Marrying Young and Casual Sex

28 12 2010

I never thought that I would be the type to marry young.  I wanted to explore the world, develop myself as an independent person and get a little more experience in the dating arena before finding ‘the one’ and settling down.  When Yair and I started spending time together at nineteen, I was in a bind.  I knew that he was something special and someone who I wanted to spend my life with, but part of me wished that I could put us on hold for three or four years and resume our dating in our mid-twenties.  I understood that I couldn’t count on someone that incredible to wait around and definitely be there at the end of the four years.  I also saw that it would be impossible for everything in life to go according to my precise timing and plan.  Realizing that this was “it”, Yair and I tied the knot just two years later at twenty-one and have found ways to support each other in developing our independent selves and having the new and interesting experiences that we long for.

Only recently have I begun to internalize how lucky I am for finding Yair at an early age.  One of my college roommates, Anne M., once referred to Yair as a witness to my life story, language that is both beautiful and true.  It’s exciting to experience adventures with Yair as well as to share with him the emotional, religious and ideological changes that I have gone through from college to the corporate world to this period of liberation.  Perhaps more than anything else, I am lucky to have avoided the stresses, anxiety and emotional drama of navigating the dating scene in my 20s and 30s.  There is a huge amount of pressure within the religious Jewish community to date and marry young, but right now I have a front row seat to the dating dramas of the secular world.  Our crew in LA are (for the most part) single, not-so-religious musicians, gymnasts and theater folk in their mid to late twenties.  Any get together becomes an occasion to celebrate and party in the most fun and creative ways.  They’re a kooky bunch whose company we greatly enjoy, and the amount of casual sex and unscripted partner swapping that goes on is simultaneously shocking (God, am I really still this sheltered?) and exciting to be around.  But beneath it all, there seems to be a sadness and almost emptiness.

Several have confided in me at quiet moments that they wish they could find someone quality and have a relationship like the one that Yair and I have.  One girl mentioned the ex-boyfriend whom she still loves, but who is afraid of commitment.  They broke up over a year ago, but she still has sex with him at least a few times a week because she is scared that he will sleep with someone else, and she wants to be the one who he chooses when he is ready to settle down.  One guy is so hopelessly in love with his ex-girlfriend that he can’t bring himself to date anybody else and is stuck in a rut of friends-with-benefits.  Another girl is in a relationship with someone who has cheated on her and lied about it multiple times.  She knows that he will cheat again, but can’t bring herself to leave him.

I don’t want to imagine what going through relationships like that must do to your sense of self-esteem and self-worth.  While I did not intend for this to be a post on sex and religious values,  I can’t help but think of hilchot negiah and the family values that many in the religious Jewish community are raised with.  Following hilchot negiah basically means that you don’t touch people of the opposite sex, with the exception of your spouse and immediate family.  This includes high fives, hugging, dancing, kissing and of course sex.  Negiah sensitizes you to the power of touch, the natural high that you experience when touching another human being in any way and the emotional connection that it creates between two people.  Negiah allows dating couples to focus on the substance of their relationship and building their emotional connection before adding the often complicating element of touch.  I did not strictly adhere to hilchot negiah for my entire twenty-one years prior to getting married, but I did follow it loosely and held onto a lot of the values that it taught.  At the very least, it made me aware of how important and powerful touch can really be.  While I’m no prude and can appreciate how ravishing orgies/casual sex/all that must be, part of me wonders if greater society would be better off by learning from both hilchot negiah (see above) and hilchot niddah (the laws that govern when husbands and wives may be physically intimate).

What are your thoughts?  Do these issues (cheating, fear of commitment, sex as a bartering chip that seems to reflect insecurity) not exist as much in the religious Jewish community, or am I just oblivious to them?

posted by ayo

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20 responses

28 12 2010
mopps

beautiful and well thought out post and a lovely shout out to you and yair as a couple as well.

28 12 2010
The Wandering Cartographer

first of all, this was so well written, I really enjoyed reading it.
Your ending question is a toughie…I am starting to wonder myself, how oblivious I am as well. I remember in high school that whereas people hooked up, sex was still a HUGE deal, which to me still indicates some sort of reverence for it as an act. on the other hand, maybe sex was a HUGE deal cause we were so young and everything was new. To be honest I’ve also not been super involved in the Jewish community as much as I was in the past so I don’t know how much water my scattered and often few observations from the not so distance past actually hold. hmmm….sorry that I am rambling here, I guess I am just pondering out loud…I think that these issues definitely exist, but in a structured religious community with all of its involvements means that there are other places for people to channel their frustrations about what it means to be human/distract themselves aside from just sex. Judaism is such an all encompassing religion that between keeping all the halachot properly etc you sort of don’t have the time for other “activities”…I guess my answer is that it’s not as rampant based on what is involved in one maintaining the status as a religious/observant Jew.

