Monday, May 15, 2006

Premarital Sex

How important is good sex? Can any two otherwise compatible people have it? Is varied experience beneficial or detrimental? Is premarital sex helpful or harmful?

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:


  1. 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.

  2. Good sex will come naturally as the result of a good marriage.

  3. Good sex is correlated with other factors you can look for when choosing a mate. Actual sex (or physical contact) is not required.

  4. 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.

Is Good Sex a Probable Result of a Good Marriage?

I have been in a few relationships and I know that sometimes even though everything seems great, two people simply don't have the physical chemistry. Since we're assuming that sex is important here (we've ruled out #1) it would be terrible to marry a wonderful person only to find out later that you can't have good sex. Maybe it's possible that it will get better over time, but I'm skeptical that it can ever be as good as it would be with someone you naturally clicked with better sexually. So, I can't rule out #2, but I don't really have any reason to believe it.

Is Good Sex Predictable?

This one seems reasonable. Maybe if both of you get butterflies (technical term) when looking at each other, it foretells good sex. Maybe if you're an ass-man (for example) and she's got junk in the trunk, it'll be all good. Sadly, I haven't had enough personal experience to say yay or nay on this one. It's possible. However, it seems to me that if you're 20 years old and have never so much as kissed a member of the opposite sex, you might not be equipped to recognize such important signs. Also, you might easily talk yourself into believing in something that isn't there. Seems like a risky proposition.

Is Waiting Worth it Anyway?

Let's look at what the benefits of waiting may be. There might be a nice feeling associated with knowing that sex is something you've shared only with your spouse and you might avoid negative feelings that stem from picturing your spouse with someone else before you. There could in theory be STDs or babies, but let's stipulate for the sake of this discussion that we're talking about (admittedly fictional) 100% safe sex. Unsafe sex is a different subject altogether. Perhaps you'll feel good not having leftover feelings towards previous sexual partners. Perhaps it's beneficial not to compare your spouse with previous partners, or worry about how you measure up to your spouse's previous partners. None of these things has been an issue for me in successive relationships, though, so I can't imagine why it would be different in marriage.

Conclusion

Assuming you're not worried about halakha, it seems like it makes sense to have a few sexual relationships before getting married. You can figure out what works for you and what doesn't and also learn how to have good sex. Then when you're ready to choose a spouse, you'll be equipped both to decide if you can have good sex with him or her and to know how to have good sex with him or her.

18 comments:

twilight770 said...

marriage are a thousand times better then people that had sex with other people.
The question is if this day and age is it practical that a 20-22 year old could go for so long with out sex? But if they do there bound to be less confused then the average go shmo,
You right as if halacha and reality are two separate things. That is not true halacha is reality the sooner one comes to terms with that the better

Juggling Mother said...

hmmm, in my experience/opinion the "elders" view sex as a necessary chore to reproduce.

Once reproduction has taken place the chore is no longer necessary, and prior to the wish to reproduce it is completely unecessary.

Therefore, sex is pretty irrelevant in a good marriage, and good sex is an oxymoron. Sex isn't supposed to be good, it's supposed to be sucessful.

And TBH, the kind of sex they expect is pretty dull;-), so the idea is continued generation to generation. Western Jews are (occasonally) encountering problems now because the external culture may show them different ideas, but most very orthodox people stay within their very orthodox world & rarely see anything else.

In my world, sex is intrinsically tied up with emotion & loyalty & commitment etc, but i know plenty of people who do not see it that way. For some it is purely a physical thing.

waiting or not waiting is all aboutr a point of view. I personally didn't wait until I wasa married, since marriage has little meaning to me, but I did wait until I found someone I liked, respected, and intended to spend some time with. that was my choice. It was considered pretty strange in my local community where you generally waited until any opportunity arose:-)

Sadie Lou said...

"junk in the trunk?"
*laughing* I have heard that expression many times but it struck me especially funny to read it here.

Surprisingly I have an argument that you forgot under the heading "is waiting worth it?"
I used to think that waiting to have sex might even be dangerous to a marriage because there is the potential for one of the two (or both) to start wondering what having sex with someone other than your spouse is like. Especially because in movies and such--the people in sex scenes are always having this like fantastic sex and for someone that has only had one sexual partner their whole lives and if the sex is not all that good (inexperience?) they might start thinking that they are missing something.
Ya know?
However, my cousin and his wife changed all that for me. They both waited until marriage to even kiss each other and I was sure they were headed for disaster. They have been married for at least five years now and I see that God has totally blessed their marriage.
(maybe even blessed with them with tantric sex too!)
Perhaps when a couple practices God's will before and after the wedding day--He gives them extra marital bliss.
Hey, it's possible.

Captain Carmen said...

