Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, DHL, LCSW-R
I want to address a sensitive topic regarding sexual challenges that can affect couples of all ages, especially but not exclusively, the newly married. A person may have a degree of misplaced piety and be overly scrupulous about sexuality, or just plain feel uncomfortable with sexual feelings and sensuality. Sometimes, being overscrupulous in the area of intimacy and halakha can be the result of naiveté and/or anxiety. After all, if a religious young man or woman has spent his or her entire young adult life abstaining from thoughts and feelings that are forbidden, it can be difficult to suddenly make the switch into the intense physical intimacy of married life. As a result, some people will unconsciously hide behind religious scrupulosity as a way to manage and control overwhelming feelings. The introduction of formerly forbidden but now permitted sexuality into the life of a young man or woman can be traumatic in and of itself! I offer my counseling clients the following perspective to help them better grasp what they are experiencing:
One of the two greatest cultural taboos in Judaism (aside from sexuality) are the consumption of pork, and the consumption of chometz (leavened bread) on Pesach. I ask what might it be like, if all of the sudden, their most revered rabbi instructed them that it was a mitzvah to consume a ham sandwich on rye bread at the Pesach Seder! After years of conditioning, no matter how convincing their rabbi might be, how could any devout Jew not gag on his food. So too, in regard to sexuality, which has been forbidden with the strongest taboos, a young couple is now told it is a most important and holy mitzvah!
Sometimes it’s ok to use a little alcohol to loosen up. The Gemara on Amud Aleph tells us that too much alcohol causes disinhibition and is frowned upon without the husband’s presence but is clear that it’s fine within a marital context.
While we are on the topic, some feel that taking medication for anxiety, depression and the like is somehow cheating. That is, somehow it’s like not overcoming your own challenges and nisyonos naturally. The chovos Halevavos (Shaar Haperishus 9:5) weighs in on this:
אם תהיה כוונתך בשתית היין לתועלת גופך או להעביר דאגה מלבך
תנו שכר לאובד ויין למרי נפש והזהר מהרבות ממנו
If your intent in drinking wine is to benefit your body, or to remove distress from your heart, as written: "Give strong drink to he who is ready to perish and wine to the bitter soul" (Mishlei 31:6).
We see from here that there is no shame in resorting to chemical solutions to psychological challenges, but of course in moderation.
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation
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