"Because I mean, come on. It's the 21st century. Who doesn't know how to have sex?"
May 29, 2011 2:29 PM   Subscribe

"When you're partners in an unconsummated marriage, there's a lot of anger. You find yourself saying things you would never say under normal circumstances. You see yourself becoming bitter and horrible to your husband. You tell him this is all his fault and that any normal man would be able to have penetrated you. You compare him to your ex-boyfriend and laugh at him."

Sad Jewish Girl is a married Orthodox Jew who has yet to consummate her marriage, though not for lack of trying. She recently celebrated her one year wedding anniversary. In the beginning, they didn't even realize that they weren't having sex.

SJG suffers from vaginismus or just "reactive vaginismus" or maybe only normal fear. She has reached out to the Jewish community in an attempt to increase awareness of this common issue. Despite efforts like the forum Calm Kallahs (Kallahs is Hebrew for "brides") to educate nervous Orthodox women before and during their marriages, sex remains a taboo topic in much of the Orthodox world, and many new brides and grooms are woefully uneducated.

Nice Jewish Girl, another woman failed by the system, has been featured before on the blue.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 (141 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
My nongod. Another life turned into a nightmare by stupid, stupid, anti-human, anti-love, anti-knowledge Religion.

Fuck. It's really hard not to go on a proselytizing rampage against organized religions sometimes. They do so much damage... and occasionally help the poor, too.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:39 PM on May 29, 2011 [36 favorites]


My brain refuses to comprehend this. I mean, I'm a gay man who has actually never been with a woman, but I've seen enough porn to know how it's all supposed to work. I could definitely get the plumbing to fit together if it were required of me. How do people get not only into adulthood but also into a year of having what they think is sex (?!) without ever actually knowing what is supposed to happen and be able to tell when it doesn't?

I'm really not trying to be snarky with this comment. This is utterly baffling to me.
posted by hippybear at 2:40 PM on May 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


IAmBroom, if you read her posts, you would have a different attitude. It is not how religion has failed her.

She might suffer from a condition that prevents penetration. She happens to be religious, so she only discovered this after marriage since before she abstained from sex. That is what makes this blog different: "married but not consummated". We might have gripes with religion, but, honestly, don't knock her beliefs here.
posted by calm down at 2:47 PM on May 29, 2011 [28 favorites]


Woops, posted too quick,

If anything, it is her strong sense of faith and community that has allowed her to deal with this incredibly difficult circumstance.
posted by calm down at 2:49 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if her gynecologist has suggested a hymenectomy or if that would even help?
posted by Allee Katze at 2:52 PM on May 29, 2011


Yes - it's the third or fourth entry down.
posted by maryr at 2:54 PM on May 29, 2011


I wonder if her gynecologist has suggested a hymenectomy or if that would even help?

Yes, it was suggested as one possible option. Check the "reactive vaginismus" or maybe only normal fear link.
posted by jedicus at 2:55 PM on May 29, 2011


if you read her posts, you would have a different attitude. It is not how religion has failed her.


I find it impossible to read this post and not think that her religion has failed her. She's being forced to do something pointless, painful, and degrading because of the primitive horror her faith holds for menstruating women..
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:57 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


hippybear, vaginismus is a medical condition. The husband is physically unable to penetrate her because her muscles refuse to relax.
posted by just.good.enough at 2:58 PM on May 29, 2011


Yes, I get that. I did actually read the links. I just find it boggling that they didn't even know that there was no sex happening. Seems like there would be a clear clue and it wouldn't take so long to figure out. That's all. I'm not denigrating anyone, just a bit boggled at the whole concept of the lack of knowledge of how it all works and inability to perceive that what they thought was happening isn't actually happening.
posted by hippybear at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


They're doing it wrong.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:04 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is lube not kosher?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:05 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


IAmBroom, if you read her posts, you would have a different attitude. It is not how religion has failed her. She might suffer from a condition that prevents penetration. She happens to be religious, so she only discovered this after marriage since before she abstained from sex.

I read the posts, and I disagree.

"Orgasms, for instance. My husband would love for me to have one. He's read all about the clitoris, stimulation etc. Also about how most girls don't really have one from vaginal penetration; it's more from clitoral stimulation. And yet despite all that we have no idea how to do it. I mean, we try, and I feel good for a bit but there's never that amazing wow-bliss that everyone talks about. In fact, usually it's too much stimulation so I just tell him to stop."

I'm sorry, but for this particular woman, living in the year 2011, this is does seem to be the fault of religion. That's the reason why she (as opposed to someone else; I am aware that there are other reasons for other people) reached the age of 24 without knowing how to bring herself to orgasm; that's the reason why she didn't even know "where the hole he was supposed to be entering was". Because she was constantly told, from a very young age, that these body parts were not to be explored except by her husband. Sure, maybe this indoctrination has nothing to do with the "condition that prevents penetration"... but I wouldn't bet on it, especially since her religious counselor and gyno both said "I don't have a condition or label at all; it's just normal fear."

She herself points out that "we let our girls sit there with lots of misinformation and half-truths, either traumatized, scared and disgusted or excited but kind of air-headed and wait for them to just figure it all out on the wedding night. Because that makes sense." Which we do you think she's talking about, here? It sure doesn't sound as if she feels that she wasn't failed by her religion, at least in terms of education.
posted by vorfeed at 3:12 PM on May 29, 2011 [27 favorites]


calm down, she herself is critical of her religion, though, frankly, nowhere near as much it deserves:

Instead, we let our girls sit there with lots of misinformation and half-truths, either traumatized, scared and disgusted or excited but kind of air-headed and wait for them to just figure it all out on the wedding night. Because that makes sense.

and

I walked out of that office furious with my husband and everyone who had failed me, including the entire Orthodox system, my kallah teacher, my mom, and most of all, myself.

There's no way this can be reduced to just her vaginismus. I have a similar medical condition myself, so I have no doubt at all that this would have been hard and awful no matter what. But from reading her posts, her religion seems to have made things even harder for her in a million different ways. From the last one I linked:

I persuaded my husband to let me pleasure him in different ways. I know that halachically I wasn't really supposed to but I figured that the whole process was so painful for me that Hashem (G-d) would understand. So I had him cum in my hand instead. I tried to avoid having sex.

I'm sorry, it's just cruel that she should even have to worry about that, and fuck if I'm going to sit here and pretend that it isn't.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:13 PM on May 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


I have no god, but I have a cat, and I believe I'm better off for it.

Well, except when I move my feet under my blanket, and my toes are attacked.
posted by orthogonality at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2011 [26 favorites]


Yes, lube is kosher.

This is really not a religious issue. It's an education issue. Please note that the doctor she recently saw who has a sound, compassionate, educational and reasonable plan to help this couple is also a kallah teacher. The issue is that Unconsummated's kallah teacher sucked. I know plenty of women my age who got bad, harmful and downright negligent advice from their perfectly mainstream culture mothers.

Not a religious issue. Arguably a cultural one, but that cultural issue extends beyond the bounds of orthodoxy.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2011 [19 favorites]


I went to the top of the blog and started reading.

I was saying Tehillim today and I was on perek chaf hey saying pasuk yud zayin specifically and I started thinking about how much I relate to it. Tzaros levavi hirchivu.

Why am I not surprised that these women are prisoners of their own culture?
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:18 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


so in Orthodox Judaism, the culture is different from the religion how ... ?
posted by localroger at 3:21 PM on May 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


But, but but DarlingBri, if I acknowledge that this might not be solely the fault of religion, whatever will I do with this giant paintbrush?!
posted by sinnesloeschen at 3:23 PM on May 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


whatever will I do with this giant paintbrush?!

I look around, I see a town, it's all the colors of the rainbow but red... you could get busy....
posted by hippybear at 3:24 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Are quaaludes kosher?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:25 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


As much as you think it is cruel, her latest post shows she gains strength from her religion even though she might dislike certain aspects of it.

Horace: She is forcing herself to adhere to a system that she might not totally agree with. I don't pity her because she is strict on herself. I also don't think its okay to hate the entirety of Orthodox Judaism because of this one strict feature.

Two or three: I did see she dislikes the Orthodox system because it didn't educate her. However, I certainly got the impression that she likes it much much more than she hates it.
posted by calm down at 3:27 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was saying Tehillim today and I was on perek chaf hey saying pasuk yud zayin specifically and I started thinking about how much I relate to it. Tzaros levavi hirchivu.

perek chaf hey saying pasuk yud zayin = Chapter 25 Verse 17:

יז צָרוֹת לְבָבִי הִרְחִיבוּ; מִמְּצוּקוֹתַי, הוֹצִיאֵנִי.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; O bring Thou me out of my distresses.

The quote is "the troubles of my heart are enlarged"

It's not a mystery. It's just a different language.
posted by hexatron at 3:33 PM on May 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


charlie don't surf: "Why am I not surprised that these women are prisoners of their own culture?"

Does your culture forbid you from using Google to translate phrases in languages other than English?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:33 PM on May 29, 2011 [23 favorites]


I mean, okay, this may rankle people a bit... but... surely doing it not under the sheets and with the light on and with a movie playing and some good lube and with some quality warm-up time ahead of time... they'd at least know if penetration was taking place or not... or?

I mean, I've heard the stories about having sex through a hole in a sheet hung across the bed, so I understand that these conditions may not actually be acceptable to someone with their religious bend.

What about non-penetrative sex where he brings her to orgasm without penetration, maybe with his hand or whatever? She's willing to get him off with her hands, what about him doing her with his hands?

This will be my last post in this thread, because I'm sure I'm pissing people off with this comment. I will continue to read, however, and maybe I can learn from what people say from this point on.
posted by hippybear at 3:34 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


And Tehillim=Psalms.
posted by hexatron at 3:34 PM on May 29, 2011


Are quaaludes kosher?

That's sort of what I was thinking. Some kind of muscle relaxant, anyway. But IANAD and know next to nothing about vaginismus.

As for religion, well, it does seem that a lot of the anxiety for this woman came from a cultural/religious source, but for others it could come from a variety of other sources. I myself am an atheist, but my church when I was young did a thing having the youth group mothers teach us sex ed, including proper contraception usage and reliability rates, etc.

When it came time for anonymous questions to come in, one of them actually asked, "why are you teaching us how to have sex 'safely'? It sounds like you want us to be having sex," to which the answer (and this question troubled the leader more than anything else) was, "no, we don't, but we need you all to be informed."

Religion doesn't always do this subject badly, and can be a source of support, as it now appears to be for this woman (in some regards.) Personally, I hope that simply writing this much personal detail about herself and her plumbing for the world to read will do much to help her get over some things.

But muscle relaxants might help as well.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:39 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean, I've heard the stories about having sex through a hole in a sheet hung across the bed
Those stories don't have any basis in reality. That's not a real practice. It's an urban legend.
posted by craichead at 3:41 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I mean, I've heard the stories about having sex through a hole in a sheet hung across the bed

I've never been Orthodox Jewish, but as I understand it those stories are urban legend. Like, there's an orthodox garment that looks a lot like a sheet with a hole in it (for the head) and anti-semites made up an explanation for it that would make Jews seem even more alien to them.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:42 PM on May 29, 2011


hippybear: you aren't annoying me, at least. It's a reasonable question. Extreme lack of sex education seems to work for an explanation for the lack of understanding though; it reminds me a little of children who lie on each others tummies in an attempt to have a baby. I wonder if it's just ignorance, and I don't mean that in an insulting way. It seems to be it'd be like trying to do a somersault with only the vaguest understanding or description as to what it was.

Is this realistic, people who know?
posted by jaduncan at 3:43 PM on May 29, 2011


"What about non-penetrative sex where he brings her to orgasm without penetration, maybe with his hand or whatever? She's willing to get him off with her hands, what about him doing her with his hands? "
She said that they tried this and it feels nice for awhile but it doesn't really get her off. That's normal too.

"they'd at least know if penetration was taking place or not"
Not really. If you do something and you have no frame of reference, and it feels like something, how are you supposed to know if it doesn't feel right?
posted by bleep at 3:45 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have had a penetrative sexual relationship with a woman with vaginismus. I don't mean to imply that there is such a thing as a sexual panacea, but she certainly had a treatment, recommended and abetted by her OB/GYN that involved an array of dildos and a reasonable amount of patience.

