As an observant Jewish woman, let me clear up a few rumors...
I recently got a text message from an old friend from college (who's probably the nicest girl on the Earth, so I'm not even remotely upset) asking me, "Wait, is it true that Jews only have sex through holes in your sheets? How did you make your kids? Your husband must have good aim."
She was serious. She apparently heard the rumor from her boss that all observant Jews have sex this way and figured it might actually be true because Jews do tons of other hard-to-explain stuff like not eating pigs or driving on Friday nights.
So here I am, a seemingly normal 31-year old woman, with no signs of religious extremism in any particular direction, announcing myself as a kosher-sex-keeper. What exactly does that mean?
Well, it has nothing to do with pork and everything to do with the way I respect and value my body and my husband's. That's not to say that people having un-kosher (by definition) sex are being disrespectful to anyone; I'm just doing what feels spiritually right for my home, and what's been done for countless generations before me.
You see, the Jews created the ultimate fertility formula that also doubles as an intimacy formula, and I'm not about to stand in the way of what works. There are, unfortunately, tons of crazy rumors about exactly how Jews do it, though.
Instead of walking you through every single Jewish sex detail (there are a lot), I'm going to give you a brief overview of what we DO and what we DON'T do (with some commentary from my kosher-keeping friends, as well).
What we DON'T do:
1. We don't have sex through sheets.
Tell your friends, please. This is probably the biggest Jewish sex myth out there, and it's ridiculous. By Jewish law, couples are actually obligated to find as much intimacy with each other as possible. That means kissing, touching, and that whole "2 Become 1" thing that the Spice Girls sang about in the late 90s.
2. We don't put women down.
Jewish law is actually feminist. There's a lot of misinformation out there but did you know that of all the major religions in existence today, Jews were the first to outline property ownership for women?
It didn't stop at inheritances and business, though. When a Jewish couple gets married, the husband signs something called a Ketubah. The Ketubah is a formal wedding contract, and contrary to archaic and wild beliefs about it being a trade for cattle, sheep, or other things, it's actually a contract outlining a MAN's obligation to his bride.
It talks about the physical and spiritual expectations he has. He's signing over an understanding of his requirement to give her everything she needs, even his obligation to provide HER with sex. A Jewish woman is actually not required to give or perform sex for her Jewish husband, while a Jewish man is fully obligated (within reason) to satisfy his wife. Imagine that?
3. We don't require women to shave their heads.
I mean, you can if you want to. (That Britney moment from a few years back still sort of haunts me, though.) While a good portion of Orthodox Jews DO wear wigs, hats, or scarves to cover their hair, they've also got a head of their own real stuff right below. In my case, I'm wig-free because it's just not my thing but my friends with wig collections have real hair right underneath, and I can totally confirm that.
"My head definitely isn't shaved," my friend laughed to me. Her husband sees her natural hair all the time (mine too, but that's probably because I'm never wearing a wig).
4. We don't have sex during or slightly after our periods.
This isn't about Jewish women being totally OCD when it comes to cleanliness. We believe that blood has an energy, and it's not just the blood from "down there" that is to be avoided. Sex and eating are actually two very, very spiritual experiences, and we go as far as possible with both to ensure only the best possible energetic circumstances. We even make sure all kosher meat is totally absent of blood (you'll never see a bloody T-bone steak at a kosher restaurant, for example).
We abstain from sexual relations typically around 10 to 14 days of each month starting from the first day of our period. By the time we're ready to have sex again, we're ovulating, and our husband's tandem abstinence actually strengthens his sperm count.
There's a reason see so many mega-fertile Jewish families (aside from us just generally loving kids and big holiday celebrations).
"It's a common misconception is that Jewish tradition views our menstrual cycle as dirty," explains my friend Sarah Alevsky, co-director of Chabad Family Programs of the West Side. "Purity and impurity in Jewish life isn't about lack of cleanliness. When we talk about purity in a Jewish context it's in relation to life or the absence of life.
In the case of our menstrual cycle, the period signals the lack of life, since the egg wasn't fertilized during ovulation. Because there's no life being generated; the shedding of lining that occurs during your period signals a death of a sort. We therefore go to mikvah to purify ourselves after our period, having had a brush with a death of sorts."
5. We don't have sex just to make babies.
Sure, we perfected the easiest and most effective fertility formula of all time, but sex to us isn't just about babies. We're encouraged to keep having sex all the way through our pregnancies and old age because pleasure, in the right relationship, is just as important to the Jewish soul as anything else.
Jewish men are encouraged to be thoughtful lovers with their wives — to ask what makes her feel good, how she wants to be loved, and exactly what will make her feel satisfied. It's this level of selflessness from the man's side that has the potential to create a truly intimate and loving bond.
While I can't speak for every woman out there, when I feel loved and taken care of, I do my best to be as giving as possible (emotionally and physically).
What we DO do:
1. We use birth control.
One of my favorite rumors out there is about Jews being forbidden to use birth control. I'm writing this article with my IUD firmly in place, proving that this is totally untrue, but we're encouraged to have children.
Some couples choose small families and others choose large families. It's up to them based on their circumstances, and it's generally accepted for women to use birth control when they feel they're no longer able (medically, emotionally, or even financially) to continue. In my case, I had three C-sections in under five years, so my Jewterus is sitting on the bench with a copper spring until further notice.
2. We've been doing a spa treatment called "mikveh" for thousands of years.
We don't talk about it much in public because it's a pretty personal thing, but every observant Jewish woman is sort of "treated" to a spa day after the end of her period. She heads to a special, totally private (and often very luxe) bathhouse called a mikvah that can be anything from a small pool of water, all the way up to something as giant as an ocean.
The key factor is that she submerges in a body of water, rather tranquil, that has been open to running natural water. Many indoor mikvahs have a source of local stream or rain water, while the facilities usually rival top hotels with gorgeous inlaid tile work, plush towels, and soft lighting.
We spend about 45 minutes to an hour in our private pool, in some ways meditating, and then carry on with a shower, drying our hair, and getting dressed to go back into the world. We're able to return to sexual relations after this once-monthly spa day.
"'Kedusha' is a word in Hebrew that is translated commonly as holiness, but its literal meaning is to separate, to set aside for a special time or purpose. Our task as women is to uplift the mundane and the every day to the realm of Kedusha. The tradition of family purity, or mikvah, is a mitzvah that brings Kedusha, holiness, into the most intimate part of our lives," Sarah shares.
3. We do permit, but don't usually encourage, divorce.
If the relationship isn't a loving and supportive one, and there's no realistic, spiritual way to repair the damage between a couple, we're permitted and even encouraged to divorce. Kosher relationships typically foster healthy relationships. That doesn't mean we have an excuse to say, "I'm leaving him because he farts and it's gross."
Quite the contrary. Divorce is after we exhaust all the possible options and ways to find a way back to a loving place.
4. We dig guys with beards.
Trendy or not, beards are totally in for us. We consider the beard a necessary spiritual aspect of a man's appearance. Some Jewish guys go with minor scruff, and some end up all the way in Santa Claus territory. But generally, observant Jewish men won't be totally clean-shaven.
5. We encourage talking, touching and intimacy beyond just sex.
The relationship between a wife and her husband is the foundation for their entire home, so we go out of our way to do whatever it takes to build intimacy. That means we don't take each other for granted.
Even when we're not physically together because we're menstruating, we engage in deep conversation, laugh with each other, and spend time reminding each other just how important our relationship is. It goes a long way in reminding couples that intimacy stretches far beyond the bedroom.