A new book unveils the joy of sex for a group that has traditionally kept the subject under wraps – Orthodox Jews. “There wasn’t any source of accurate sexual information for the religious community,” said Dr. David Ribner, co-author with Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld of the book “Et Le’ehov [a time to love]: The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy.”
Ribner, who is director of the sex therapy training program at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, reported that the current consensus at sex therapy conventions is that “there’s a right for everyone to have sexual enjoyment.”
|Dr. David Ribner|
A Jerusalem resident, Ribner is visiting the United States to promote his new book and to present information on sexual relations within marriage for the religious Jewish community. He has experienced some frustration, however, in the process of bringing his message to that community.
“So far, I have been unable to get a single Anglo-Jewish media to do a book review, or a Jewish bookstore to carry the book. This reflects a failure of the Jewish community in general to confront this issue,” said Ribner. “It reflects our experience in Israel also. Other than Steimatzky’s, Jewish bookstores won’t carry the book. There is a fearfulness to discuss a very sensitive topic.”
Steimatzky’s is a large chain of secular bookstores in Israel.
The introduction to the book states: “Regrettably, this area of education has long been neglected in the religious world, and while there has been some recent improvement, no source material of this kind has yet been available….This kind of information was once passed from parent to child; our impression is that this is no longer the norm. As a result, many couples are left to face this critical area of their lives with little guidance or information.”
Ribner, who was trained in marital and sex therapy in the 1970s, collaborated with Rosenfeld on the book. Rosenfeld was one of the founders of Tzelem, an organization whose goal is to provide sex education for the religious community. He met his co-author when he was invited by Tzelem to do a workshop. They are now working on a Hebrew translation of the book.
“It’s very explicit,” said Ribner about the book. “We do not use metaphoric language, we use explicit language. In the back of the book, we have explicit diagrams.” The co-authors decided to tuck those diagrams away in a sealed envelope, pasted to the inside back cover. A label sealing the flap warns: “Note: This envelope contains illustrations that are meant to accompany the text and to clarify certain points with regard to male and female sexual anatomy and sexual positions. These illustrations are therefore explicit, and each person should take this into account before viewing the drawings.”
“If we were going to do it, we wanted people to understand what we were talking about,” said Ribner. “But it is written within the boundaries of traditional Judaism.”
“This is not a book of Jewish law,” continued Ribner. “If any problems arise, we urge people to seek out their own rabbis.”
The book includes basic information on anatomy and sexual functioning, communication issues, foreplay, intercourse, family purity issues, and how to address sexual problems that might be encountered.
“We deal clearly with various sexual positions, to help couples expand their sexual repertoire; to make this a part of their lives,” said Ribner. “We encourage people to deal with problems. We encourage them to speak to sexual counselors.”
Ribner has worked with secular and non-Jewish populations, as well as strictly observant Jews, who now make up the majority of his clinical practice. “The problems and sexual dysfunctions are pretty much the same across the board,” he said. “What is special to the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox populations is the lack of accurate sexual information.”
Since his practice is located in Israel, Ribner deals with mostly charedi couples. “There’s more exposure to more accurate information in America,” Ribner said. “That kind of information is more easily acquired in America.”
The Internet has provided a tremendous source of information about sexual matters and, said Ribner, “that genie is not going to be put back into the bottle.”
Ribner noted that access to information via the web is both “good and bad.” He explained that “filtering out what is accurate information and not accurate information is more difficult.” Therefore, the book provides a list of other books, as well as websites where people can find reliable and useful information.
Ribner cited other dramatic changes in the past 50 years, which include the birth control pill that “divorced sex for procreation from sex for enjoyment. Sex is seen as an enjoyable part of people’s lives.”
How we define gender also has changed, said Ribner. “And there is more openness about homosexuality. People are willing to confront issues that are more problematic.”
Hormonal treatments and surgical treatments are now available so that “we can solve a lot of sexual dysfunction issues that we could never do before.” He explained, “What comes into the office of the sex therapist can find relief now. For modern sex therapy and sexual health, there are a plethora of interventions.”
“My own experience is that the rabbis have been very supportive of having young couples and older couples have as much sexual satisfaction as possible. This is a critical aspect of marital relationships,” said Ribner. “Rabbis, up to and including chasidic [rabbis], refer people to me all the time.”
Ribner is scheduled to speak at synagogues in Teaneck and Tenafly, Yeshiva University, and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. “The very fact that I’m coming to speak at Orthodox synagogues is something that wouldn’t have happened 20-30 years ago,” Ribner said.
Et Le’ehov [a time to love]: The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy (2011) was published by Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, Israel, and can be ordered from Gefen Books, Lynbrook, NY (www.gefenpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.
Dr. Miryam Z. Wahrman, science writer for The Jewish Standard, is professor of biology at William Paterson University of New Jersey (WPU), and author of “Brave New Judaism: When Science and Scripture Collide” (Brandeis University/UPNE Press, 2004). At WPU, she heads a biology research lab and serves as director of the WPU MAST Program for training math and science teachers