Biological sexual problems can often be overcome if they are the root of the issue.
posted by stirred for a bird at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2011


This is really not a religious issue. It's an education issue.

Are you seriously contending that the people who educated this woman chose to exclude any useful information about sex from their programme for reasons having nothing to do with their religion and its role in their culture? If not, what are you saying? I also have to point out that just because other people also neglect their children for other reasons (often, because of other religious beliefs, whether or not they're mainstream) doesn't mean we're right to proceed as though the reasons this particular woman's people neglected her don't exist.

calm down, I'm glad this person is able to take comfort from her beliefs. But please understand that adoring her god is neither my job nor my mission. I see her religious beliefs as damaging, on pretty good evidence I think, and I don't see any grounds on which anybody should refrain from "knocking" them if they want to.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


hippybear: "What about non-penetrative sex where he brings her to orgasm without penetration, maybe with his hand or whatever? She's willing to get him off with her hands, what about him doing her with his hands? "

If you read, they are doing that. He is invested in her orgasm, regardless of penetration, and understands that is not how most women climax.

And while people can have any informed opinion they like, I take exception to the uninfomed opinion being thrown about in this thread. Judaism does not surpress sexuality. Judaism views sexuality as a gift from God, a joy, and a pleasure. Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure. To make love is a mitzvah.

Furthermore, people may not like or understand niddah, but it is hard to argue that observant Jewish women are sexually repressed:
Judaism believes sex is one of the three basic rights of women, not men... A man has a legal obligation to fulfill the needs of his wife and, if he is not willing or able, then he is called to divorce her. In fact, the rabbis of the Talmud have set up complex rules governing sex; therefore the needs of the woman can be fulfilled. These laws of "onah" are directed mainly toward men and require the man to give his wife pleasure during the sexual act, not just think of himself.... [Cite]
The practice of niddah is, by the way, often quietly credited with keeping sex smokin' hot in more than one marriage I'm privvy to, but you don't have to like it - it's not your marriage.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:49 PM on May 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


I can understand how two virgins wouldn't understand if there was penetration. I can't wear tampons because it is too tight and I just.can't get them far enough. Vaginal exams and pap smears are very painful. I can't have a vaginal ultrasound even though I need one. I've never had sex. If it was hurting her the way any form of penetration hurts me, I can see why she'd think she was having sex.

I mean, something is going on down there, and it hurts which is what people say it should when you first have sex. He's inside to a certain extent, just not far enough to call it penetration. I can get a tampon about halfway in or my finger 3/4 of the way and if he got that far, I'm not saying it's completely normal, but I understand thinking you were doing something.
posted by Danila at 3:49 PM on May 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


they'd at least know if penetration was taking place or not... or?

From her description of what is going on, it sounds to me like there is some partial penetration, enough to painfully stretch the entrance to the vagina but not enough to break the hymen or fully enter the vaginal vault. If both partners were inexperienced and if there was a lot of pain involved, I can see where the confusion comes in.
posted by KathrynT at 3:51 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


She explained with an example of how sometimes you really need to pee so you hold it in even though you have to go really badly and maybe one drop of pee actually even seeps out into your underwear. But let's say you have a train ride home, so you clamp your legs together and hold it and finally get home and rush to the bathroom and a little pee trickles out. And then, a while later, once you're relaxed, you can go back to the bathroom and actually pee. So why does that happen? It's because you tightened the muscles in order to prevent the pee from coming out and once you get home off the train even though your brain says 'Relax' your muscles are still tightened and you have to physically loosen/ relax to actually be able to relax and release the 700ccs of urine.
This was informative. I had no idea this was how things worked, and I didn't have any religion telling me otherwise. This clears a few things up. When I get to the bathroom it always immediately comes rushing out. I need to work on strengthening some muscles that have been weak all my life.
posted by lover at 3:51 PM on May 29, 2011


I know plenty of women my age who got bad, harmful and downright negligent advice from their perfectly mainstream culture mothers.

Sure. And that's the fault of their mothers. This person, however, got bad, harmful and downright negligent advice from religious teachers... and that's the fault of those same religious teachers. Personally, I think it's reasonable to extend part of that blame to the religion itself. That's the trouble with holding a position of religious authority -- someone might hold you accountable for your religion, and vice versa!

If "the issue is that Unconsummated's kallah teacher sucked", then that's fine... but who, exactly, is it that's putting "sucky" kallah teachers in charge of women's education, to the extent that even those same women are making broad, categorical complaints? It's hard to ignore that all this took place within a particular religious system, outside of which there is no such thing as a kallah teacher.
posted by vorfeed at 3:53 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not a mystery. It's just a different language.

It's obviously a mystery to her, and a language she can speak but not understand.

The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. 2Cor3:6
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:59 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. 2Cor3:6

Oh come now. It's entirely inappropriate to quote New Testament verses in a thread about Orthodox Jews.
posted by hippybear at 4:06 PM on May 29, 2011 [19 favorites]


Kallah teachers are not religious teachers. They cover religious law because Jewish law covers every aspect of Jewish life; that's the point. There are good kallah teachers and bad kallah teachers, the way there are good sex ed teachers and bad sex ed teachers, or good math teachers and bad math teachers. There is a movement to improve kallah teaching, backed by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (which you are probably surprised to find out exists), and the new generation of emerging kallah teachers will make a huge difference to sex education in the Orthodox community.

How are those abstinance-only "sex ed" curriculums working out for improved sex education in 47% of America's public schools?

Everybody needs better sex education. Some communities are acknowledging the problem and making changes; others are not.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:06 PM on May 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


From a user who prefers to remain anonymous:
Hippybear (and others), it's worth realizing that one can have sexual knowledge aplenty yet still be incapable of penetration. I don't want people to come away from this post thinking that this is solely an affliction of the sexually ignorant.

Take a look at Metafilter itself, or Reddit, or SA, or the many other spaces on the internet where women have discussed being afflicted with this condition. I won't deny for a moment that there are many women whose vaginismus is, in part, a response to the fear of sex and bodily exploration inculcated by some religions. That said, there are women whose vaginismus just sort of...happened. How would I know? I'm one of them.

I was raised in a secular, liberal environment, and grew up as comfortable with the idea of sex and my own sexuality as the average North American teenaged girl. I was never a victim of sexual abuse, and my formative sexual experiences all felt safe, gratifying, and consensual. And yet, I couldn't get anything inside of me. Not at 12, or 14, or 18, or 22. Today, in my mid-20s, penetration is still a significant struggle.

Like many women with vaginismus, I spent years told by doctors that it was something else -- a stubborn hymen (no), an generally anxious disposition (perhaps, but the benzos do nothing), a lack of lube (I could fill an Olympic pool with all the Astroglide I've used), a poor choice of sexual partners (certainly not), a complete lack of sexual maturity (now that's just completely offensive). I'm on the long journey towards curing it, but one thing that doesn't make this struggle easier is the assumption by otherwise open-minded people that female sexual dysfunction doesn't happen to someone with values and sex education similar to theirs. And unfortunately, this thread bears a little too much evidence of that sentiment.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:10 PM on May 29, 2011 [70 favorites]


I know. Let's decide that all religions are exactly the same as Christianity in all respects apart from the specific hokum one is required to believe, and that therefore all the problems that come with Christianity - in particular those arising from the uniquely misogynist and sex-negative aspects of Christianity - must surely also apply identically to any problem anywhere involving any religious person of any religion, even religions such as Orthodox Judaism which are actually sex-positive (within marriage). That will certainly make for an extremely useful and informative discussion.
posted by motty at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Being sex-positive (within marriage) does not preclude being sex-negative (outside marriage).
posted by vorfeed at 4:27 PM on May 29, 2011


Thank you, anonymous poster, for your comments. I have taken them to heart, and while I acknowledged early on that I probably don't have any real experience, it's obvious that I truly do not. I'm glad for the education and thank you again for what you have shared.
posted by hippybear at 4:31 PM on May 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm feeling a lot of empathy for Sad Jewish Girl and her hubby. What they're facing is just a another part of the human condition though, and has nothing to do with religion or culture. If she's seeing an OB/GYN for the condition, what more can she do?

From what I'm reading, there is no amount of wine, lube or ludes that are going make the physical act possible. However, and this may not be Kosher, they can always go IVF and C section or perhaps pregnancy may change or effect her hormones and help her condition.
posted by snsranch at 4:31 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


metafilter: an array of dildos and a reasonable amount of patience
posted by localroger at 4:33 PM on May 29, 2011 [22 favorites]


Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure.

This isn't part of current Catholic teaching.
posted by drezdn at 4:35 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


drezdn: Unlike Catholicism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure.

This isn't part of current Catholic teaching


Excellent to hear, thank you for updating me.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:43 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


These laws of "onah" are directed mainly toward men

I first read this as "laws of Onan".

From the very little I know about Orthodox Judaism, blaming the religion is a very wrong-headed view of this situation.
posted by Forktine at 4:47 PM on May 29, 2011


and with a movie playing

Many Orthodox have never seen a movie. I'm not just talking about porn, either.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:49 PM on May 29, 2011


DarlingBri:

I take exception to the uninfomed opinion being thrown about in this thread. Judaism does not surpress sexuality. Judaism views sexuality as a gift from God, a joy, and a pleasure. Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure. To make love is a mitzvah.

My opinion, for the record, is informed. I grew up Orthodox.

It's true that Judaism views sex within a marriage and during some weeks of a woman's cycle as a positive thing. It's also true that it views masturbation, premarital sex, and of course homosexual activity as sinful, not to mention anything less vanilla.

If Sad Jewish Girl had grown up believing that masturbating is normal and healthy, it would be easier for her to orgasm now with her husband, would it not? If she had grown up being taught that safe premarital sex is normal and healthy, she might have figured this stuff out earlier. If she didn't have to worry about the superstitious and frankly offensive laws of niddah, then they would have much more time to work this out. Etc. etc. etc.

Also, I can't say if this is true for her, but there are plenty of Sad Jewish Girls and Boys out there who are in denial that they are gay, because of Orthodoxy's dogma against it. And many more who get married very young because it's what you do, and you can't have premarital sex.

There are a dozen ways Orthodox Judaism contributes to her problem. Orthodox people love to tell each other that the laws of niddah improve their marriages and that being shomer negiya makes touching your spouse extra-special and that not masturbating has benefit X and that not having premarital sex has benefit Y, but a lot of that is just rationalizing. In the end, you're constructing strict rules that fly in the face of some of our strongest desires based on nothing but dogma and superstition, and it does make some people's lives worse.
posted by callmejay at 4:58 PM on May 29, 2011 [28 favorites]


I'm sure I'm not the only atheist who feels that Judaism is one of the better religions--it's downright sensible compared to some of the others. But the isolation and separation that go along with Orthodox Judaism are... well, it's a pity. Now certainly Orthodox Jews, and anyone else, can live within such strictures if they so choose, and I won't try to stop them. But does anyone here really believe that the self-imposed isolation of Orthodox Judaism isn't part of SJG's problem?

She has a medical condition that makes penetration difficult. Ok. So that's never going to be an easy hand to play, regardless of her beliefs. But information can make it easier, and that's just it: She was raised in an environment that deliberately provided her with a very narrow selection of sources of information, where sex was not freely discussed, where premarital sex was forbidden, and where friendships outside the Orthodox community were discouraged (I'm guessing, but that's common). So is it any wonder that when something went awry it was more difficult that it really had to be?

It's not just that she got bad information from her first kallah teacher--it's that the system restricted her to single source of information and then that source failed. The latter happens all the time, to all sorts of people, but the former is the hallmark of fundamentalist religious communities, abusive parents, and cults, and I think criticism of Orthodox Judaism on this point is well-earned.

Good for her for having a blog, though--it's nice (and surprising!) to see our modern, powerful tools of communication being used by those who traditionally have been cut off from the wider human network.
posted by kprincehouse at 5:03 PM on May 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


If Sad Jewish Girl had grown up believing that masturbating is normal and healthy, it would be easier for her to orgasm now with her husband, would it not? If she had grown up being taught that safe premarital sex is normal and healthy, she might have figured this stuff out earlier.

