Fifth “Joy of Text” Podcast Focusses on Non-Marital Sex and Welcome Guest Mark Oppenheimer
Having regularly written about The Joy of Text series, I realized I haven’t yet gotten around to posting about the two most recent podcasts. In this post, I’ll describe May’s podcast, which came out a month-and-a-half ago (stay tuned for June’s podcast, which came out a week-and-a-half ago).
The featured topic on May’s Joy of Text podcast was pre-marital non-marital sex. Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus provided an interesting consideration concerning non-marital sex:
I think the direction we have to go here is to say that, ultimately, religious Judaism is looking for committed, monogamous relationships and committed, monogamous sex within the context of those relationships, and that the idea of hooking up and one-night stands, while they seem attractive on the outside, really don’t lead to the kind of life that you want to live. That if you really do believe in a community that’s based on family and stability and commitment, then that’s really not the kind of sex that you want to be looking for. So I think that having sex within the context of marriage or at least thinking very seriously about what you are doing before you become involved sexually, and having conversation and having clear understandings of where the relationship is going prior to getting involved in any way sexually with a person seems like a fundamental building block of the kind of relationships that the Jewish community would like to have built going on. Now, the flip side of that is putting in a lot of time and energy into helping couples in sustaining a good sexual relationship and not just saying, “Okay, we got you married, the wedding ring is on your finger, we’re done and our job’s finished”, but understanding that’s really the direction we want to be going.
Rabbi Dov Linzer, in discussing the possibility about non-married women going to the mikvah, which would render them unproblematically suitable for sex, in terms of not being considered menstruants, said:
I think that what really is at stake is the question about maintaining communal norms and our communal values and making individual decisions. So, for example, there are many, many mikvaot that would never let a single woman go, because that would be undermining this as a value in the community, of not having premarital sex. There are a few that actually feel that, “No, people can choose to do that: better that they should be doing that – having sex with going to the mikvah than without”. I don’t know of any rabbi that would get up from the pulpit and say, “Anybody who is having premarital sex, you should all be going to the mikvah”, because that’s essentially giving license to it and undermining this as a value.
As a way of summing up the discussion, Ramie Smith, who moderated, said:
To bring the conversation full circle, some points we highlighted were that it is important to convey to people – kids and adults, alike – there are different levels of transgression, in terms of Jewish law and sexuality: there’s rabbinic prohibition, there’s biblical prohibition, and it’s important for rabbinic leaders to ensure that the people they are working with and working for feel comfortable engaging in these discussions and that they’re open and willing to engage in these discussions and encourage people to be engaging in these discussions.
Next up was a phone interview with Mark Oppenheimer. While I typically do not like when this podcast has callers for interviews, Oppenheimer was quite a pleasure from whom to hear on this show. Bringing with him a wide ranging knowledge about different religions in America, he was also able to speak regarding sex. To Ramie Smith’s question of “What does Sex Ed. look like across different religious school systems?”, Oppenheimer responded:
Catholic Sex Ed. is pretty bad if we’re talking about religious schools. there are certainly renegade teachers everywhere who try to make it a bit more honest. The worst of all is in very conservative Evangelical Christian schooling, where it will be abstinence-only, if it’s even mentioned. One should add that, in a lot of public school districts, especially the ones where the school boards are controlled by political and religious conservatives, it’s just as bad. And, of course, the policy of any number of presidential administrations has been, wherever possible, to fund abstinence-only education, which, of course, is not always honest or rigorous and doesn’t necessarily work. So, it’s bad all over. I think the difference in Judaism is there’s more diversity among the kind of schools that you’ll get. So, any given school might have someone who teaches things well, but, of course, it would be a tiny minority of people who would encounter very good Sex Ed. in their schooling. So, I think there’s kind of a worldwide failure. The religious groups that would do it well would often be communities that aren’t really good at running schools. So, you know, liberal Episcopalians are probably doing well, Unitarians would do it well, Reform and, to some extent, Conservative Jews would do it well.
To the question of why some are doing better than others, Oppenheimer responded, “Because they’ve been more honest about modernity, about sexuality, because they’re not terrified of homosexuality or masturbation, they will be more willing to talk about all kinds of sexuality, because they’re not obsessed with sin. So, if you’re not obsessed with sin, then you can talk about sex in a way that doesn’t focus on only what’s bad or dangerous about it.”
Finally, in the Q&A section, there was just one question considered, which was about the permissibility of having a threesome (a couple inviting an nonmarried woman to join them). A highlight of Dr. Marcus’ response: “Having a threesome is really complicated, polyamory is really complicated, swinging is really complicated. I’ve rarely seen a situation where people include other people in their sexual relationships and don’t end up having some kind of issue with it.” And a highlight of Rabbi Linzer’s response utilized the argument from silence: “Even though Judaism has tolerated polygamy…, we have no record ever of a husband sleeping with his two wives together.”
I hope to post soon about the most recent episode!