I agree with all of your conclusions, JA.

I've been married for ten years, and although I 'broke' and kissed my then-fiancee before the wedding, I didn't go any further. And it was a mistake.

We are incompatible, sexually, and in the intervening years, thanks to the Internet, I've met several women with whom I *am* compatible, sexually. Now what?

Regardless, I plan to instruct my children to experiment. Living a life of lies and misery for the sake of halacha doesn't seem worth it.

Anonymous said...

Your forgetting that lots of frum guys get married just so they can get laid. If you take away that incentive people will get married much older.

Sadie Lou said...

We are incompatible, sexually, and in the intervening years, thanks to the Internet, I've met several women with whom I *am* compatible, sexually. Now what?

I find this revelation somewhat strange. Did you find sexually compatable women on the internet before or after your discovery that you are sexually incompatibal with your wife?
Without invading your privacy--some sexual freedoms are learned from your partner--not expected of them.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Speaking as a parent, I hope my children do a little experimenting (when they reach an appropriate level of maturity, of course).

The big consideration for me is, learning to distinguish a sexual response from genuine love.

It would be nice if the two always went together, but they certainly don't. People can get a physical buzz off someone who would be disastrous for them as a spouse.

But sexual feelings are so strong: when the sexual "chemistry" is there, people think, "I'm in love!" And maybe they rush into marriage on that basis.

I would prefer that my children experiment enough to realize that the sexual buzz is something separate from true love. Then, maybe they won't marry someone because they confuse the two feelings.

Harry Miller said...

Shumley Boteach says " uninhibited sex is the elixer for a good marriage" A Chosen & kallah should be wild with anticipation about eating each other up from head to toe. our community has evolved to a fundamentalist taliban like cult

Jack's Shack said...

The big consideration for me is, learning to distinguish a sexual response from genuine love.

Very wise words.

asher said...

JA,
One of your better posts.

Although I can't prove it either way, I wonder what the divorce stats are on Orthodox marriages. My suspicion is that it's exactly the same as pagans.

When I was in yeshiva, they told us that in marriage the refraining from having sex during certain times of the month were to show that we weren't animals and could control our sex drive. In the past 20 years I've heard it put another way: that the refraining from sex makes the partners "dearer" to each other so that their coming together after the waiting period is more special "a monthly honeymoon" However, since the only folks on earth who practice this method are Orthodox Jews, I wonder how effective it is in a marriage.

If sex is so unimportant in an Orthodox family, why do they invariably have so many children?

Finally, having sex before marriage insures nothing. It often happens that a woman is happily married to man for many years, they have kids and a life together. However, as she turns 45 or so she suddenly takes up with a woman and leaves her family. I've read about this happening and have anecdotal evidence in my family. Did she suddenly realize she was a lesbian?

Jewish Atheist said...

twilight770:

marriage are a thousand times better then people that had sex with other people.

How so? And how do you know?


Mrs.Aginoth:

I pretty much agree with everything you wrote. Except that I'd be okay with a fling here and there.


Sadie:

"junk in the trunk?"
*laughing* I have heard that expression many times but it struck me especially funny to read it here.


:-) I'm not good at getting humor into my blog even though I'm constantly wisecracking in real life. Usually too damn serious on here. Glad you enjoyed.

I used to think that waiting to have sex might even be dangerous to a marriage because there is the potential for one of the two (or both) to start wondering what having sex with someone other than your spouse is like.

Good point. Virgins could have unrealistic expectations.

However, my cousin and his wife changed all that for me. They both waited until marriage to even kiss each other and I was sure they were headed for disaster. They have been married for at least five years now and I see that God has totally blessed their marriage.

Or maybe they just lucked out. :-) Who knows?


Captain Carmen:

We are incompatible, sexually, and in the intervening years, thanks to the Internet, I've met several women with whom I *am* compatible, sexually. Now what?

That sucks. I can't condone adultery, but I feel for you.


Anonymous:

Your forgetting that lots of frum guys get married just so they can get laid. If you take away that incentive people will get married much older.

Agreed. And that's probably a good thing. For a number of reasons.


Q:

The big consideration for me is, learning to distinguish a sexual response from genuine love.

Yes! Good point. When I was a hormone-crazed adolescent I was infatuated with several young women who would have been TERRIBLE matches for me if we'd gotten married. Still, it'd be nice to have the sexual response AND the genuine love.


Harry Miller:

Sounds too much like being in lust to me. Lust is no reason to make a lifelong commitment.


asher:

Although I can't prove it either way, I wonder what the divorce stats are on Orthodox marriages. My suspicion is that it's exactly the same as pagans.

I'd bet it's lower if only for the higher stigma of divorce, the less empowered women, etc.