But information can make it easier, and that's just it: She was raised in an environment that deliberately provided her with a very narrow selection of sources of information...

Did you not read what the anonymous poster wrote? The "right" resources are sometimes a guarantee of very little as far as conditions like these are concerned.
posted by thisjax at 5:10 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


SNSRanch, if they can't have intercourse, they can't do IVF. IVF involves specula, catheters, vaginal needles, painful tests, and at least a dozen exams by a tool nicknamed the "dildo cam" which is just a vaginal ultrasound wand. It's what Danila said.
posted by arabelladragon at 5:11 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


My nongod. Another life turned into a nightmare by stupid, stupid, anti-human, anti-love, anti-knowledge Religion.

Don't say shit like that. You're insulting someone's religion. Do we really need a MeTa for this?
posted by Afroblanco at 5:12 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


From "Catch-22":

They were just a couple of young kids, and they'd been married, oh, a little over a year when they came walking into my office without an appointment ... When I got a good look at her inside my examination room I found she was still a virgin. I spoke to her husband alone while she was pulling her girdle back on and hooking it onto her stockings. 'Every night,' he boasted. A real wise guy, you know. 'I never miss a night,' he boasted. He meant it, too. 'I even been puttin' it to her mornings before the breakfasts she makes me before we go to work,' he boasted. There was only one explanation. When I had them both together again I gave them a demonstration of intercourse with the rubber models I've got in my office. [The newlyweds were] looking at me as thought I were telling them something nobody'd ever heard of before. You never saw anybody so interested. 'You mean like this?' he asked me, and worked the models for himself for a while. You know, I can see where a certain type of person might get a big kick out of doing just that. 'That's it,' I told him. 'Now, you go home and try it my way for a few months and see what happens. Okay?' 'Okay,' they said, and paid me in cash without any argument. 'Have a good time,' I told them, and they thanked me and walked out together. He had his arm around her waist as though he couldn't wait to get her home and put it to her again. A few days later he came back all by himself and told my nurse he had to see me right away. As soon as were were alone, he punched me in the nose."

"He did what?"

"He called me a wise guy and punched me in the nose. 'What are you, a wise guy?' he said, and knocked me flat on my ass. Pow! Just like that. I'm not kidding."

posted by 445supermag at 5:22 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did you not read what the anonymous poster wrote? The "right" resources are sometimes a guarantee of very little as far as conditions like these are concerned.

The anonymous poster said that "penetration is still a significant struggle". Nothing you quoted denies that as a possibility; callmejay's comments were about clitoral orgasm (which is not penetration) and figuring the problem out earlier (which is not penetration), and kprincehouse explicitly acknowledged that "she has a medical condition that makes penetration difficult".
posted by vorfeed at 5:24 PM on May 29, 2011


Wow, a lot of these comments have implicit blame-the-woman attitudes hiding behind the blame-the-religion fronting.

I guess compassion is reserved for the atheists. The religious are dressed like they wanted it.
posted by dw at 5:33 PM on May 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


DarlingBri: There is a movement to improve kallah teaching, backed by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (which you are probably surprised to find out exists), and the new generation of emerging kallah teachers will make a huge difference to sex education in the Orthodox community.

Both you and I believe these efforts to be positive, but let's please not pretend that JOFA speaks for all, or even the majority, of Orthodox Judaism. Women in Lakewood, Williamsburg and Kiryas Joel would not touch a JOFA-approved kallah teacher with a ten-foot pole.

Judaism does not surpress sexuality. Judaism views sexuality as a gift from God, a joy, and a pleasure. Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure. To make love is a mitzvah.

Judaism does suppress sexuality. It opposes any sort of male masturbation. Hell, it opposes any ejaculation that isn't into a vagina. It opposes premarital sex. An engaged couple is forbidden from holding hands. I'm not sure how anyone could view these strictures as not suppressing sexuality.

It's true that niddah is often credited--quited loudly, in my experience--with maintaining the passion in marriage. More often, in my experience, committed Orthodox Jews complain about the restrictions that separate them from their partners. So some find the restrictions helpful and some do not. Is this an argument for niddah? It's certainly not a very good defense of it.

Traditional Jewish texts are far from monolithic. There's enough there to satisfy both anti-Semites looking to condemn Judaism and Orthodox feminists engaged in apologetics. So it's not always instructive to look to a certain interpretation of certain texts. Yes, a woman may theoretically have the right to demand sex and her husband might have an obligation to please his wife, even to the extent that she can demand a divorce if he fails in this regard. Yet the same texts say that a woman who verbally demands sex from her husband can be divorced and inform a Talmudic woman, when she complains that her husband prefers anal sex and she would rater vaginal, that since the Torah has permitted her to him, there is nothing to be done.

Let's also be clear in the difference between what certain Jewish texts might proclaim and what Orthodox Judaism as a culture actually does. Women might technically be granted rights, but these must viewed in context of the expectations of Orthodox women to be modest and not-particularly-sexual. Would a certain type of Orthodox woman ever actually demand a divorce from her husband for lack of sex? Of course not. It's simply not done in many communities.

And that is the real point for this woman, and if we believe her and Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum, many other women like her in her community. She didn't absorb her views about sex from the Talmud or Maimonides or however Wendy Nelson would like us to understand sexuality in Judaism but from her surrounding culture. And her surrounding frum community thoroughly confused her, leaving her ambivalent--both excited and frightened by sex.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 5:37 PM on May 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Did you not read what the anonymous poster wrote? The "right" resources are sometimes a guarantee of very little as far as conditions like these are concerned.

Again, as someone with a similar condition, I think it's a shame for people to just handwave away the issues that the subject of the post herself acknowledges because, oh, she was going to have trouble anyway. There ARE things that can be done to make problems like this less burdensome, physically and psychologically, and any person or institution who claims authority over women's sexuality has a real responsibility to acknowledge them and to use them and to offer help. A failure to do that is a real failure, and it's not to be dismissed for any reason.

Wow, a lot of these comments have implicit blame-the-woman attitudes hiding behind the blame-the-religion fronting.

What are you talking about?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:45 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


get married already!
posted by parmanparman at 5:56 PM on May 29, 2011


I find it impossible to read this post and not think that her religion has failed her.

I agree; I felt like I was seeing a two-minute-hate on religion, based on a religious person with a problem not necessarily related to her religion, until I read that one. It made me very sad to read about a situation in which her religion prohibited her from reaching for her husband's support. Her religion is a drain on her.

One thing I'm surprised at is the implicit agreement here that she hasn't had sex. She writes: "He'd push into me and thrust back and forth and eventually reach climax." Depending on how you visualize the phrase "push into me," it's plausible to think that they have achieved penetration to a depth that still left her hymen intact. That's not sex? Hymens aren't magic.

Come to that, PiV isn't magic, either. If we're reading "push into me" to mean outercourse, there's still no reason to say that they haven't had sex. They've had an intimate sexual relationship with each other, with g2g contact and orgasms and everything! Is there really such a bright line between having that and having sex?
posted by longtime_lurker at 5:57 PM on May 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I suppose I just don't understand how this community can reconcile its generally (quite rightly) supportive attitude to criticisms of even very subtle manifestations of sexism and sex-negativity in mainstream Western culture with the kind of insistent dismissal of the badness or even the potency of the overt cultural constraints on sexual thought, attitudes, and behaviour that the subject of the post describes. It doesn't make sense to me at all. I certainly don't think that ugly, sexist, limiting perspectives and norms about sexuality are properties of religion exclusively, but I don't see how they cease to be a serious problem in cases where they actually are connected to religion.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:02 PM on May 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure.

Seriously? Talk about a stereotype. For the record: not true of Catholicism either.
posted by Salieri at 6:05 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there really such a bright line between having that and having sex?

In Jewish law and culture--and so presumably in SJG's mind--there is a huge emphasis placed on the hymen and "virgin blood." If a woman's hymen has been broken during sex causing "virginal bleeding," then she's had sex. Otherwise, not so much.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 6:06 PM on May 29, 2011


(Sorry, someone addressed that above. Ignore me.)
posted by Salieri at 6:07 PM on May 29, 2011


vorfeed/two or three cars parked under the stars, I should have made this clearer, but I was referencing anon's comments about sexual dysfunction in general.

Look, I've been in anon's shoes, so I'm not going to pretend for a moment that female sexual dysfunction isn't treatable. The idea that access to treatment and sex-positive information means a clear way out (or, especially, a reliable way to avoid the problem to begin with) frustrates me.
posted by thisjax at 6:10 PM on May 29, 2011


In Jewish law and culture--and so presumably in SJG's mind--there is a huge emphasis placed on the hymen and "virgin blood."

Can we not assume that "Jewish law and culture" is a single monolithic thing? There are a lot of Jews, and different Jews believe different things. There are plenty of people around who see themselves as subject to Jewish law, and part of Jewish culture, who never got the memo about they hymen being a big deal. Let alone virgin blood.
posted by longtime_lurker at 6:12 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


longtime_lurker, absolutely. I agree 100% that Jewish law and culture are far from monolithic, and I definitely agree that the hymen and "virgin blood" (there's a reason I parenthesized it) are pretty unimportant. I was speaking from the perspective of the subject of the OP and trying to explain why she would still view herself as a virgin.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 6:15 PM on May 29, 2011


The issue has nothing to do with her religion. If she were Muslim, this would be another example of how that horrible cult has victimized women -- but she's not Muslim, so this has nothing to do with religion.
posted by fredludd at 6:22 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, I hear that. I think that's her number one misconception, though; that's what she should be hearing from the inevitable comment and commentary her blog arouses. She's had sex. She can stop worrying about "being a virgin" or her marriage being "unconsummated." Her marriage isn't a disaster, or even that weird. It just has an issue that she and her husband will work together on; what marriage doesn't have those?

I guess that's what I think her religion is misinforming her on most egregiously, then. But I guess also that I feel it's wrong to equate "her religion" with Judaism. She follows what amounts to an extremest sect, and plenty of mainstream Jews would find her experience alien to their own.
posted by longtime_lurker at 6:28 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


thisjax, you're quite right about that. My position isn't really about the value of medical treatment itself - it's more about the moral obligation of a powerful, jealous institution like religion to provide people with all the options that exist to prepare for and cope with problems they might face in life. I just think it's horrible that grappling with a real medical issue like vaginismus should be so fraught in so many unnecessary ways. If it were the blogger's arm or head that hurt, there would be no guarantee of fixing that either, but she would probably have known what it meant for something to be wrong, known something was wrong much sooner, and felt more OK about finding other ways to do things she couldn't do "normally". It's not right for her to have been led away from having a similar sense of knowledge and autonomy about her vagina, just because it's her vagina.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:29 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Extremist sect, not extremest. Their positions are the extremest, making them extremists.
posted by longtime_lurker at 6:32 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


My concern is that people will think vaginismus is caused by religion or anti-sex attitudes. I know the blogger's experiences seem tied to her religion but that may be just her. There's so much I want to say about it but as a religious person and a virgin I'm afraid my words have no weight in this thread. I just really do not want this problem to be dismissed as something caused by religion or prudishness. It is also not caused by ignorance on the part of women who don't "know their bodies".

Religion didn't make me anti-tampon or anti-vaginal ultrasound. I'm not sexually frigid and I don't feel "dirty" in the gyno's office. I am comfortable with nudity and my body. I have no issue with lubricant. I take anti-anxiety pills too, they have no impact. So many of my friends who are equally religious enjoy great sex lives with their partners, and can do "simple" things like use tampons so they can swim in pools. I went on a cruise recently and I was caught between an unusually heavy period and my strong desire to just get in the ocean because who knows when I'd ever have the chance to swim in such clear blue waters again, oh well. I probably have fibroids but I have not yet been formally diagnosed because I cannot do the vaginal ultrasound and I get no sympathy. Does my suffering not matter because it isn't related to sex?

In fact, I think this blogger might benefit from separating the issue from sex, as difficult as that is (and at this moment I am very grateful not to be in a relationship or pursuing one, because to me it is a medical issue). But how can she, when even the secular people of this website express shock and dismay just because she didn't "know enough" about sex to know if she was having it or not. No sympathy at all, just this judgment. Sex is not everything.
posted by Danila at 7:14 PM on May 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


MetaFilter: I have no god, but I have a cat.
posted by WalkingAround at 7:21 PM on May 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


This blog makes me want to re-watch Kinsey.
posted by JLovebomb at 7:36 PM on May 29, 2011


Salieri: Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure.