29 12 2010
Levonne

This is a deep topic and I’ll have to give it more thought before responding.

29 12 2010
Mary Hutchins

I wanted to wait until marriage to have sex and when I was not successful, I found the experience emotionally painful and life changing in only negative ways. I married when I became pregnant to a man who was not capable of monogamy at any phase of his life. I had two daughters while married to this man, was abused physically and mentally for several years before getting my act together and throwing him out. I could have decided to stay single after so many unpleasant experiences, but i believed there was someone for me and that God would not abandon me. I found Ben. Ben was my other half. A strong, kind, intelligent, loving monogamous man who truly loves me. I don’t feel sexual experiences without true commitments is healthy for anyone, but that because of my own experiences and those I have observed. There is nothing more wonderful than observing a friend or loved one marry and be happy, it is very painful watching and trying to give emotional support to friends who are struggling through relationships because they think marriage and stronger commitments should be put off. I don’t want to be alone, and most people I know don’t want to be either. I do realize however that there are people out there who simply want to have sex and really could care less about commitments. Personally I wish those people would only bother with those of like kind. As far as age goes, and attempting to narrow down that ‘perfect’ age, that’s just ridiculous. There is too much randomness in this world, none of us know long we will live, or when we will meet that special/ precious someone, and when we do meet them we should not let that moment get away from us!

29 12 2010
The Good Catholic Girl

I have a lot of friends who were good Catholic girls who wanted to wait until they got married to have sex but they were surrounded by a society, including “good” Catholic boys, who would pressure them in all manner of ways to have sex and do things that “weren’t considered REAL sex” but eventually led to them having sex. For the most part, many were very traumatized by their first sexual experiences and many, including myself, regret having given into the pressure. I remember being 21 and in college being told that “you should have lost it already” and “you’ll feel so much better when you do” and “just get it over with” and (even better) “what the hell is wrong with you?” Sad. Many friends, especially the good Catholic girls, didn’t know too much about sex or protecting themselves and quickly, too quickly, you heard stories about girls who got pregnant on their first time, girls who got STDs their first time and girls who ended up having abortions they never imagined they’d ever have.

29 12 2010
mopps

you may be onto something. . .found this link on my yahoo page tonight which deals with the same issue and which should be of interest to you with respect to the questions that you pose-

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20101228/sc_livescience/delayingsexmakesbetterrelationshipsstudyfinds

29 12 2010
Bernie

A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. And so well and honestly written. So also for the comments. I’m not the least bit embarrassed to say that I’m veery taditional when it comes to sex. Casual sex is not something that ever interested me. I believe that sex is most meaningful as the highest form of expression of a continuing committed relationship. When you’re lucky enough to find a life partner early in your life, someone who makes casual sex irrelevant, I think your sex life is healthier. (And far be it for me to disagree with you about how fortunate you were to have found someone like Yair! :)) Of course, not everyone is so lucky and the pressures for sex multiply and the sex becomes more complicated, especially if you’ve grown up in an environment where sex outside of marriage is contrary to your family and community values. I don’t have any simple answers for that and try not to judge. Cheating on one’s partner is another matter. I can’t help but judge the cheater harshly for his/her betrayal of trust.

I don’t think I’ve added much to the discussion beyond expressing my own strongly-held feelings. Still, thanks for the opportunity to reflect on those feelings. I count it as a blessing to still feel this way after 45+ years of marriage to the same woman.

30 12 2010
jayhorowitz

But wait… you and mom don’t…. OH NO!

🙂

29 12 2010
Sarge

Ayo, Yair (Jay),

Great post, definitely something that I’ve thought about although not with the specific Jewish influence the two of you have so learning about the concepts of touch and intercourse. Personally I’ve had few partners over the years because I prefer to have a long term relationship before involving sex in the process but I rarely think about touch itself. I think a conservative upbringing gives your perhaps a greater appreciation of touch but not necessarily a better viewpoint regarding it overall. Such could be said about anything that is restricted though – if you are only allowed to taste a drop of lemon once a year I bet it would be something people would look forward to with abandon and/or would be willing to take risks to obtain at non-standard intervals – as an example.

