Culture Shock,  Feelings,  Gender

Sex and Feelings

I got started this afternoon on some of my reading for my next LJL class. Our topic next week is Life Cycle 2 – Marriage. I wasn’t expecting a lot of feelings about this one because on the whole I’m not particularly tied to the idea of marriage, and I don’t have any idea if I’m going to have one or anything like that. This expectation overlooked an obvious fact in Judaism.

Sex is really important in Judaism. Sex as a part of marriage is, from all my learning thus far, pretty critical. It’s understood to bring a lot of intimacy and closeness and structure into marital relationships. Sex during marriage is a mitzvah. Not just any old sex, either. Good sex. Making each other feel good. Making time for each other and dedicating effort and energy to the process.

Most of the people who will read this will probably have a good idea of why I started to get feelings, but let’s pretend for posterity that someone new is going to come along.

I’m dating a really wonderful man, who I love very much. In March of 2021, we will have been dating for 4 years. In July of 2019 we had a big ol’ kerfuffle and a major relationship shift when he decided he didn’t want a sexual relationship with me anymore. And I will say that I considered that wording very carefully. It was his decision, it was his wanting that thing. My wanting and decision would have gone the totally opposite direction, and in some ways they still do. But we don’t have sex with people who don’t want to have sex with us. That’s just bare minimum human expectation, y’know? That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. Actively, some days.

We’re in an ethically non-monogamous relationship, we have other outlets for that sort of things (ostensibly, thanks pandemic), after a really serious amount of work together and therapy and hard conversations and crying, we’re still together. I’m happy that we are. But! Feelings! Reading about the religious and legal expectations of Jewish men to prioritize the sexual needs and desires of their wives (pardon the heteronormativity, just working from the text) while in a relationship that has settled into “not doing that at all” was a little challenging. It feels like loss and aspiration and impossibility. The kind of relationship I want so bad I can taste it, but that feels so foreign compared to all the ones I’ve had so far.

I guess if this is my quasi-educational religious journey blog I should give some clarity. According to Rabbinic law, men should be very focused on fulfilling their wives sexual needs. There are specific quotas given for how often you’re supposed to have sex with your wife depending on your job/socioeconomic status. It’s a man’s responsibility to see that he’s following this schedule with the offer of sex, and a woman’s complete right to say no thanks, but also her responsibility to be available when she can.

The rabbis have a lot of thoughts about sex, and I am endlessly impressed, amused, and amazed at the specificity of concerns and instructions. There are commentaries about different positions, about foreplay, about whether you can fantasize about other people while having sex (don’t fantasize about your second wife because you might upset your household order, don’t fantasize about your neighbor because you might become unfaithful, but if thinking of a particular celebrity makes you happier and more passionate in bed, please do that), about what kinds of sex are natural and unnatural.

I’ll have you know that to my knowledge, and according to the book I’ve been reading, not a word about homosexuality. There’s certainly some specifics to consider with regards to wasting seed (if it’s not going toward making a baby, there’s always some concern), but it certainly isn’t as explicitly homophobic as all the Christian translations I’m aware of.

Mostly, I came out of the reading today with a couple bruised feelings and a renewed sense of awe at what all the rabbinic commentaries added to the religion after Torah. I want to sit around and think about G-d and talk about what all the writings could have meant and how we should live our lives every day to better fit G-d’s laws. That would be great.

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