They have clearly not yet been educated about the art world’s adoration of the human body ... It’s why I told both my daughters that, rather than being covered because it’s ugly, the body is covered in Judaism because it’s beautiful, and we like to preserve that beauty for occasions when it’s considered appropriate to uncover it. ... I do wish these frum parents would teach their children that it’s out of respect for the human body—not disgust—that we cover it up.
In the last issue of Rabbi Marc Angel’s Conversations magazine, there was an article, Observant Married Jewish Women and Sexual Life: An Empirical Study. As you can tell from the title, the article covered a large amount of ground, but one finding was particularly salient and troubling for me.
Section “B. Sexual Education/History” discusses the effectiveness of kallah teachers. What the study found is that while these teachers discusses the halakhic aspects of niddah, they did not teach about sex about general. The study concluded that further education in this area was necessary.
But the study went further in its findings. According to the study, “The awkwardness of sudden transition from celibate single life to fully sexual marital experience was echoed by many respondents who wrote in that it was hard to ‘turn off’ their notions of being a ‘good girl.’ As one woman, herself a kallah teacher, wrote, ‘The difficulty we have in communicating needs verbally I feel is a result of the ’modesty‘ and inhibitions we were shown as examples.’ Another woman elaborated extensively on this point: ‘ … The extreme privacy within the Orthodox community, while promoted as modest, beautiful, and virtuous, also causes/supports feelings of shame regarding sex. The laws of tseni’ut (modesty) on a more subconscious level, supports (not necessarily causes) shameful feelings about one’s body. …’.”
I remember my mother, when I was a child, telling me (with disgust) stories of young women who were told, on their wedding day, to “lie down, spread your legs, and do whatever your husband asks you”. These women had had no education whatsoever about sex, and they were barely (if at all) aware that they were even supposed to disrobe for their husbands.
(My mother’s method of pedagogy was simply to tell me things, apropos. She never sat me down and had “the talk”, but instead, the relevant lessons were sprinkled throughout life. Recently, she, apropos of I don’t remember what, told me a story she read in the newspaper of a boy who convinced a young woman to go to bed with him, and told her that she wouldn’t get pregnant if she didn’t climax. Quite aside from the impropriety of premarital sex, my mother told me exactly what she thinks of this boy’s treatment of the young woman. This pedagogic method, I believe, is far more effective, and I hope I’ll one day successfully implement it.)
I remember when I was about seven or so years old, I read anatomy books from the library, and I asked my mother if I was allowed to read the sections on sexual anatomy. Her reaction was quick and unequivocal: of course; why wouldn’t I be allowed??!! She’s also told me that when my brother was approximately five years old, he asked where babies came from, and she told him very frankly where they came from. She always wanted us to know that even if sex is to be reserved for certain occasions (according to her very scientific explanation to my brother, only husbands and wives have sex, and only when they love each other, no less), nevertheless, sex is something perfectly natural and healthy.
But by contrast, it seems these observant women are not only being taught nothing about anatomy and the technical aspects of sex, but further, they are being inculcated with values of how a “modest” woman will find sex unbecoming and shameful.
Suffice it to say, then, I love the way "Shimshonit" is teaching her children in this area.
Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovits, in his Crisis and Faith, says that Freud’s theories make sense only in the context of a (once-)Christian society with ascetic and repressive sexual ideals. But I fear that the same neuroses that inspired Freud will soon (if not already) be found in the Orthodox community. Both our sexual ideals and our concepts of rabbinic authority seem more Catholic than anything Jewish.