Personally I feel that openness and exploration lead to better relationships when “better” means more open exploration of feelings and desires, so as long as you’re game for that my feeling is that all rules (ALL) should be removed from the equation before the sample period starts so to speak. Cheating is something different in my book though, as to me it implies deceit. Accepting that your partner is going to include others in their sexual experiences is different than your partner engaging in those experiences without your knowledge so in my experience, while open relationships can work just fine, any instances of infidelity in the sense that some basic trust is betrayed are outside of that realm and jeopardize the relationship.

I remember Ayo asking me about this topic while we were out wandering one day (during burning man) this year and not having a good response. I’ve been in open and completely closed relationships and honestly can’t say either is better. As I’m sure you’ve found out for yourselves by now, your partner is so much more important than your actions. With the right partner (someone truly matched well to you) nothing matters except that you’re both happy and able to express your joy to each other in one way or another.

The only thing that no positive relationship needs is negativity, whether it’s from personality conflicts or jealousy, all it does is damage so the key lesson here is that an understanding of where each other stands comes first. Certainly this should be one of the things that gets figured out before marriage, but if you have the good fortune to get married first and still be on the same page afterward than all the better! Keep the concept of fairness in mind and always try to think of your personal decisions as though your partner were making them and think of how you might feel were your partner to be making choices or accepting opportunities that you didn’t have. Keep balance in mind and don’t take anything for granted as a good marriage (or partnership if you aren’t one to go for sacraments) is not something to take lightly of course.

Hope you two are having a great year – hope to see you both on the playa in 8 months or so!

-Sarge

30 12 2010
rach g.

Just a quick note about hilchot negiah and niddah.

They may in fact promote an increased awareness of the power of touch, and a more balanced sex life within marriage, but those are byproducts of the halacha, not the root reason. Both negiah and niddah stem from the technical concepts of tumah and taharah, and if single women went to the mikvah, some parts of casual touching would become permitted, at least on a technical level. So it’s nice to romanticize the Jewish concepts of negiah and niddah, but keep in mind that the halacha itself isn’t romantic and we’re just adding our 21st century sensibilities to rules that date back thousands of years.

Separately, with regards to cheating in the religious Jewish community, I do think the % rate is probably lower than in certain other sub-groups. In particular, if you look at religious Jewish couples who are dating, not married, then the rate probably drops precipitously: The end game is to get married, and getting caught cheating while dating effectively ruins your chances in the community. Moreover, finding someone to cheat with in a religious community also stacks the odds against the potential cheater. That’s not to say every relationship is a healthy one, but at least rampant cheating isn’t one of the problems daters have to generally face.

30 12 2010
amybetho

@mopps: Yeah, he’s alright. 🙂 Thanks for the article. I think that delaying the physically intimate side of a relationship at first can have benefits as long as it doesn’t stigmatize touch and sex later on, which is a problem that some in the frum community face / often need to deal with once married.

@The Wandering Cartographer: I wonder, is anything still a big deal anymore? As people get older and experience more (leaving less “firsts” to be had), there tends to be less reverence, less wonder for lots of things in life (whether why the sky is blue, how a computer works, how exciting a kiss can be, whatever). Is there anything in our adult lives that defies this category / trend?

@Levonne: Looking forward to hearing your input on this one once you have time to gather your thoughts.

@Mary: You’re brave to open up like that and have clearly come out of that traumatizing relationship as a stronger and healthier person. So glad that you found Ben, and I take to heart your comments about randomness in this world and never knowing how much time you have left. Parenthetically, your comment about “like sticking to like” and people who are interested in sex only bothering with those of like mind made me think of something. Friends who have attended gay socials and swinger parties (respectively) have explained to me a bracelet system where the color of your wristband (red, yellow, green) indicates what you’re up for that night. Then of course there’s the facebook bare-all relationship status, where one of the “looking for” options is or at least used to be ‘Whatever I Can Get’ and another ‘Random Play’. Perhaps overly simplistic, but it is interesting to think how dating and relationships would change if people were that transparent and wore signs/wristbands indicating what exactly they were looking for. Who knows…

@The Good Catholic Girl: Thanks for sharing a perspective from a culture that I’m less familiar with. Your comment about being pressured into things that ‘weren’t considered REAL sex’ stuck with me. It’s an interesting double-standard. On the one hand, just about everyone considered the people who had oral sex (in high school, for example) to still be virgins, themselves included. On the other hand, if you limit your view of sex to mechanical penetration (or even passionate penetration), it lessens the act and the experience. Besides, “sex” without kissing, foreplay and all the good stuff that comes along with it a) isn’t as interesting and b) wouldn’t satisfy a whole lot of ladies. (Yes, I know that there are exceptions.) Re: the friends who got pregnant, STDs, etc., that had to have been super scary for them. I respect religious communities’ rights to preach values and encourage model behavior, but I don’t have much tolerance for ignorance and the lack of formal sex education. Most Modern Orthodox high schools are just as guilty of this and for most of my life I barely had any understanding of STIs and what you could pick up from things like kissing as opposed to other sexual acts. Education is important.