Seriously? Talk about a stereotype. For the record: not true of Catholicism either


Yes, I was corrected on that and apologised (or if I didn't clearly apologise, I apologise now.) I'm very sorry for having said that.

-->NMN.80.418Poster: DarlingBri: There is a movement to improve kallah teaching, backed by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (which you are probably surprised to find out exists), and the new generation of emerging kallah teachers will make a huge difference to sex education in the Orthodox community.

Both you and I believe these efforts to be positive, but let's please not pretend that JOFA speaks for all, or even the majority, of Orthodox Judaism. Women in Lakewood, Williamsburg and Kiryas Joel would not touch a JOFA-approved kallah teacher with a ten-foot pole.


I totally understand that and agree with the rest of your post. Overall, it's the "her religion did this to her" tone of *many* of the comments in this thread I object to. It's embodied most succinctly in the "stupid, stupid, anti-human, anti-love, anti-knowledge" comment but that attitude is reflected pretty regularly throughout and is so common as to be predictable in any thread where religion may be a factor. I get that many people feel totally entitled to shit on other people's beliefs here and to treat faith with the same disdain they normally reserve for Republicans, but I foolishly hold on to the idea that that too is an education problem.

callmejay: DarlingBri: If Sad Jewish Girl had grown up believing that masturbating is normal and healthy, it would be easier for her to orgasm now with her husband, would it not? If she had grown up being taught that safe premarital sex is normal and healthy, she might have figured this stuff out earlier. If she didn't have to worry about the superstitious and frankly offensive laws of niddah, then they would have much more time to work this out. Etc. etc. etc.

It's true that if everyone grew up in the libertarian nirvana of my dreams, then yeah, I think the world would be a much better place overall. But you're making a lot of assumptions here: that women who suffer from vaginismus do so because their worlds are not like that, that every woman is able to masturbate to orgasm, and that having more time to work this out would work out the way you think it would. You can absolutely say my view that this is not primarily an issue of religion does not hold up, but I don't think you have medical science on your side here, either. People have come here to repeatedly tell you that has not been their experience.

I'm also not really comfortable telling people that my morals should be their morals. I vastly prefer other people to not do that to me.

There are a dozen ways Orthodox Judaism contributes to her problem. Orthodox people love to tell each other that the laws of niddah improve their marriages and that being shomer negiya makes touching your spouse extra-special and that not masturbating has benefit X and that not having premarital sex has benefit Y, but a lot of that is just rationalizing. In the end, you're constructing strict rules that fly in the face of some of our strongest desires based on nothing but dogma and superstition, and it does make some people's lives worse

I agree that all of those things, and that the attitude of many fundamental sects across numerous religions to gay people is problematic and objectionable and causes suffering. What you are wholeheartedly dismissing as dogma and superstition, however, I would call faith. It requires believers to buy into an invisible skyperson, so we're pretty much off to the races there. A lot of things that don't make any more sense than invisible skyperson are going to follow from that, in different ways in different cultures with different histories. I place a lot of value on religious freedom, and I accept that may include a plurality of views and practices I find objectionable.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:28 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Schmuley Boteach is an orthodox rabbi who has written some excellent sex-positive books. I recommend his Kosher Sutra to anyone at all.
posted by No Robots at 9:00 PM on May 29, 2011


Unlike Cathlocism, sex is not procreational only; it is a shared marital pleasure.

Seriously? Talk about a stereotype. For the record: not true of Catholicism either.


For the record, Salieri, it used to be true of Catholicism, which was part of the arguments against condoms, so it's not a stereotype; merely an abandoned teaching.


The issue has nothing to do with her religion. If she were Muslim, this would be another example of how that horrible cult has victimized women -- but she's not Muslim, so this has nothing to do with religion.

Subtle, fredludd. Took me a second.


Don't say shit like that. You're insulting someone's religion. Do we really need a MeTa for this?

Afroblanco, I wasn't aware that, for a post about a self-described "Sad Jewish Girl", we were only allowed to praise and applaud her religious background. My bad. YAY for anti-gay, anti-masturbation religions! It's terrific, and in no way contributed to her problems at all!
posted by IAmBroom at 9:28 PM on May 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The difficult thing for me in understanding a situation like this is trying to parse out how much of her seeming support and appreciation for her religion is genuine versus Stockholm syndrome.
posted by andoatnp at 9:31 PM on May 29, 2011


two lights: my comment was largely aimed at how the medical establishment sometimes approaches women with FSD and how those attitudes can potentially hinder someone from getting the help they need. I completely agree with your points on the obligations of religious institutions.
posted by thisjax at 9:32 PM on May 29, 2011


Being sex-positive (within marriage) does not preclude being sex-negative (outside marriage).

It's also very easy to pay lip service to the former while ignoring the long term emotional and psychological effects of telling impressionable children the latter for a decade or two. I can only speak first-hand of Christianity, but the arguments I continually see in favor of this kind of approach are the same as the ones offered by the Christian fundamentalists I grew up with.


☑ "The problem is just the particular teachers, not the particular view of sexuality!"

☑ "For most people, this actually makes married sex way hotter."

☑ "Obviously, it's not bad enough for her to give up her faith; it's a sacrifice she's willing to make."

☑ "It actually makes men value women way more."

☑ "Attacking the fundamentalist view of sexuality is attacking faith!"


Adding "But it's Jewish" to the arguments doesn't do much to improve those arguments much.
posted by verb at 9:44 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Schmuley Boteach is an orthodox rabbi who has written some excellent sex-positive books.

No, no, no, and no. He's written some really bad books but has been really good as self-promotion. I wouldn't normally attack a book recommendation, but Shmuley is really, really bad news. To give you some idea: His children enroll in private Orthodox Jewish schools in northern New Jersey with their mother's maiden name out of embarrassment to be associated with their father. Shmuley, who identifies as Orthodox, is unwelcome in at least eight(!) Orthodox synagogues in northern New Jersey.

See, for instance, here and here and here and here and here. In short, he is 100% self-promotion, 0% substance. Avoid his books.
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 9:49 PM on May 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


soulja boy Tehillim
posted by Eideteker at 10:16 PM on May 29, 2011


Afroblanco, I wasn't aware that, for a post about a self-described "Sad Jewish Girl", we were only allowed to praise and applaud her religious background. My bad. YAY for anti-gay, anti-masturbation religions! It's terrific, and in no way contributed to her problems at all!

In your comment, you were clearly blaming religion for her problems. And that's all kinds of fucked up. It's a completely unfair generalization, and an insult to the Jewish religion.

Most Jews are just fine with sex. Thus, you can't even blame Judaism for her problems, let alone your blanket generalization of "Religion" -- by which you mean all of the world's "organized religions".

I know it's hard to avoid the knee-jerk reaction, especially in a place where people often get away with bashing religion. But that's no excuse for bullshit generalizations and sloppy thinking.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:18 PM on May 29, 2011


I mean, fucking seriously. You're calling Orthodox Judaism a "stupid, stupid, anti-human, anti-love, anti-knowledge Religion" that "causes nightmares". I mean, really? You really think this is an okay thing to say? I mean, stop and think for a second before responding. Do you really want to dig yourself in deeper?
posted by Afroblanco at 11:21 PM on May 29, 2011


okay, we're done here.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:35 PM on May 29, 2011


Most Jews are just fine with sex. Thus, you can't even blame Judaism for her problems, let alone your blanket generalization of "Religion" -- by which you mean all of the world's "organized religions".

When discussing any large group, it's often important to distinguish between the officially sanctioned beliefs of the group, the cultural norms of the group, and the personal beliefs of individual group members. That's important for those making sweeping statements and for those getting angry about the sweeping statements.

Roughly 10% of smokers get lung cancer. The fact that most individuals in a group are "just fine with X" doesn't mean that the officially sanctioned beliefs, or the cultural norms, of the group as a whole do not have a profoundly negative affect on many, many people.
posted by verb at 11:51 PM on May 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


What’s worse than judgmental, narrow minded religious people? Judgmental, narrow minded religion haters. They’re so condescending.
posted by bongo_x at 12:01 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


What’s worse than judgmental, narrow minded religious people? Judgmental, narrow minded religion haters. They’re so condescending.

Fortunately, the religion haters have much less power to impose their viewpoint on the rest of us.

The religious people, on the othe hand...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:06 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just coming in here to say:

I'm not sure what the 'don't attack the religion' crowd were expecting from a blog about sexual dysfunction called 'Sad Jewish Girl'. It seems to be the blog writer specifically making the link here.

Also, as many posters above have said, there's no reason to respect a value system that suppresses sexuality and states that women are unclean, just because it's old and a lot of people believe identify with it. All ideas are fair game for criticism, always.
posted by Summer at 2:48 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let me check: yep, MeFi can't do religion (especially Judaism) well. I'm just waiting for someone to turn this into an I/P fuckfest.
posted by autoclavicle at 2:52 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You think MeFi can't do religion well? Try any other forum.
posted by Summer at 3:23 AM on May 30, 2011


The original blogger has responded directly to this thread and another elsewhere, if anyone's interested.
posted by Wylla at 3:26 AM on May 30, 2011


No way to link to the specific post, but it's at the top of the blog.
posted by Wylla at 3:27 AM on May 30, 2011


Metafilter: Where people use blog entries to advance their personal opinions about religion.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:02 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


SJG's response makes me want to find her, hug her, and thank her for calling on people to make sexual dysfunction less taboo (it happens to SO many more people than you think):

"So I saw that some people linked my blog, which I appreciate because it gets the word out.

What I didn't appreciate were the direct attacks on me, my religion and my intelligence level in the comments to the posts. I'm not stupid. I interact with the world on a daily basis. I have a whole lot of non Jewish and non religious friends. I don't have vaginismus because I'm religious. I don't even have a lack of information about sex solely because I'm religious. I had a lack of information about sex because I happened to approach the wrong source to tell me about it. I didn't know much about my own anatomy because I never used tampons (instead I used pads) and therefore it never occurred to me to randomly stick objects inside of me.

Whether or not I were religious right now, I'd still have a medical condition called vaginismus, something I don't think that most of you understand. Vaginismus is a mixture of a psychological and physical condition where the muscles of the vagina literally panic and don't allow penetration to occur. They freak out. They say stop, dangerous, scary, no entry. This is something I need to work to overcome and a lot of other women like me need to work to overcome. And instead of being compassionate and seeing how that is a struggle that ought to be respected, a lot of you are just blaming me for my religion. You also talk about me like I'm an idiot and unable to see beyond its tenets, calling me a "prisoner" of it or talking about how my religion has ruined me.

Seeing as the majority of you don't know anything about my religion, how dare you attack it? And attack me? Who are you to know me, judge me; how do you even know anything about why I chose this religion? You don't even know what my religion has to say about sexuality, which is, by the way, that it's the most beautiful, wonderful, amazing thing ever. I have a very positive view of sexuality and was brought up with the idea that it's pleasurable and holy; my only issue is actually performing the act.

Shame on you for attacking me and what's more important, the women I represent. I'm a woman who has a form of sexual dysfunction; in my case, vaginismus. And I'm working to get over it and beyond it. You should get on board with helping make sexual dysfunction less taboo rather than just shouting each other down in order to see who can do a better job of blaming the woman who has it.
POSTED BY SAD JEWISH GIRL AT 11:22 PM"

posted by flyingsquirrel at 4:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


I was not blaming Sad Jewish Girl, I was blaming (at least in part) her religion.

At first, I wasn't even arguing that religion was necessarily a cause or even a contributing factor of the vaginismus itself -- only that it made things worse. After a little casual research, though, I see I may not have gone far enough. A simple google search for "vaginismus religion" will demonstrate that many sources claim a significant link between strict religious backgrounds and vaginismus. Those are the facts.

For example, this page claims that "A strict religious background has been quoted as one of the MAIN causes of vaginismus, by many women." It cites several scientific papers.

