Let’s Talk About Halacha and Your Bedroom.
I have been moved to write this article after meeting with too many couples facing similar challenges in their intimate lives. Challenges that began in marriage as small issues that may have been avoided with proper information regarding intimacy and sexuality in Judaism. Or challenges that have come up along the journey of marriage while building careers, home and family, that cause small cracks in the pattern of the bedroom. Small cracks that can, over time, turn into large craters. The unfortunate recurring theme I hope to address here is the assumption that Halacha, Jewish Law, is riddled with stringencies and negative attitudes towards sex, intimacy, and a couple’s mutual physical pleasure, when in fact, the opposite is true. I encourage the couple to recognize their small challenges in intimacy, while they remain small, at any stage of marriage, and address them appropriately.
Over the years I have had the privilege of speaking with outstanding Rabbis and various Torah teachers, who understand the importance of healthy intimacy as the cornerstone of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, and are able to, in their Halachik rulings, put marriage and intimacy first, before other halachik concerns. I have found that the more immersed a Rabbi is in the area of healthy intimacy, the more he is able to prioritize the couple’s intimate physical relationship.
Physical Intimacy is an area that is given, at most, ten percent of the attention in a marriage, but easily takes up over ninety percent of the space in a marriage; with issues surrounding who initiates love making, how often it happens, how exciting it is, who enjoys more or less, etc. Couples are not always able to have conversations surrounding their intimate lives. If a challenge arises, it is often difficult to understand and more complicated to tackle. Many times a couple is struggling with a particular issue, and since they feel the solution to the issue may be ‘against Halacha’ (because that is what they learned in Kallah/ Chatan class way back when), they decide it better to not deal with it at all.
With the proper Torah address a couple can wonder about the small and large concerns in the bedroom. Can a woman who is more interested in sex than her husband ask for it every night? A woman who has anxiety surrounding mikveh preparation; can the couple postpone lovemaking to the night after? How does self stimulation fit into the marriage? A couple who comes from different cultural or religious backgrounds and therefore have different expectations in the bedroom, what are their options? Think of these small questions, and their potentially huge impact on a couple’s entire relationship! Sex is a topic that extends beyond the first few months of marriage since it is something couples are engaged in for their entire lives, and therefore needs to be handled congruously.
There are entire masechtot of Gemara, dedicated to figuring out how within the framework of Halacha, a couple can come together as much as possible in physical intimacy, thereby making it clear that sensuality and sexuality are truly Jewish values. With all of the present day secrecy, and privacy surrounding the topic of intimacy and sexuality in Judaism, it is no wonder that a couple experiences feelings of shame and guilt when faced with challenges in the bedroom. But if you think about it, your sexuality is something that will be part of your life for over sixty years. It is worthwhile to stop and consider it closely, and decide as a couple to not settle for less than excellence in this area.
Often couples shy away from asking questions, because they feel certain that they will receive a strict response. What I sense underneath the aversion to asking, is a misunderstanding or disappointment in the Halachik system, a fear of seeming lewd or crass, sheer embarrassment surrounding the topic, or an underlying disdain for sex with one’s spouse, among other possibilities. What I have found in asking the intimate questions to our Torah leaders, is that there is room to be lenient in other Halachik areas in order to put the couple’s relationship first. ‘We are maykel in other areas in order to be machmir in the zugiyut’.
My hope is for individuals and couples to understand that the Rabbis, Rebbetzins, teachers and Yoatzot Halacha who are present throughout your communities are in place in order be helpful, not to make people’s lives harder or more miserable. Like a ‘first line defense’, that is their role. I would advise couples and individuals that if your current address for dealing with issues related to intimacy and sexuality are making your marriage and intimate life more difficult, challenging or stressful, it is the couple’s responsibility to each other to find a Torah source who is able to address the intimate concerns while alleviating stressors to Shalom Bayit. .
Halacha is in place in order to create a sense of support, to make people’s lives better. Such as in the examples of ‘unplugging on Shabbat’ or people joining together in prayer and community at certain times of the day. It is in place for the enhancement of our lives. Therefore, make it work for you and your spouse in the area of intimacy.
Please. Don’t suffer and thereby deal with greater challenges in your marriage. It is within your ability to get yourself and your marriage to the right address, one that works to enhance your Shalom Bayit. If you feel that halachot pertaining to Niddah, sexuality and intimacy are somehow binding you and your spouse at the wrists, and posing challenges for your intimate life, please keep this message in mind, and make the necessary adjustments to your life.
*Co-authored by Abby Weisz and Bracha Shapiro, of JewishIntimacy.com. The writers do not in any way see themselves as certified Halachik authorities in Intimacy. They are writing from a professional therapeutic perspective, for the purpose of enhancing Intimacy within the marriage and can be reached privately through the website, JewishIntimacy.com.