Ezzie posted a link the other day to this survey, which is being done in order to discover attitudes and actual practices in regards to the sexual restrictions and proscriptions that Judaism places on intimate relations. There was also a lot of discussion on the Yahoo Group from my community about whether this survey is appropriate and whether the results will lead to negative views of Orthodox Jews from outsiders.
There are separate surveys for single and married people. Out of curiosity, I looked at both (and completed and submitted the one for singles), because I was interested to see what the differences were between the two surveys.
The big differences in the two surveys were about practice, which is understandable, as the survey for married people focuses on the niddah* restrictions and mikvah* immersion, whereas the survey for singles was focused on shomer negiah* and whether or not singles adhere to it.
The differences that I was surprised about was mainly in relation to the attitudes towards the different sexual acts. Questions included on the survey for people who are married include the following items (with the participants being asked whether they agree or disagree):
- "Within marriage, participation in sexual activities solely for pleasure is a sin."
- "Within marriage, participation in sexual activities other than penile vaginal intercourse, such as oral sex, would not be approved of by God."
- "Within marriage, sexuality is a gift of God and as such should be enjoyed."
- "Within marriage, God regards reproduction as only one purpose of sexual activity, it is also for mutual enjoyment and pleasuring."
- "Within marriage, any sexual activity that is agreeable and pleasurable to both partners is approved of by God."
These questions are not on the survey for singles. Which surprised me, because I think they are definitely pertinent, and I think it would be interesting to see whether there are differences in attitudes about such topics between single and married people.
One of the other big differences, was that on the survey for singles, there was a lot of questions about sexual activity (or lack thereof) before marriage. These questions were not asked on the survey for those who are married. Which again, I think is a shame, because it would definitely be interesting to see whether or not there is a correlation between those who abstained or limited themselves from physical contact before marriage and how strictly they adhere to the laws of niddah once married.
The Yahoo Group that I subscribe to had a whole debate questioning the reasons and validity for doing such a survey and exposing the sexual practices and attitudes of Orthodox Jews. I will admit that I didn't read all the comments posted but in general, I think these kind of surveys are important and that while I understand that sex is a sensitive issue that many are not comfortable with discussing openly, I don't see anything wrong with it, especially since the survey is confidential. In general, I think the attitudes towards sex amongst many religious individuals (not just Jewish, but in other religions as well) is unhealthy and leads to unrealistic expectations and spouses who do not generally see eye to eye on the role sex should play in a marriage. Additionally, the reluctance of individuals to discuss sex at all before marriage feeds into this and makes it that much harder to discuss it later.
I think it is very confusing to a girl to be taught her entire life that she must cover herself in order to keep men from thinking impure thoughts about her and then asking her to turn around, and overnight, make sex a healthy part of marriage. The message girls receive growing up is that sex is something that is wrong and bad and that she need to avoid it as much as possible. But then once she gets married, she is supposed to transition all those lessons into having an open physical relationship with her husband. I think it must be extremely difficult to do this, and probably a lot of marriages really take a lot of time and effort to be able to build a comfort level where sex can be a good thing between the spouses, if they are able to do so.
That's why I think this survey is important, and why I think the above questions should be asked of singles and well as married people. I think it's time for us to know what the real attitudes are towards sex and whether we need to be doing something differently in order that couples can have healthy attitudes towards their sexuality. It IS a big deal, and people are too scared to talk about it. I don't know if this survey will make all the difference, but I think it's a start.
*Niddah - laws of spiritual purity and impurity that involves a women's menstrual cycle and the laws surrounding this, such as abstention from physical contact with one's spouse during this time.
*Mikvah - the ritual immersion in order to regain spiritual purity in order that a couple can reengage in physical contact.
*Shomer negiah - the abstention from any physical contact with members of the opposite gender, excepting specific close relatives.