I understand that it can feel, to a religious person, like I'm attacking or blaming you or calling you stupid, but I am not. I grew up religious, I know and love religious people, and I know many religious people who are smarter than I am. I just think that your religious beliefs are not true and that they are in many cases harmful. I feel a lot of compassion for you. My anger at the harm religion does is in large part because of my compassion for you and others who suffer more than necessary because of it.

I'm all for breaking down taboos, but that must include the taboo against criticizing religion, which is itself the source of many of the taboos in society.
posted by callmejay at 5:33 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


People say stupid things cause stupid things all the time. We can start with doctors in the 30s and 40s who thought one sign of a low intelligence baby was the tendency to eat lead paint chips all the way to the modern day, where we find members of APA saying hyperemesis gravidarum is caused by ambivalence to the pregnancy and other academics claiming that female orgasm and the desire to reproduce is part of how women are subjugated by the patriarchy and the US military took what, fifteen or twenty years to recognize Gulf War syndrome?

Could there be a medical cause for this vaginisimus problem? We find that botox injections treat vaginismus. That's also used to treat stuttering. Is one of the MAIN causes of stuttering religious background? Or could we hypothesize, given what we know about how muscles and nerves work, that sometimes things get stuck? Fortunately, someone started that research for us, finding "significant neurophysiological abnormalities." If thinking really hard can change my physiology, excuse me while I go think myself into a more muscular body, please. This is just one woman but several related muscle problems cleared up with the use of botulinum toxin and, most tellingly to me, she reports the ability to have regular intercourse with regular toxin treatment. That looks to me more like a treatable medical problem than a mental hang-up. Therapy probably helps, but therapy also helps people with cancer and HIV.

Also, Sad Jewish Woman, good for you to speak up in the attempt to make things related to women's sexuality and dysfunction less taboo. So many women don't seek treatment on so many treatable things because of the silence and victim blaming. We broke the breast cancer taboo by talking about it, but there's a long way to go. Kind wishes for you for making it easier for the girls that come after us to find the help they need, and good luck finding the treatment that works for you. I hope you become Happy Jewish Woman soon.
posted by arabelladragon at 6:55 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


My SO has a story about two anthropologists (!) who live at the turn of the last century. They are a case study somewhere because they were trying to have children but were unable. Upon closer inspection, they were not actually, you know, having penetrative sex.

It turns out that sex, especially for the great apes, is not as "natural" to figure out as the received wisdom and pop songs would have us believe. There is a fair amount of learning from others in your milieu that sometimes needs to take place.

So, be aware of any statements regarding the naturalness of these things we consider fundamental, or any arguments that use primitivism to explain anything. There are a number of studies of great apes that have lived their whole lives in zoos where they are a challenge to breed, because they just don't know how to do it. In one case, apes were shown video pornography in order to teach them (successfully) how to fuck.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:53 AM on May 30, 2011


Considering the fertility rate among Orthodox and other strict forms of Judaism, I'm thinking sex isn't a problem for most of them.
posted by melissam at 8:13 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


While I wold be among the first of those who are critical of orthodoxy etc I also note that there is a huge birth rate among the strict believers in Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam. Some of these folks must have figured out how sex works.
posted by Postroad at 8:37 AM on May 30, 2011


I'm all for breaking down taboos, but that must include the taboo against criticizing religion, which is itself the source of many of the taboos in society.
Do you live in Israel? Because if not, then I don't believe that Orthodox Judaism is a source of taboos in your society. I live in the American Midwest, and I can find no evidence at all that Orthodox Judaism influences what's taboo in my society. Everything is open on Saturday, including things like Hobby Lobby and Chik-Fil-A which are closed on Sundays. There's tons of pork in the grocery store. Every diner serves an array of cheeseburgers. Stores carry clothes that are made of linen/wool blends. If you suggested that any of those things were wrong, people would be a little mystified, I think.

Christianity is a source of some of the taboos in my society. "Religion" is not. Nobody cares at all what is taboo according to the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or Jain faiths, except people who are active members of those religions.

On Metafilter, as in many parts at least American society (I can't speak to other places), most discussions of Orthodox Judaism are really discussions of Christianity, and most participants are Christians who think that Judaism is just Christianity without Jesus. I'm all for having an honest, informed discussion about female sexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community, but I think that's unlikely to happen here, because there just aren't that many informed people here as compared to the people with other agendas. So you end up getting an awful lot of either "I have hangups with my Christian upbringing, and obviously this is just the same" or else "those people sure do look freaky. I've heard they have sex through a hole in a sheet!" And I don't know that either of those things are very useful.
posted by craichead at 8:51 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's probably inevitable that the blog has fostered discussions of religion, but I hope that there has been a bit of an educating function about the experience of pelvic pain here. The anxiety and dread of sexual difficulty in the pelvic/pubic is another layer of distress on top of the pain and physical dysfunction. [Thank you Danila for your candour, you are generous for sharing here in this kind of forum.]

I think it is absolutely understandable that a woman might grow up not knowing much of tampons, sex, orgasms/masturbation whether she was in a religious home or not. It's a shame that vagismus has been presented to us here through the lens of a SJG - the conflation between a particular religious position and vagismus is spurious. From what I've learned about the affliction, 24 is a pretty young age to have it properly attended to. When women suffer pelvic or sexual pain it is often many years before a diagnosis is properly made. There are many, many cases described in women's forums - secular, religious folk alike - when women could not find anyone to talk to safely, or be heard when they spoke up. I am really struck by the loving way in which SJG's husband is being part of her healing process. I'm, if an internet stranger can be permitted to say so, quite proud of him.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:55 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's perfectly legitimate to ask whether specific religious beliefs and practices contribute to physical and psychological sexual problems. Important questions here would be how would these religious beliefs and teachings have such an affect? The problem isn't religion in and of itself but certain specific teachings that have a negative affect on human sexuality. Can we identify which teachings specifically correlate with poorer sexual health outcomes for human beings and make that research available to religious teachers who share beliefs about sexuality? Research is great and always contains bias so as usual research should be done, critisized, done again, critisized again on and on as we make our way closer to something like objective truth as much as is humanly possible.

Just to point out, if you look through pub med you can find a number of articles discussing the fact that higher level of religious beliefs is protective against suicide.

We could then say that atheists who teach, preach, or spread atheistic beliefs are contributing to higher suicide rates. I'm not saying this is true, we need better research on this relationship, just as we need better research on the relationship between religious teachings and human sexuality and relationships. I'm just saying, if you want to examine harmful affects of belief systems on the human body, psyche and health, then we should put all belief systems to such scrutiny.

I experienced something like vaginismus after being raped. I would say for me I hypothesize that the condition was largely psychological, as it seemed to improve but still exist after childbirth. Meaning physiologically opening the space reduced the problem but if your psyche is telling you to shut a penis out, well you know, the door kind of closes up a bit. I can't really know because I was a virgin prior to being raped so I have no idea if I would have had the condition anyway which is also possible. I do believe that our minds and bodies are deeply interconnected and I believe we will be discovering that relationship is much more profound than we currently understand. (Current research already seems to be pointing in this direction as stress and human illness are repeatedly found to be interconnected.)
posted by xarnop at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead: I'm all for having an honest, informed discussion about female sexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community, but I think that's unlikely to happen here, because there just aren't that many informed people here as compared to the people with other agendas.

As I mentioned upthread, I spent the first 20 years of my life as an Orthodox Jew. My opinion is as informed as it can be considering I'm male and left Orthodoxy before I married. I'm talking about the taboos of religion and Orthodox Judaism specifically in this thread because they're the ones that affected the blogger in question.
posted by callmejay at 9:51 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to point out, if you look through pub med you can find a number of articles discussing the fact that higher level of religious beliefs is protective against suicide.

We could then say that atheists who teach, preach, or spread atheistic beliefs are contributing to higher suicide rates. [...] I'm just saying, if you want to examine harmful affects of belief systems on the human body, psyche and health, then we should put all belief systems to such scrutiny.


The idea that suicide is necessarily always "harmful" is itself religious in origin, at least in our society; I personally suspect that higher suicide rates (and acceptance of suicide as a natural and valid way to end life) may actually decrease stress, especially toward the end of life, and thus decrease human illness.

Of course, we are very unlikely to put the belief that suicide is harmful to "such scrutiny"; as always, some beliefs are more equal than others. Until they're not, why should we start by examining atheism, which is not a "belief system" in the first place? Suggesting that a mere lack of belief in god(s) contributes to X, Y, and Z requires the assumption that belief in god(s) is the baseline against which human behavior should be measured... and I'd love to see us subject that belief to some scrutiny.
posted by vorfeed at 10:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So you also value bullying and child abuse and other practices that are associated with increased suicide as well?

When people choose suicide most often they are escaping from pain. If atheism increases peoples suffering in life--- that's where the question lies. Does atheism leave people with fewer buffers against the suffering of life and a higher level of desire to escape because of a lack of coping mechanisms?

Or as you postulate- is the level of suffering the same however religious people have lower suicide rates/suicidal ideation purely because they fear repercussion in the afterlife of choosing death?

There has been research done attempting to assess that but it will take a great deal more to get anywhere near a solid understanding of the relationship. Social relationships demonstrate a buffer against negative health outcomes both physical and mental. It could be that religious people have a more accessible and reliable social support system. It could be that prayer and belief in god have positive affects on human health.

It could be atheists see the truth more clearly and the truth is damaging to the human brain. Shit, it could be anything. I personally doubt that fear of hell is the only source of the reduced suicide rates in religious people. I also personally doubt that the buffer that exists for religious people actually has anything to do with god.

The point is, sure we can scrutinize whether a 20 year old ending their life is a negative and something we should work to prevent, but ultimately most human beings tend to agree that when a 20 year old dies whether by suicide, disease, accident, or murder--- it's a sad undesirable outcome.

And quite frankly, a lot of our consensus on that comes from internal values that human suffering is sad and something we shoule work against. Which is a value system we can scrutinize, but I hope that human beings will decide that compassion for all human beings is a valuable cause. And quite frankly that is a belief system with out any "science" that proves it's the best way to do things. We believe in it from an emotional position that we just... care.
posted by xarnop at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2011


We could then say that atheists who teach, preach, or spread atheistic beliefs are contributing to higher suicide rates...

So you also value bullying and child abuse and other practices that are associated with increased suicide as well?


I see where you're going with this, and you make a good point. However, you're falling prey to a common error: equating correlation (two events occurring in proximity, let's say) and causation (one event causing another). It's very easy to mix these things up, and it's a natural mistake to make. The first step in trying to solve any complicated problem (like 'Why are gay teenagers more likely to commit suicide than straight teens?' or 'Why are highly religious people tormented by guilt when when they commit sex acts that should be acceptable according to their beliefs?') is to find common elements and announce, "That's why."

In the above examples, 'Homosexuality causes depression' and 'Religion causes guilt' would be the easy 'causation' assumptions. But in fact, they are only correlated unless we can figure out what the nature of the connection between them is. Sometimes, careful study can reveal additional correlations that have a much stronger relationship, and are better candidates for causation. For example, if all of the suicidal gay teens in the above example were also beaten by their peers, and gay teens who weren't beaten did not commit suicide any more frequently than straight teens, we'd have a strong case for the bullying and abuse being a cause, or at least more likely than homosexuality in and of itself.

Returning to your example -- that atheists are more prone to suicide -- it's obvious that the situation is rather complicated, and full of many warring corollary factors. The study in question, for example, noted that subjects' beliefs about the morality of suicide also correlated strongly; if you believe that something is bad, you are less likely to do it. Curiously, the same research also indicates that religious countries have a higher rate of homicide -- does that mean that religious people teach their children to murder? The case seems just as strong as the one you make above.

When it comes to the issue of human sexuality, though, the correlation issue is somewhat less ambiguous. Why? Because the fundamentalist strains of religion that are being discussed do explicitly teach the children and young adults that follow their teachings that sexual activity, and sexual pleasure, are sinful and shameful until the moment of marriage. The groups we are discussing make no attempt to hide that: emphasizing the point should be as controversial as saying that a math teacher teaches math.

What's most interesting and tragic about a situation like this blogger's isn't that they're "religious," it's that te extreme taboos around human sexuality and the severe lack of information that she had as a direct result of those taboos has made it much more difficult and frustrating for her to recognize and deal with medically diagnosed sexual dysfunction. She has experienced shame at her own lack of knowledge, physical pain, anger and depression, and even guilt because in lieu of painful penetrative sex she falls back on sexual activities that she's been taught were sinful.

