First Live Audience Recording of “Joy of Text” at Limmud NY Focusses on Female Masturbation for Third Episode
The third episode of “The Joy of Text”, following off its first two episodes, returned to the format of the first episode of a main discussion topic, a special guest, and then some Q & A. This episode was also the first episode recorded in front of a live audience, taking place at Limmud NY. However, since Ramie Smith was unable to make it there (due to weather), David Zvi Kalman introduced the episode and concluded it, but, instead of moderating the discussion, really let Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus and Rabbi Dov Linzer take control of the discussion. The featured topic of the episode was female masturbation, which Kalman stated, that since the first episode, “the most popular question, by a significant margin, has been about female masturbation, in some variation.”
Neither Dr. Marcus nor Rabbi Linzer found masturbating for females problematic. Moreover, Dr. Marcus made sure to “point out three reasons – although I’m sure there are more – why I think it’s really important for women to learn to masturbate.” Her three reasons:
The first one feels pretty benign – it’s kind of like motherhood and apple pie – it’s very important for girls and women to learn what feels good to them and to be able to know their bodies well enough to know what gives them pleasure. It makes it much easier to translate that, I think, into a partnered relationship of some sort, so that’s a very practical reason and I think it’s a reason that’s very hard to argue with. And I’ve seen that with my patient base: if you can figure out what feels good, then you can teach somebody else how to make you feel good.
The second reason, which is a little less concrete, is the issue of accepting yourself as a sexual being, knowing that your body is able to give you pleasure and feel good. I feel like that’s something that often gets lost in the translation for girls: there’s something about owning your sexuality. The boys seem to do it more naturally, I think, and the girls don’t. I think that when you learn that your body can become a vessel for pleasure, it’s very powerful and it gives you a different relationship to sex than you would have otherwise.
The third reason…masturbating is important because not everybody has a partner, not everybody has a partner who’s available, partners get sick, partners aren’t there all the time, but you are always with yourself. Having a sexual partner that’s always available and knows when you’re in the mood is actually very helpful.
In discussing the lack of a problem in Jewish law, Rabbi Linzer pointed out that
Because the Talmud primarily focusses on the man, in terms of the sexual act and the semen and that’s the power of sex, women basically pass under the radar and, therefore, there is no discussion about female masturbation. Not because the Talmud says it’s totally fine, it’s okay, it’s not a problem. The Talmud just completely ignores it. On the one hand, from the halakhic point of view, there’s a lot of latitude that there’s nothing really about it. It means that the Talmud never says anything against it. On the other hand, ideologically, someone could feel bothered by the fact that the Talmud ignores female sexuality, it only sort of acknowledges the man who is the one doing the act of sex and not the woman. But, from a halakhic standpoint, really, the Talmud doesn’t address the issue of female masturbation.
Dr. Marcus expressed some concern about the lack of women connecting with their own sexuality: “I really do believe that the pendulum has swung so far for young women in terms of not acknowledging and embracing their sexuality that anything we can do to help them is a good thing. I haven’t seen this being a slippery slope – I have not seen women who masturbate then end up walking 42nd Street – that has not been my experience.”
The featured guest for this episode was Miryam Kabakov from Eshel, who was there in the room with them, which provided a richer experience amongst the speakers, than the first episode, when the guest called in. Kabakov spoke about various issues for LGBT folks, especially as Orthodox LGBTs. One piece that I found particularly fascinating of Kabakov’s is the following:
When you’re an LGBT person in Orthodoxy and you start discovering that you actually are developing same-sex attraction, then, all of a sudden, you realize that there are no halakhot to guide you, whatsoever. This can be liberating and this can also be terribly frightening, because, basically, the umbilical cord of the halakhah and the thing that has given you joy and meaning in your life is gone, so you actually have no way to really understand what am I supposed to do now. We can’t go to Orthodox rabbis and say, “Am I supposed to observe yihud when I go out on a date?” “Am I supposed to be shomer negiah when I’m on a date?” The rabbi will look at you like you’re out of your mind.
The Q & A segment that followed was definitely the liveliest one thus far, seemingly due to the live audience. Not only were Dr. Marcus and Rabbi Linzer able to entertain more questions, since questions were coming in during the session, but it also seemed that they were more energetic with the live audience. Although they received numerous questions, they were still able to cover four questions.
The first question concerned the permissibility of “talking dirty” with one’s spouse. Rabbi Linzer discussed ניבול פה as found in the Talmud. Dr. Marcus went beyond the question and added an interesting angle, discussing eroticism: “I think being comfortable and being sure-footed on everything is a little over-rated” and “that which is total closeness and knowing somebody and being completely comfortable with them is often the opposite of erotic.” Moreover,
Eroticism and intimacy sometimes don’t always work exactly in tandem. We think, as a society, we are so convinced that the more comfortable you are with somebody, and the more intense your relationship is, in terms of a comfort level with that person and intimate with that person, then your sex life will be better, but that doesn’t really seem to bear out. It seems that there’s some kind of converse relationship. I’m going to say that, I think, sometimes, a little bit of discomfort and a little bit of something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable, a little edgy, that’s actually a good thing in a sex life and we need to be able to acknowledge that.
Dr. Marcus then concluded that “I think that’s a pretty easy way to make your sex life a little spicier without having halakhic problems.”
The second question was “What about mutual masturbation during niddah?”, which, was an easy “No”, since there is to be no touching, whatsoever, while the woman is in niddah. However, not during niddah, yes, it’s fine. And, Dr. Marcus added, “This is certainly something that people have asked me about: Sometimes, you find that the couple has different sex drives and one of the partners wants to have sex much more frequently than the other – how to deal with that. If we realize that there are different forms that sex can take, it really opens up a lot of opportunities. It really is important to understand that there’s a wide range of sexual activity that the couple can engage in, including mutual masturbation.”
The third question up concerned sexting for a non-married couple, to which Dr. Marcus responded, “I don’t think sexting is very useful, but I have to think about it.” Rabbi Linzer added, “Thinking about sexting one’s spouse could actually be something that I think we probably have to do a good job or other ways of building up some sense of anticipation and excitement even before the couple moves to the bedroom.”
The final question was the permissibility of mixed swimming, to which Dr. Marcus quipped, “Mixed swimming is not sex.” She also said that “Some of this has to do with cultural norms, like how do people dress and how do people act and what are people used to. And so, if going to the beach is something that you do normally, and is not particularly sexually arousing….” Rabbi Linzer provided an amusing anecdote about Rabbi Aron Soloveichik being asked by his students about going swimming, which illustrated that the key issue seems to center around whether guys will have sexual thoughts or not by going to a swimming pool.