Art of Woman

Sex, Faith and Marriage, Sunday 22 August 2010

Last night on ABC TV Compass interviewed three couples from three faiths, Hindu, Muslim and Judaism. They were asked about their beliefs regarding sex.

The Jewish couple spoke about how menstruation impacts on their sex lives. Orthodox Jews do not have sex during a woman’s period, nor for seven days afterwards. The time of menstruation is significant in Jewish ritual and a woman learns that her body is sacred and that sex is sacred. The husband and wife do not sleep in the same bed during this time. Then, after 12 days without any contact with her husband the wife has a ritual bath called Mikvah and is blessed, cleansed and made ritually clean. She is then ready to return to the marriage bed and resume sexual relations. Often there is a sense of excitement as she returns home ready to greet her husband. Her desire has been rejuvenated.

There are many misconceptions surrounding Mikvah. It was wonderful to see how this ancient tradition is practiced in a modern society. Each women’s privacy was respected and hygiene was strictly controlled.
I loved the passionate way that the wife, Timmy described her experience of being in separate beds, “It makes you yearn to be with your partner.” Kalman describes the husband’s view, “That’s the time to rejuvenate. Because you are forced to instil a control, you are forced to draw close to each other emotionally, you talk to each other.” This periodic separation deepens the relationship!
I’m sure the monthly break in sexual demands is rejuvenating for both husband and wife. She is not pressured to be constantly available and he does not suffer as much rejection because the rejuvenation time is understood and he does not make needless advances.
Personally, I would find the 12 days without contact every month extremely difficult and I do not observe this practice. I do however take breaks on my own visiting friends and relatives and have done so throughout my marriage. When I return home from a break, we are excited to see each other, we are attentive to each other and our relationship is rejuvenated.
The Mikvah ritual is a refreshing contrast to today’s modern western culture which is over sexualised. Western culture puts a lot of sexual expectations on relationships. Men feel pressure to prove their manhood and women feel pressure to be constantly sexually attractive and to acquiesce to the lustful demands of their partners even when they feel no desire themselves.
One example of these attitudes is the book “365 nights: A Memoir of Intimacy” by Charla Muller, Berkley Publishing Group, 2008. ISBN: 9781741964240.

Charla Muller wanted to give her husband a memorable and significant gift for his 40th birthday. She decided to give him sex every night for one year, the “gift”.
It was an amazing effort. I agree that the “gift” was motivated by love for her husband, but it is also based on the assumption that a good wife is constantly sexually available.

This assumption makes a woman a sex object at the whim of a man’s lust even within marriage. This has the potential to become exploitative of women, meeting only the man’s needs without any consideration for the woman’s experience. Even Charla defines sex in terms of his ejaculation (P72). Unfortunately, many men loose respect for women once their lusts are satisfied. If the husband expects his wife to be constantly sexual availability then sex becomes the wife’s obligation and her refusal is taken as a rejection of his manhood. He may take any sexual rejection so badly that he becomes coercive or even violent as a result.

Charla admits that her husband felt rejected, writing, “I know you’re avoiding sex and it bums me out … I’m your husband for Pete’s sake, not some cheesy college guy looking to get lucky.” (P215) The assumption is that a wife should not refuse her husband.

Perhaps if Charla was permitted rejuvenation times, she would say yes more often. Instead, she puts in a marathon effort gives her body as a “gift”.

When a woman has no desire, sex becomes a chore, a performance or even a transaction. Charla tries to gloss over this aspect of her “gift” but it is clear that she has had enough during the last few weeks of the “gift”.

“Geez, do you think you could try a little bit more?” He said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He sighed. “Could you pretend you’re interested in this? I mean could you woo me a bit?”
Try? Woo? What does he think I’ve been doing the last eleven months of my life?
(P234-235)

It is clear that her husband has continuing expectations. A husband with the expectation that a good wife is constantly sexual availability is generally not very appreciative.

What Charla has done may have been good for her marriage, but it is a potentially dangerous precedent to use as an example to emulate. It sets up unrealistic expectations of marriage in men because many women will not be able to achieve this amount of sexual availability due to a whole range of justifiable reasons.

There does seem to be a gulf between men’s lusts and women’s capacity. As Charla writes, “Brad will want sex and will resent having to ask for it. I will not want to have sex after two babies and fifty-four workhour weeks and will resent having to have it.” (P243)

Charla describes women getting Doctor’s certificates as a way of extending postpartum sexual abstinence. (P75) Surely a ritual time out is better than this deception?

Judaism gives sexuality a structure that honours the needs of both men and women. The Mikvah looks like a peaceful place where women can be refreshed and recover their energies and the 12 days of abstinence makes the husbands more appreciative of the physical and sexual side of marriage after the 12th day finally arrives!

You can read another review of 365 Nights here and two radio interviews by Amy Freese of Designher Living on WSRadio.com - 03 and 04.

Sexual health and Christianity

Yesterday at church a guest speaker described 'safe sex' as an encouragement for promiscuity!! This is an outrage!! Safe sex is a health issue. People can become very ill and die from lack of knowledge in this area. Lack of knowledge also leads to further transmission and even more people suffering. To have knowledge that can protect against deadly diseases and to withhold that knowledge is morally irresponsible. Those people are in part responsible for any subsequent suffering or death.

We all know that washing hands reduces transmission of diarrhoea. If we recommend the washing of hands, does that make people more prone to gluttony or obesity because now they can eat without getting sick??? Of course not!!

If we recommend hand washing then we will have a healthier community.

If we recommend safe sex then we will have a healthier community.

What is more important, a condom or a person's life? What is more important, a vaccine or a person's life? What is more important, a contraception or a person's life? I chose a healthy life!

I am glad the Australian government is promoting the vaccination of girls and young women under 26 against human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer. See link for more info, HPV

We all need sexual health because we all have sex organs.