People can make the jump and conclude bad things about fundamentalist religious faiths and their sexual mores from that information, but the information itself is not up for debate. Muddying the waters by coyly suggesting that other people in the thread are "Pro Child Abuse" suggests either a profound misunderstanding and lack of experience with fundamentalist teaching on sexuality, or a desire to deflect conversation from the primary issue of the original post.
posted by verb at 11:54 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


For clarification, the entire class of 'Causation errors' that apply to these kinds of discussions are summarized by Wikipedia fairly well.
posted by verb at 11:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are right xarnop. The last sentence of this report is particularly compelling.
posted by Summer at 11:59 AM on May 30, 2011


I agree with you that many religions teach no sex outside of marriage and no masturbation outside of sexual activity with a marriage partner. However I'm not sure that we have reached a point where we have proven that having sex before marriage is better.

Yes whether or not religiosity provides a buffer in human health is controversial. So is whether or not premarital sex is good or bad. Both need more research.

So far as sex education goes--- do we teach that premarital sex is healthy? That seems as controversial to me as teaching that premarital sex is unhealthy. It also seems that every hormonal birth control they come up with promising THIS one won't have side effects tends to wind up having more side effects than predicted. So do we teach that all teen girls should be on birth control in case they have sex? Why not teach that all teenage boys should have vasectemies?

While on the one hand, Verb, I think we both have similar desire to make sexual education better and more accessible--- we need to be willing to be critical of the bases through which we are pressuming this is better than religions who teach abstinance. I hope scientific research will be helpful in determining how all of this actually affects people, but as usual data can be easily manipulated to fit agendas, the way the question is asked can determine the way it's answered-- etc etc. It will take a long while to makes sense of it. But I don't think we can say scientifically speaking that we know for certain that abstaining from premarital sexual activity is worse or causes vaginismus.

I do think it IS a great subject of further research and I think it's possible it's correct. I also think it's possible we might find that premarital sexual activity might have negative affects on human well being. It's possibly some of both.
posted by xarnop at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2011


do we teach that premarital sex is healthy? That seems as controversial to me as teaching that premarital sex is unhealthy.

Since it's something people are strongly motivated to do no matter what you teach them, perhaps it's neither healthy nor unhealthy and attention should be paid to making it healthier in the inevitable case that it's done.

So do we teach that all teen girls should be on birth control in case they have sex?

Hormonal birth control is not the only kind, and if it's tried the side effects are easily identified and avoided by choosing another method, so the answer is yes.

Why not teach that all teenage boys should have vasectemies?

It's rather harder to reverse a vasectomy than to stop using other methods of birth control.

we need to be willing to be critical of the bases through which we are pressuming this is better than religions who teach abstinance

Study after study has shown that teaching abstinence doesn't work, that kids taught abstinence have sex at almost exactly the same rate as kids who aren't, but they are less likely to practice safe sex or use birth control because of shame and ignorance. So it's pretty clear that just about anything is better than teaching abstinence.
posted by localroger at 12:30 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


While on the one hand, Verb, I think we both have similar desire to make sexual education better and more accessible -- we need to be willing to be critical of the bases through which we are pressuming this is better than religions who teach abstinance.

Well, the first and most important question is, "How do we judge which option is better? What outcome are we trying to optimize for?" In talking to my fellow-travelers in Protestant fundagelical Christianity, the objection to sex education isn't that it makes things measurably worse -- it's that it makes things more sinful. I've been told, literally, that teaching kids about safe sex would be exactly like teaching bank robbers how to rob banks without killing anyone. Even if positive sex education saved lives, it would be wrong because it would be encouraging people to sin and teaching them how to do so while avoiding sin's consequences. That is literally what I was told, for years.

I would argue that such reasoning has no place in public policy, but then I have strong feelings about it based on what I saw and experienced.


I hope scientific research will be helpful in determining how all of this actually affects people, but as usual data can be easily manipulated to fit agendas, the way the question is asked can determine the way it's answered-- etc etc. It will take a long while to makes sense of it.

"How the question is asked" applies to surveys. There are other kinds of research at our disposal. For example, we can study the actual sexual activity of students who participate in religious abstinence pledges. When we do that, we learn that pro-abstinence teens have just as much sex as other kids, but they're far more likely to engage in unsafe, unprotected sex when they do. According to one study, after five years more than 80% of abstinence pledgers deny ever having taken the pledge. That's the kind of data that has nothing to do with 'sneaky survey questions' and has everything to do with judging the efficacy of the tools we're using to improve the lives of the kids in question.

You seem to be appealing to a fatalistic, "Oh, how will we ever known the truth?" lament. The real problem is not ambiguity about the results of religious fundamentalist sexual teaching. Rather, the issues are obscured by an unwillingness on the part of most fundamentalists to acknowledge that they are primarily concerned with moral purity, not public health or helping people have positive, happy sex lives. That's not an accusation, it's a statement of fact.


But I don't think we can say scientifically speaking that we know for certain that abstaining from premarital sexual activity is worse or causes vaginismus.

Has anyone actually said that? That not having premarital sex causes vaginismus? The closest I can see is someone who quotes the vaginismus awareness network's web site when it says that strict religious backgrounds are often cited as a cause of vaginismus. 'Strict religious backgrounds' and 'abstinence' often go hand in hand, but we return to the list of causation fallacies...

What has been said repeatedly in this thread is that polarizing, shame-and-guilt mechanisms of preventing premarital and non-approved styles of sex are very problematic and can lead to tons of pain. In the case of this female blogger, it ensured that she didn't even know whether she was having penetrative sex or not. It led to considerable complications in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disfunction. Even she admits that in her own blog post.

There have been a handful of "GRAR RELIGION!" posts, but for the most part the discussion has focused pretty clearly on the original article, on the issues raised in it, and the problematic nature of fundamentalist sexual teaching in the public sphere and the effects of it in individual lives.
posted by verb at 1:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The point is, sure we can scrutinize whether a 20 year old ending their life is a negative and something we should work to prevent, but ultimately most human beings tend to agree that when a 20 year old dies whether by suicide, disease, accident, or murder--- it's a sad undesirable outcome.
And quite frankly, a lot of our consensus on that comes from internal values that human suffering is sad and something we shoule work against.


Again, the idea that suicide worsens or is equivalent to human suffering (rather than a relief from human suffering, or a noble act in the face of it, or a pragmatic choice by which we can decrease it, or any number of other beliefs) is a cultural trope, one which you yourself admit is not universal. Working against suffering is one thing; creating a taboo against certain acts is another, especially when that taboo begins to cause self-reported suffering (for instance, among ill people who want to choose the manner of their death and are not allowed to), suffering which is then ignored in favor of reiterating the importance of the taboo.

And there's the answer to your question, right there: I don't value "bullying and child abuse and other practices that are associated with increased suicide as well" (wtf?), I value an honest acknowledgment of the fact that suffering, as a subjective, individual state of being, has many possible causes and many possible answers, including answers which might look like suffering to others. Taboos do not and cannot acknowledge this. Teaching children that things must either be universally "healthy" or universally "unhealthy" does not acknowledge this. If you really want to study human behavior to determine what's positive/negative and better/worse regarding human well-being, then you need a single definition of what things like "positive", "negative", and "human well-being" mean... and good luck finding one which is nearly as universal as you seem to think it is.

In the meantime, I'll continue pointing out that this eternal quest to fit every aspect of human behavior into a series of round holes creates a consistent amount of self-reported suffering amongst square pegs.
posted by vorfeed at 1:35 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Errr...no pun intended?
posted by ShutterBun at 2:20 PM on May 30, 2011


No pun intended.
posted by vorfeed at 3:14 PM on May 30, 2011


Vorfeed-- right on. Nothing against suicide as a last resort-- my point is that most of us are in agreement we would like to prevent the need for suicide. Can we agree there? If possible, preserving life for young people not in old age is preferable to death all other things being equal, correct? I agree with you things are not always equal. It would be preferable to attempt to make them more equal, while also teaching compassion for people who felt the need to exit prematurely. I think we're looking at different research, the ones I'm looking at are in pub med, search terms, "religiosity health" "religiousness health" etc etc. There does appear to be a consistant mention of health buffers relating to religious beliefs. I agree with you that such correlations deserve much more research.

" The results show that individuals with chronic medical conditions do not automatically turn to religious and spiritual resources following onset of their disorder. Physical health is positively related to frequency of attendance at religious services, which may be related to better health leading to increased ability to attend services. In addition, spiritual belief in a loving, higher power, and a positive worldview are associated with better health, consistent with psychoneuroimmunological models of health."
"Intrinsic religiosity (i.e. a person's commitment to and motivation by religious beliefs) predicts lower depression scores over time among inpatients with geriatric depression. Psychogeriatricians should consider a patient's religious history in order to make informed judgements about depression prognosis."

I'm not making a claim that religion provides a health buffer but it is being researched, and I think it's worth researching same as researching how premarital sex affects marriage should be researched.

Verb- I'm having a hard time with the idea that religions could be swayed to teach premarital sex is more healthy simply because people aren't good at being cellibate. Then do they teach that being monogamous in marriage is less healthy because because people aren't good at stopping themselves from cheating? Do they teach that exercising is unhealthy because the larger portion of people don't exercise?
posted by xarnop at 4:03 PM on May 30, 2011


my point is that most of us are in agreement we would like to prevent the need for suicide. Can we agree there? If possible, preserving life for young people not in old age is preferable to death all other things being equal, correct?

I still don't really agree with this. Again, the idea that quantity of life is more important than quality of life is not a universal belief. I think what's preferable largely depends on the young person in question, and on his or her situation, family, and friends.

I don't think there are very many easy answers as to what we as a society "would like to prevent", short of crimes of victimization -- this kind of "prevention" pretty much always involves three wolves and a sheep deciding what they'd like to have for dinner. There's plenty of evidence that moralistic, one-note interventions like abstinence and prohibition don't work to change undesirable behaviors, either. I'd say we'd be better off if we arranged our physical and social environment in ways which might generate outcomes we would like to encourage, rather than focusing on moralistic methods of prevention.
posted by vorfeed at 5:07 PM on May 30, 2011


I agree with you regarding social policy, but I wasn't talking about "preventing" as in STOPPING someone from carrying out their plan. I was saying-- wouldn't we want to improve quality of life through other means than suicide?

Yes some people's situations might be so bad they need to commit suicide. I'm saying, THAT's a problem, that there situation is that bad. I should think we would want to prevent the conditions causing them to feel so bad.

Like as in, instead of saying "children with abusive homes are in need of assisted suicide services" we might first say, "How can we precent abusive homes from happening and are there ways we could recover such situations and restore health to one or more of the people involved particularly the kids"?

Wouldn't that be more ideal then saying we need more suicide?
posted by xarnop at 5:17 PM on May 30, 2011


I didn't read all the responses, but I read enough to be utterly disgusted.

I have a very close female friend who was very sexually aware from a very early age, because she received a thorough scientific treatment of the subject, as well as being raised in a sex positive manner, without most of the usual bodyshame. She knows exactly where her vagina, clitoris, and labia are, and how to use them to bring herself to orgasm, and she's known how to do this since she was pre pubescent.

She also has vulvodynia and vulvar vestibulitis. As a result, she cannot have sex comfortably without topical anesthetic.

No hangups, emotional or religious. Bare physical fact.

It took her 5 years of marriage and seeing various doctors to even begin a process of diagnosis - which itself took two years due to the unavailability of specialists in the area. So, seven years of barely-possible, painful sex. And her condition is milder than the one talked about in the post - incredibly painful, but sex is still possible, if not really tolerable.

Knowing how it's supposed to go isn't the same as being able to do it - as anyone who's attempted a cartwheel should know. Sometimes, the body just doesn't.
posted by ysabet at 6:13 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


xarnop, I don't think that vorfeed is saying that suicide is in and of itself a desirable outcome that we should actively pursue and try to promote. Rather, he seems to be saying (though I could be wrong) that improved quality of life should be the goal, across the board, and if someone determines that the quality of their life is bad enough that death is an improvement, we shouldn't fight them simply because of a suicide taboo.