@Bernie: It’s refreshing to hear your perspective, particularly since this topic (surprise!) never came up at our Shabbat table. You mentioned that people who find a life partner early on (making casual sex irrelevant) have a healthier sex life. But can’t bringing prior sexual experience to a relationship be a positive thing? Wouldn’t getting to know your own body and exploring your likes and dislikes with another partner add a positive dimension and depth to future sexual relationships? Or maybe it just doesn’t offset the benefit of the first partner being the only partner? On my wishlist of related Jewish education reform would be a Sex Ed 101 course for all high school students, followed by a more Sex for Fun class as part of pre-marriage/kallah classes for those who haven’t gotten there on their own. That way potential lack of experience would be somewhat made up for through knowledge and a lessening of taboo. Finally on the cheating thing. I’m still in the same camp as you that it’s a bad thing and reflects poorly on a person’s values and ability to commit to a relationship, but my view has become somewhat more nuanced. When I was little, I thought of it as almost an evil thing in the way that it was just awful and the worst thing ever for parents to get divorced. I understand better now that few relationships are perfect and while that kind of action is not excusable, it’s usually more than a black and white situation.

@Sarge: Long time, buddy! Great to hear from you. Re: your lemon analogy, moderation is key with anything in life and makes you appreciate it all the more. So whether junk food, sex, Broadway shows, days you sleep in or whatever, having it every day/hour/week tends to make it less exciting. About open relationships, great in theory but difficult in practice. If the couple’s rules allow for only physical intimacy outside the relationship, how do you stop emotions from developing? If the allowed interactions are broader, then you’re stepping into the bounds of polyamory. While some of our camp was poly and I’m a complete free loving hippie at heart, this just gets way too tricky and I’ve rarely seen it work. I know that life is fun with a little complication, but do you really want that much of it? Thinking of how your partner feels and how you’d feel if the situation was reversed is such simple and straight-forward advice, but it’s still good to hear as few people internalize this and can practice it in their day to day. Definitely see you on the playa, beautiful!

@Rach G.: Regarding your first point on tumah vs. taharah, it’s an important clarification so thanks for bringing that to the table. But I don’t think it changes much for me in the context of this conversation because this is a post on society, communal standards and religious values – less so on divine commandments and religious legal intent. So perhaps the social ramifications and romanticization as you put it were not in the original plan, but then Shabbat wasn’t a day to disconnect from technology. Hmm, I don’t think that example fully explains my point. So much of current Jewish practice focuses on the spirit of the law in addition to the letter, giving the spirit almost as much credence and perhaps more relevance in our lives. If something is halachically permissible but goes against the greater value that we are creating, it is not accepted. So even if technically an unwed woman can go to the mikvah, it is still contrary to so many communally held values that it would not be accepted.

I find your comment on cheating in the religious community (end game as marriage and cheating as stacking the odds against you) to be fascinating. I love the analysis and didn’t think about it that way. Separately, there may be less of this activity in the observant community because everything in our religious lives and within the bounds of halacha teaches discipline and self control (obedience?), whether it’s meant to or not. Whether abstaining from touch, eating only kosher foods or not watching TV on the Sabbath, being able to choose our actions carefully is one of the good things that a fidelity to halacha offers.

Whew, that was long. Now off to respond to the slew of facebook comments.

31 12 2010
joey

hey amy! this post stirred up a lot of emotions. we should totally talk about it sometime.


j

31 12 2010
amybetho

Joey, I would love to chat some time soon and I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts as I could imagine any different number of reactions to the content of the post. Will call you! xo

15 01 2011
et

No touching – so no friends hugging, no massages, no physiotherapy, no cuddles for babysitting?

Touching is so much more than sex.

25 01 2011
amybetho

@et: Agreed. If I was forced to choose between only having sex but no other form of touch or vice versa, I’d definitely choose the cuddles, hugs, massages, etc. Many women have difficulty during the niddah separation period in refraining not just from sex, but from any form of touch. Touch is essential to our humanity and has crazy influence over how we feel in general and about the person doing the touching.