In the past 20 years I've heard it put another way: that the refraining from sex makes the partners "dearer" to each other so that their coming together after the waiting period is more special "a monthly honeymoon"

That's what I've heard as well, but I'm skeptical. (Big surprise there.)

If sex is so unimportant in an Orthodox family, why do they invariably have so many children?

Condoms are bad. People need to consult rabbis before being "allowed" to use birth control.

Finally, having sex before marriage insures nothing.

Agreed. There are no guarantees, but personally, I'd like as much information up front as possible.

It often happens that a woman is happily married to man for many years, they have kids and a life together. However, as she turns 45 or so she suddenly takes up with a woman and leaves her family.

"Often?" I don't know about that. Anyway, a reduced stigma on homosexuality as well as a later age of marriage would hopefully take care of most of this issue. Maybe if the woman were able to "experiment" in college, she would have decided early on that she preferred women.

Juggling Mother said...

Just to clarify, I am totally in favour of pre-marital sex & experimentation - just that I personally find it pretty tied into my emotions too. Although I was thinking back over the years, and I do actually remember one partner who was absolutely a physical-only thing, with no intention on either side to make it into more, or pretend it was more. I don't remember his name now, but I remember the night fondly;-)

However I also think that a good marriage is about meeting shared expectations. It's why arranged marriages can work so well - if both partners have similar expectations, and those expectations are met, compatibility (sexual, social or otherwise) are less important. That's one of the reasons that it's best to be upfront about your past/future hopes with any potential partners.

United We Lay said...

I think living with someone before you get married is an important step in the process. You can love someone all you like, but if you can't live with them, the marriage won't work. Whether you and your partner choose to have sex during this time isn't as important as doing the daily things that couples do. How else would you know that he puts his clothes on the floor even if the hamper is a foot away, or that she can cook but doesn't?

Laura said...

This is a truly personal decision that should be left up to each individual - without family, community, or religious pressure. I know people on both sides, who had happy and unhappy marriages. I think the real root of the issues is that sex is about more than physical pleasure - it's about intimacy. If you don't have true intimacy with another person, it won't work. You have to be comfortable telling the other person what you like and what you don't.

If someone is taught about sex in an open manner (other than abstinence only) they will be able to make an informed decision, and also, if they choose to wait, they will know that there are "options" out there of different things to try with their spouse.

You have to be truly comfortable with yourself and the other person to start communicating pleasure. People who ahve a lot of sex aren't necessarily more comfortable with themselves. Actually a lot of hypersexual women have usually experienced abuse as children.

Not quite sure where I was going with that, but...

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

There is no right or wrong. It is all luck whether a relationship works or not, and no magic formula.
I do believe that sex for men is more important than sex is for women, because we are usually on full and we can't help ourselves biologically to find an unloading zone:)

Most secular guys do get married I believe because sex with the person they marry was hot prior to marriage.

Sex dies down in marriage because we are not pre-wired to be monogamous. A 3-4 year itch happens. And from personal experience and from talking to my friends, it is the woman who usually becomes less interested first.

I'm a firm believer that holding out for marriage doesn't make sense. Take it while you can get it, you only have one life to live, and if both parties are OK with it, JUST DO IT.

Worst case scenario, you'll find out that there are sexual incompatability issues before you make a major commitment.

smoo said...

I thank God for my divorce. We married whilst still virgins. Let me tell you the honeymoon sucked because it hurt her. Subsequently, she had very little interest in sex let alone any creativity in that area. She often would ask, "Are you done yet?" She expected me to fill her needs (nonsexual) but was unwilling or unable to fulfill mine.

Well I met a phenomenal woman and suddenly lasting a long time is respected. She is open to ANYTHING and has taught me a thing or two. We seem to been on the same page sexually (politically and religiously, as well). Before marriage, I never would have pictured such a person existing. Now I have a whole new outlook about how to determine compatibility.

Take home message: You gotta mesh with your partner on multiple levels including sexual.

elf said...

This is a truly personal decision that should be left up to each individual - without family, community, or religious pressure.

I couldn't agree more. Either approach can lead to successful or unsuccessful relationships, and I'm not convinced that either is preferable overall. It depends on your personality, your situation in life, and many other factors.

That said, I would like to offer a few words in defense of a more conservative approach (since that side seems to be losing). I'm very happy about only having had sex with one person. I believe that two people who are attracted to one another and get along well in general can usually learn to get along well in bed, and it can be helpful not to have a basis for comparison.

Lyss said...

good sex doesn't garuntee a good relationship. there are some people with whom we have tons of sexual chemsitry, but no emotional sparks.

As for Othro Judaism and sex- you might find the documentary Purity fascinating.
http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/22985/edition_id/459/format/html/displaystory.html