In the terminal illness type cases he initially references I tend to agree; it gets thornier when we're talking about treatable mental illness or depression, where the patient's own mental state significantly impacts their ability to perceive or pursue options that would improve their quality of life considerably. In those situations, it's obviously desirable to improve their quality of life until they no longer desire suicide.

However, and this is a big however, I think the point at which I can agree wholeheartedly with vorfeed is that religious taboos against suicide do absolutely nothing to improve anyone's quality of life. In some cases those taboos may keep someone alive long enough for something else to change their situation (medication or other treatment, friend or family intervention, etc.) and in other situations those taboos might make their life worse, ensuring that they are trapped in a continually deteriorating body or mind with no hope of recovery or escape. In neither of those situations is the taboo actually helping them -- at best it just keeps them around until help can arrive.

I think that both cases are very, very compelling and the differences between them are important; in addition I think we should recognize that preserving the taboo can also become the focus of our efforts while the far better goal -- improving lives -- becomes muddied. We do not improve lives to stop suicide, we stop suicides so that lives can be improved.

At least in the protestant world, religious taboos against suicide are predicated on a lot of the same theology as religious taboos about sex. The principle is that your life and your body are not yours. They are God's, and you have no right to kill yourself, or have sex with someone in ways that He has not approved. Even in the relatively happy go lucky New Testament, the ideal is not one of freedom, but of changing masters from one's own corrupt nature to God.

Which takes us right back to the tangled issues of consent from a previous thread, but that's another discussion...
posted by verb at 6:17 PM on May 30, 2011


It took her 5 years of marriage and seeing various doctors to even begin a process of diagnosis - which itself took two years due to the unavailability of specialists in the area. So, seven years of barely-possible, painful sex. And her condition is milder than the one talked about in the post - incredibly painful, but sex is still possible, if not really tolerable.

Knowing how it's supposed to go isn't the same as being able to do it - as anyone who's attempted a cartwheel should know. Sometimes, the body just doesn't.



Just imagine how much fun working through those issues would be for your friend if she'd grown up in a culture that stigmatized physical pleasure, made discussion of the mechanics taboo, and explicitly declared non-penetrative sex to be sinful and wicked.

I have no idea about causative links, but I think it's impossible to pretend that those kinds of things don't make dealing with these issues much, much harder.
posted by verb at 6:20 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


verb, very true. Those things make it harder, and I wasn't trying to minimse that.

This is an issue stigmatised and taboo in secular society to the point where it's considered to be the sort of thing that only happens to women who have had religious or abusive upbringings by the sort of people who frequent Metafilter. What hope have women of any background if even this community is so closed-minded? Not only that, but it's so marginalised that a lot of medical professionals don't even know what it is, and many of those that do make the same assumptions.

That is the root of my disgust.

It's harder if there's associated mental twisting to overcome - caused by religion, abuse, years of painful sex itself, whatever. But when the prime, physical fact is taboo across the board - what hope?
posted by ysabet at 6:46 PM on May 30, 2011


It's harder if there's associated mental twisting to overcome - caused by religion, abuse, years of painful sex itself, whatever. But when the prime, physical fact is taboo across the board - what hope?

I guess I just have a hard time seeing the reaction specifically in this thread as an indication of MeFi's collective reaction to questions about sexual dysfunction. In the original article, the blogger in question specifically, explicitly discussed the interconnection between her religious upbringing, the taboos in her religious community, and the process by which she discovered and has tried to figure out how to deal with this issue.

Look at AskMe on any given day, and you find a lot of people giving amazingly helpful, caring, and supportive advice around these kinds of issues (not necessarily this particular one, but sexual dysfunction and potentially shameful personal issues in general). In this particular thread, simply discussing the sexual dysfunction without the context of the religious community would be ignoring a major component of the blogger's own narrative.


This is an issue stigmatised and taboo in secular society to the point where it's considered to be the sort of thing that only happens to women who have had religious or abusive upbringings by the sort of people who frequent Metafilter.

You can say that it's unfair to make sweeping statements, and that there are people who didn't grow up in strict religious households that suffer from these kinds of sexual dysfunctions, and that our society doesn't make much space for open and honest discussion of these kinds of issues, and I would agree wholeheartedly. But this is the story of someone for whom that is a major component.

"The sort of people who frequent MetaFilter" include lots of people, including women, who have had religious or abusive upbringings and speak about these issues from personal experience, or the experience of their friends, family and loved ones. Just sayin' is all.
posted by verb at 7:32 PM on May 30, 2011


Well I'm not into preserving taboos. I am interested in being willing to look at the truth EVEN IF IT AGREES WITH THE TABOO and we find that unpleasant. Does that make sense? I'm not saying that the truth DOES line up with taboos, I'm just presenting that disliking organized religions overzealous use of taboos is not a piece of evidence in the debate of whether premarital sex is unhealthy for people or has potential down sides that people should in fact be aware of.

The point is, you don't educate people by saying, "Taboo, this bad. don't do." You also don't do the opposite. "Do whatever you want! Who cares, sex is great! condoms, have fun"

You educate people by saying, "This is what we have seen in the research and surveys we've done on teens having sex, and premarital sex. These are the ways it does/does not correlate with health later on, these are the ways researchers have speculated that it affects married life. Etc." You couple that with discussion about problems in research, ask kids to think critically and discuss.

Re- suicide- I don't believe in taboo over suicide. If there is a god only he/sh-it knows why the fuck this world is filled with so much horrific suffering. The goal is to do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of human beings not to berate those who dwell among it and have lost hope, or are still grasping and grasping for something anything to hold onto and losing hope that there is any such thing to grab on to.

I do, want to preserve human life. I want to preserve all life. I have spent long periods of time crying over bugs and PLANTS dying. Yeah, have to try to shut that down a bit or cutting up vegetable soup is a cry fest. (But the carrot!! Oh he is still ALIVE! He is a sad carrot, I'm so sorry carrot!) I have a hard time gardening.

Death can be merciful. I would do anything in my power to prevent/alleviate/rescue a human from the kind of suffering that leads one to hope for death. I WOULD hope, hope that it could be possible to save them. I have nothing against people who collapse in the suffering of this world. But I would see finding a solution to the suffering as more beneficial than suicide as an outcome. So yes, alleviating the suffering is the FIRST thing to attempt not suicide.

And really I wasn't talking about euthenasia so much as research that pointed out decreased rates of depression and suicidal ideation in people with higher religiosity. Again a few studies only means--- we should do more research. This is in no way proves religion is good for health, but if it does correlate with higher health it's work exploring why.

And what IF religion does help people through hardships and improves some peoples lives? I mean even if there were no god, what if religion was healthier for people? Than what would that make people who preach against believing in religion? It's a hypothetical really but I just thought it was pertinant. And even more-- what if, there really is a spiritual realm?

ysabet-- well if there's a taboo on talking about this crap, let's break it. I think that we can't know what caused this woman's vaginismus (at present), but it's understandable to be concerned over how religion played into her discovery/experience of having it.
posted by xarnop at 8:06 PM on May 30, 2011


And what IF religion does help people through hardships and improves some peoples lives? I mean even if there were no god, what if religion was healthier for people? Than what would that make people who preach against believing in religion?

We know that portion-controlled amounts of good, whole foods are healthier for people -- what does that "make" people who "preach" against diet restriction? What does it "make" people who open fast-food joints? Give me a break.

Last I heard, we're not min/maxing everything in society, so if atheism turns out to be "unhealthy" I guess everyone who doesn't believe in God will just have to move a couple points from their best stat to CHA to make up for it.
posted by vorfeed at 8:51 PM on May 30, 2011


Right but I'm saying turn that around to the teachings of the fundamentalist religions Vorfeed. Do you feel like teaching unhealthy sexual practices is something we should mention? I don't believe in controlling anyone. Anti-religion people can often claim that religious teachings are harmful and that religions "should be held accountable." That's fine. Would atheists be held accountable for spreading beliefs that make people unhealthy also?
posted by xarnop at 8:57 PM on May 30, 2011


Whatever lash out you have against even the mere MENTION that atheism could have negative impact on human lives-- it's relevant to me to compare that with the fact that you want religious people to listen genuinely to the possibility their religious teachings could be harmful to people.

Even though there hasn't as of right now been any mention of research that proves that waiting until marriage is in fact harmful, only that abstinance based education is harmful. But if abstaining from sex until marriage actually IS healthier than it would make sense to have that message in sex education.

The question is, IS IT better to abstain, and who is doing such research, what is their bias, etc? If we want religious people to be willing to patiently see the inherant beliefs they hold dear challenged, then I'm just saying we should be willing to face downsides to our own belief systems.
posted by xarnop at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2011


I like appearing as enlightened as the next person, but I'll be honest: I had not heard of vaginismus before I read this thread. I'm a female in my mid 20s, and I didn't grow up in a particularly religious environment. I mean, I'm not surprised to learn about it, but all the same, if it had turned out that I had it, would I have known there was anything physically abnormal about me? Would I have felt comfortable talking about it/seeking help? I'm not sure, but I'm leaning towards no.

I have no intention of defending religion, which I see as an outdated cultural phenomenon with some interesting practices but also some really harmful practices. However, I think just about every element of Orthodox Judiasm that is being criticized here (that she wasn't adequately educated and was possibly misinformed about body norms, the lack of trusted experts to confide in, the lack of informative sources to learn from independently, the general shame surrounding sexuality/bodily functions) is present in secular society as well. Perhaps to a lesser degree, but still, it's not at all clear to me that, say, eradicating religion would solve anything by itself.

Thus I think blaming religion (for causing her condition OR for making it more difficult for her to do something about it) is the wrong approach to be taking here. It may be that religion was a significant factor for this particular woman, but we're not talking just about her, because we don't know enough about her to possibly be doing so.

I appreciate everyone in this thread who has been really candid and shared their own personal experiences (including SJG in the original link, of course). It's something we need to be doing more of, if we wish to take steps towards lifting the sexual taboos that pervade society -- religious and secular alike.
posted by mantecol at 9:42 PM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anti-religion people can often claim that religious teachings are harmful and that religions "should be held accountable." That's fine. Would atheists be held accountable for spreading beliefs that make people unhealthy also?

Again, atheism is not a belief. It's a lack of belief. Not-doing something which supposedly has health benefits is not the same thing as "making people unhealthy", and not-having-supposed-health-benefits is not the same thing as being harmful.

Besides, people "hold atheists accountable" constantly, on metafilter and elsewhere. You speak as though nobody ever suggests that atheism might be negative, and as though atheism and religion are on roughly equal footing with regards to potential "harm", when in fact atheists are a tiny minority on the world stage, and are often distrusted. If you don't account for the massive magnitude of difference in power, influence, and population between religious people and atheists, then your notions of both harmfulness and accountability leave much to be desired.
posted by vorfeed at 10:30 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whatever lash out you have against even the mere MENTION that atheism could have negative impact on human lives-- it's relevant to me to compare that with the fact that you want religious people to listen genuinely to the possibility their religious teachings could be harmful to people.

Even though there hasn't as of right now been any mention of research that proves that waiting until marriage is in fact harmful, only that abstinance based education is harmful. But if abstaining from sex until marriage actually IS healthier than it would make sense to have that message in sex education.

The question is, IS IT better to abstain, and who is doing such research, what is their bias, etc? If we want religious people to be willing to patiently see the inherant beliefs they hold dear challenged, then I'm just saying we should be willing to face downsides to our own belief systems.


This post is filtered through the paradigm of classroom education mandated by a small number of adults who set a curriculum for a large number of students.

In my ideal world, children would receive more one-on-one instruction from knowledgeable adults they trust (on topics sexual and otherwise). I realize this scenario isn't possible for all children, which is where (sex) education comes in. But again, in my ideal world, capable parents wouldn't be seizing the fact that their children get taught X Y and Z at school to let themselves off the hook of taking some personal responsibility for the education of their children. There is no substitute for the individualized education, one-on-one interaction, and the opportunity to ask potentially embarrassing questions in a non-threatening environment. None of which a student is very likely to find at school unless they happen to form a bond with one of their teachers.

