essential part of any couple’s preparations for marriage. Jewish couples deserve to have all this and to understand sex in a Jewish context, as well. Rabbis preparing couples for marriage should feel obligated to either facilitate such conversation and learning themselves, or otherwise ensure access to it.
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