Parenthetically, traditional Judaism doesn’t forbid friends of the same sex to hug or give massages and children below a certain age are exempt from the restrictions, as one might expect.

25 01 2011
rach g.

Define “traditional” Judaism. You mean conservative?

25 01 2011
amybetho

@Rach: I was referring to any form of halachic (bound by ritual law) Judaism, including both Conservative and Orthodox. Why? Are you saying that girls cannot hug each other or care for small children according to Orthodox halacha?

25 01 2011
rach g.

I’m not disagreeing with you – you’re correct.
I missed the phrase “of the same sex” when I read your comment the first time, which is why I was confused, but your comment as it stands is totally right.

17 03 2011
Jimmy

I can only agree that the power of touch can have quite an impact on emotions and how we regard one another, heavily persuaded by our perceived motivations behind the touch. If I catch any clues hinting that the person touching me might have alternative motives that are not in my favor, I will immediately not enjoy any amount of touching (such as a handshake from a co-worker who only wants to leech off me, or a girl’s hug if I have reason to believe she’s cheating on me). However the touch of someone I constantly love only gets better with time. The occasional hug or ever present ‘fist-bump’ to the random friend (whom I don’t love) doesn’t lessen the transmission of good vibes through the touch of loved ones, because of the underlying motivation that is mutually understood. You once told me I was a hug-whore, but that you’d hug me anyway, and I didn’t really know how to take it but assumed the best and didn’t question it. I think I have a little more understanding about what you meant now. Being one of the poorly described, lost souls above, I think you jumped to conclusions rather quickly. If it looked like sadness and emptiness were the foundation then you didn’t get a well rounded view of my world. You did sound very interested in people’s backstories, and dug up the trouble from the past as a friend who lends an ear. If other’s were like me, we freely gave away the trusted, painful past because you were looking for it and seemed genuinely interested and supportive. I clearly had no clues to your analysis on the situation, and I didn’t make sure to emphasize the good things going on in life. As with all things, when it’s bad, it’s easy to complain, especially when someone lends a friendly ear. When things are good, however, it’s easiest to keep going, not document or share every little detail. These are the things you can only pick up from being a part of the life, and sharing the day to day details. With any and every life there is sadness, and hard times, and we all have our own way of fighting it. But here, in my community I’ve have friends in my roomies, my music, my gym and beyond, I’ve kept those who are around me close by because the foundation is love. The foundation is friendly community, and among the closest to me, the foundation is trust. With many wonderful people I share this life on a daily level, we can always count on the underlying love that is there, that we don’t need to talk about every day. We know it’s there when we need it, and it comes out when most necessary. But since we know we have this lovely bond, the little shinanigans in life (though often very silly in nature) are even more enjoyable because they’re being shared amongst a caring group of friends. So from one friend who’s escaped the 9-5 before 25 to another, I urge you not to assume too much in people whom you are only at the beginnings of forming a relationship. Having said all that, I can’t wait to see you in a couple of days =)

18 03 2011
amybetho

Hi Jimmy. Thanks for taking the time to write out your thoughts and really reflect on the post that I shared. Feedback is always important and a reminder not to judge never hurts, so thank you for giving me that reminder. I’m really looking forward to seeing you tomorrow and would love to chat with you about this in person, but a few quick comments:

1- In my vocabulary, a hug whore is a definite good thing. It was my way of good-naturedly teasing you for being one of the best huggers I know and there was no deeper meaning to it. Really.

2- I AM genuinely interested in understanding people, trying to be there for them when they need it and offering advice when asked. My intent is never to dig, but this blog is a forum for reflecting on my thoughts – reconciling new experiences with old values and upbringings. If that seems judgmental, then I think that everyone “judges” to a certain extent. I don’t think less of the people, but I do try to wrap my head around the types of relationships described above which are still foreign to me. Parenthetically, anyone or anything that I ever write about is always anonymous. I have the utmost respect for people’s privacy and – beyond perhaps the people themselves – none of our blog readers would have any indication who any of the individuals referenced are.

3- Lastly, you are NOT one of the “poorly described lost souls above”. You’re not one of the people mentioned in the above post and I don’t even think that you bear a resemblance to any of the descriptions. If you see yourself in the writing, so be it but – though I care about you – none of this post was actually about you.

Anyway, as I wrote above, I do see value to what you wrote and I look forward to keeping it real with you tomorrow but I wanted to share the few clarifications above because I think that they’re important to understand.

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