Approaching education from the kind of paradigm I've described reduces the kinds of problems you're exploring from "OMG if we don't get this right we're going to ruin an entire generation" to "Different people can (will, really; there's no way to stop them) teach their kids different things and we'll see how the various strategies work out. It also guards against the conclusion people have been reaching in this thread, that Orthodox Judiasm (/Christianity) should be doing more to educate children on these matters, and places the responsibility back in the hands of individual parents.
posted by mantecol at 10:35 PM on May 30, 2011


In my ideal world, children would receive more one-on-one instruction from knowledgeable adults they trust (on topics sexual and otherwise).

Well, one serious problem is that the trust is often misplaced. SJC, in her post, trusted her teachers and religious leaders to communicate this information to her in a one-on-one fashion. My concern about treating this ideal as anything other than a hypothetical (like the concept of the benevolent dictator) is that it ensures a single-point-of-failure system for communicating important life information.


It also guards against the conclusion people have been reaching in this thread, that Orthodox Judiasm (/Christianity) should be doing more to educate children on these matters, and places the responsibility back in the hands of individual parents.

What you describe is precisely what the Christian organizations I was a part of advocate, but not for the reasons you articulate. They advocate parental responsibility precisely because 'putting responsibility back in the hands of individual parents' is a polite way of saying 'keep kids from learning about things we believe are sinful.'


But again, in my ideal world, capable parents wouldn't be seizing the fact that their children get taught X Y and Z at school to let themselves off the hook of taking some personal responsibility for the education of their children.

Inside many churches and anti-sex-education groups, the message is not 'talk your kids about sex, because they need to understand themselves and their bodies.' It's 'talk to your kids about sex or the liberal homosexuality-advocating NEA members will.' The only reason those individuals are talking to their children is because they fear they can't hold back the tide of information and are doing triage.

The study I posted a link to earlier had a lot of sobering-but-sadly-predictable bits in it, including this gem: "Worryingly, children raised in strongly religious homes were more likely to get their sex education from pornography, as they were not confident enough to talk with their parents." That is not the story of 'schools handling it and parents slacking.' It's the story of religious parents shielding their kids from information, passing the taboo on to another generation, and ensuring that the kids who are desperate to understand themselves and those around them figure out what they can.

xarnop, in her post above, advocates at least considering that abstinence is healthier than premarital sex. I don't think that anyone has argued that not having sex, in and of itself, is fundamentally bad for people. In fact, almost every sex-positive person I have ever known, talked to, or listened to has been very clear in saying that delaying sexual involvement is almost always a good idea for teens in particular. The "Oh, you think it would be better if all the junior high kids had sex in the halls?" canard is simply a straw man thrown into discussions by those who oppose sex education.

Lots of responsible teens and adults decide, in lots of different circumstances for lots of different reasons, to not have sex. The important distinction is why the decisions are made. Is it because they are ashamed, nay, terrified of their own sexual desires? Is it because they feel their potential partner doesn't really care for them as a person? Is it because they just don't believe they're ready for the complexity of a sexual relationship? Is it because they believe that their genitalia are, literally, not their own to make decisions about?

Getting at the why is really important here, because even if you identify a specific behavior that is beneficial there are lots of sub-optimal and even damaging ways to get people to engage in that behavior.

Religious sexual taboos are not there to ensure people have happier lives, and reading the religious texts in question makes that abundantly clear. Arguments that the religious taboos happily result in better sex lives for some people is irrelevant, because the taboos remain in place even when they make people miserable.
posted by verb at 11:20 PM on May 30, 2011


The study I posted a link to earlier had a lot of sobering-but-sadly-predictable bits in it,
What's sobering-but-sadly-predictable is that certain mainstream media outlets don't seem to be able to tell a real study from a goofy internet survey. Here's what the (generally sympathetic) write-up in Salon had to say about it:
As a non-believer myself, I responded to the news of my inherent sexual prowess by gloating for a moment. But then I applied the atheist's signature brand of skepticism and discovered that, well, the survey didn't exactly find that the non-religious are better lays. What it actually suggests is that we report having more satisfying and less guilt-ridden sex lives -- which still sounds pretty awesome! But there are a number of caveats here: This is an Internet survey, not a randomized or representative study; and, as others have already pointed out, the poll was promoted on Pharyngula, a very popular atheist-friendly blog. Another limiting factor: The findings are based on self-reporting, which is always tricky when it comes to sex research. It's also true that one of the survey's authors, psychologist Daniel Ray, wrote, "The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture," and these preliminary findings will be published in his upcoming book, "Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality." He is far from an impartial observer.
So yeah. It proves that a totally biased observer was able to rig an internet poll to find what he wanted to find. Stop the presses!
posted by craichead at 12:10 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Touché, craichead. That's the trick about taboos, of course: it makes most self-reported data suspect, because those who are most effected by the taboo won't talk about it. It's not necessarily any more trustworthy than religious leaders who announce that their taboos make sex better.

Other than the paragraph that directly quoted the article, none of the rest of my comments were based on those articles or the survey; feel free to disregard it completely.
posted by verb at 6:36 AM on May 31, 2011


Verb--- I've been trying to articulate this--- you say that abstinance based sex education is harmful but you think delaying sex is healthier. What I'm trying to say is if you teach kids, "You need to delay sex, it's healthier but you'll probably fail so have condoms around," you are still teaching them that their sexuality is overpowering and will take over and cause them to do the wrong thing.

Which sounds like a scary thing to me. I can see why kids would take from that their sexuality is something overpowering and kind of scary that they probably can't control. Which might be true, I dunno. But many will still try to be good and do the right thing and therefore taking condoms is still the unhealthy thing becaue then you are planning to fail and we back to the issue we were previously talking about. Of course I think anything is better than no sex-education, but I'm trying to get at what the difference you're seeing being abstinance based sex education that includes the message "Here is information but don't do this" and what you're talking about. Which sounds very similar to me, but it sounds like you're looking for something radically different than the first.

I never took a sex ed class so it kind of blurs together for me. I'm just trying to hash out what your vision of something better is, and how that necessarily HAS to include anti-religious sentiment, because it sounds like you thought a lot about it.

I really like the idea of educating parents about how to talk to their kids about sexuality. Even good intentioned parents might need some nudging and guidance, and best I've read about that encouraged parents to actually watch the stuff their kids are watching and talk about what's going when things related to sex or drugs or whatever comes up. That way kids know that their parents are aware these things exist, nobody explodes if the conversations come up, and they can actually talk about it.

vorfeed- most people I know are atheist or agnostic so yes it probably appears skewed to me. I feel like among people my age I don't even meet people who are religious so I forget how much damage religious people can do. But growing up with 10 years of catholic school I got exposed to enough to avoid anything related to religion like the plague. I still feel like conversations go better if we stretch ourselves to try to understand the other folks position, particularly since in this case there is a woman who feels like her entire faith is being put to trial because she shared that her experience with vaginismus and she has previously read here. I'm also thinking in terms of the religious people I DO know, how could the message really get accross.

I do think the focus is really that we should make sex education better. But that doesn't affect private schools where a lot of the religious teachings happen. Sigh.
posted by xarnop at 7:01 AM on May 31, 2011


Growing up as a Reform Jew in America, even being constantly bombarded by culture-noise about sex and relatively good information in a Northern Californian sex-ed course, I was still convinced by my mother that "once you have sex you're used up" (because who do children believe if not their parents), and, to be perfectly honest, the only thing that cured me of the idea was having tons of great pre-marital sex with an experienced partner. Whether or not this would help with vaginismus (although I'm almost certain having a more experienced partner would), who knows, but it certainly put me on the path to becoming a less neurotic/depressive human being. Now I am also 24 and married, and can safely say I am a More or Less Happy Jewish Girl.

But despite our culture-shock when faced with the shortcomings of the Orthodox community as regards sexual matters, I do have to say that her husband sounds like a stand-up guy. How many people get married these days and really mean it? The rest of civilization seems to have emotional ADD - we pack our bags and leave the moment there's a problem that seems serious. I think her relationship, alien though it seems to us, could also be a bit of an inspiration (you see, us Californians are veterans of picking and choosing bits of religion that we like - for instance, the decreased number of depressed religious people probably comes from the fact that they pray which, like meditation, exercises the part of your brain that controls focus and happiness, so no God necessary, just medidate!).
posted by Mooseli at 8:13 AM on May 31, 2011


But many will still try to be good and do the right thing and therefore taking condoms is still the unhealthy thing becaue then you are planning to fail
And here is the crux of the matter. The problem is the underlying assumption that delaying sex is "the right thing." Maybe this is the very reason it isn't.

If I had to explain this to the child I carefully avoided having, I'd say:

Sex is like electricity. It's powerful and dangerous, which is why we told you to keep away from outlets and extension cords when you were too young to handle it. But that doesn't mean it's bad. It's very useful and your life will be far more miserable than it needs to be if you try to avoid electricity forever. Eventually you need to learn how to safely handle it. And if you decide to take up a hobby like ham radio you might be dealing with it more directly and at an age some parents would find scary. But there are kids all over the place who do this and because they learn and respect the dangers and take the necessary precautions, they mostly don't electrocute themselves.

Similarly, sex is powerful and dangerous and you should be sure of what you're doing before doing it. You should understand and be prepared for the risk of pregnancy and STD's, just as you know not to touch the circuitry in the transmitter you're building when it's powered up. You might consider waiting if you're not sure. But you also shouldn't feel you have to live in misery if those powerful feelings are torturing you. Those feelings exist for a reason, and while you need to respect the potential results it is positive and natural and an inevitable part of what you are to follow them.
posted by localroger at 8:24 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I'm trying to say is if you teach kids, "You need to delay sex, it's healthier but you'll probably fail so have condoms around," you are still teaching them that their sexuality is overpowering and will take over and cause them to do the wrong thing.

I'm not convinced that is the case. That line of reasoning is definitely the 'official party line' of the anti-sex-education crowd. Again, though, what we see in the real world is that even kids who are taught abstinence, pledge to remain abstinent, and intend to remain abstinent have sex at the same rate as other kids. And when they do have sex, they are much more likely to avoid condoms and other forms of protection against pregnancy and STDs.

What we see in the real world is that the anti-sex-ed groups consider sex so impossibly overpowering that even basic education about the mechanics of their bodies will overpower kids' convictions and beliefs, turning them into amoral sex machines. Educating kids about how to make good choices, and how to do so safely, is not the same as saying, "It's so powerful that they can't stop themselves!"


I'm trying to get at what the difference you're seeing being abstinance based sex education that includes the message "Here is information but don't do this" and what you're talking about. Which sounds very similar to me, but it sounds like you're looking for something radically different than the first.

The model of abstinence based education that is favored by the religious and social conservatives I know doesn't include the 'Here is information' part. They just want the 'Don't do this' part. And what we see when those methods are put in place is that they don't accomplish what the anti-sex-ed groups say they are trying to accomplish. They say they are trying to convince kids to delay sexual activity, but in actuality they only manage to convince the temporarily-abstinence kids to have unsafe sex.

localroger, above, captures the important difference between 'Here is how sex works, BUT DON'T HAVE SEX!' and 'This is powerful and important, and it's a part of who you are; don't just jump in but don't be afraid of it, either.' The biggest problem is that the religiously-motivated proponents of abstinence education will not accept that approach, no matter what the results are. They will not accept that, because they believe that teaching people about safe sex is teaching them how to sin. It doesn't matter if it saves lives, it doesn't matter if it results in healthier relationships, it doesn't matter if it results in happier marriages. It is unacceptable because it "condones sin."

That's a problematic basis for education and public health policy, y'know?
posted by verb at 8:31 AM on May 31, 2011


I think the best way to help kids develop healthy sexual relationships is also to include guidance and room for discussion about relationships themselves. And further more the kids who are most at risk of having unsafe sex or finding themselves in abusive relationships are often having problems at home, have problems with having healthy friendships to begin with, and overall could use better social support and interaction so that a sexual relationship isn't the ONLY place in the world they could have real intimacy.

But of course, now we're into actually supporting struggling families and creating environments that assist with healthy parent child relationships and life issues that impede parenting success and we're in socialism. GASP! Heaven forbid we do things to improve the home lives of kids in struggling families!!!!
posted by xarnop at 3:37 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


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