In the community I grew up in, sex was rarely talked about, and when it was, it was almost always about preventing it. The more religious people in the neighborhood would refrain from touching the opposite sex. People would avoid listening to women sing in order to preclude being attracted. Women would hide their legs, arms, bellies, backs, shoulders, and even, after marriage, their hair.
When it's time to get married (at about ages 20-22) the boys and girls would be set up with each other, meet a few times or, for the more liberal among them, date for up to about a year, but never have sex. (There are many, of course, who do date more like secular people and have sex, but I'm speaking of those who are thought of as behaving appropriately by the community and its leaders.)
Never having had a sexual relationship, indeed never having had a kiss or a dance or even a hug from someone of the opposite sex, they go into marriage as sexual children. Even after marriage, the scope of acceptable sexual behavior is significantly limited. Oral sex and anal sex are generally forbidden, condoms are almost always out of the question, and I doubt sex toys are looked well upon, let alone costumes, handcuffs, or other things people may be into. For a week every month, following the woman's period, the couple may not even touch each other.
When Orthodox people are to be married, they generally have a couple sessions with an adult (a Rabbi or Rebbetzin) who supposedly tells them what they need to know. I suspect that most of this talk focuses on the halakhic side of things rather than the practical, but you never know.
People who see this scenario as ideal seem to have one of a few basic philosophies:
- Sex isn't nearly as important as the other factors in a relationship. In fact, it's a distraction. Better to marry someone with whom you share values and goals than someone who happens to be good in the sack.
- Good sex will come naturally as the result of a good marriage.
- Good sex is correlated with other factors you can look for when choosing a mate. Actual sex (or physical contact) is not required.
- There are downsides to waiting until marriage, but the benefits of having "saved" yourself for your spouse are worth it.
So, are any of these true?
Is Sex an Unimportant Distraction?
It's obvious to me that good sex between people who otherwise hate each other is no foundation for a marriage, but it's not clear to me that good sex shouldn't be considered at least as important as, say, enjoying conversations with your spouse. And I doubt that anyone would marry someone they don't like talking to. It seems like having sex before you decide to marry is as essential as having a conversation or seeing how you deal with disagreement. It's true that people weren't very picky choosing spouses for millennia, often having arranged marriages or marrying for financial or political reasons, but I'm working from the modern idea that marriage should be based on love and compatibility. If love, good conversation, etc. are required, why not sex?
Will sex be a distraction in the dating process, though? Will it blind you to everything else? The sex drive is incredibly powerful and I know that people do stay in bad relationships for good sex. Perhaps they might even jump into a bad marriage because of it. However, people stay in relationships and jump into marriages for all sorts of other reasons, as well. Furthermore, if premarital sex is allowed, there's no reason to jump into marriage simply because of good sex, because you're already having the good sex! Instead, you're free to marry when you want to actually be married rather than when you can't stand being a virgin any more.
The only problem I can see here is that you might "waste" so much time having good sex that you get older than you'd like before marriage. But, still, it seems like you could extricate yourself from that situation eventually and still have time to get married. Sex is powerful, but it doesn't literally make you stupid, at least not for more than an evening or two. I'm unconvinced by philosophy #1.