Jewish tradition considers consensual sexual intimacy within the context of marriage as a deeply positive aspect of life, holy and worthy of respect. This may come as a surprise as it is often perceived that religion takes an inherently negative view on sexuality. But in fact, Judaism can be strongly relevant in the development of a healthy attitude toward sexuality. Although this post will focus on women from religious communities, I hope to impart some confidence in having honest and helpful conversations about sexuality for all women whether they are secular, religious or somewhere in between. Since the topic of sexuality is a deeply personal one, feel free to discern which ideas resonate with you and your lifestyle and to disregard the ideas that don’t.

The period of abstinence that’s typically practiced by observant Jews before they marry can be an especially appropriate time to begin developing healthy relationships with ideas on sexuality. Many observant Jews practice abstinence because of their belief that sexual intimacy is an area of life reserved for their spouse. The religious obligation of abstinence creates a great opportunity for singlehood to become a time when women learn about their bodies and sexuality, preparing themselves to become the partners they aspire to be when the time does arrive to enter into a sacred sexual relationship. Specifically, women can seek out sexuality education that is trustworthy and informed by their religious lifestyle. The recognition of all that is sacred about sexuality can – and should – begin in singlehood.

The learning opportunity provided by abstinence can help women feel comfortable and confident in their sexuality, all in a tzanua (modest) way. Personally, seeking out religiously-informed resources on this topic has been helpful and empowering. Women can learn that sexuality is not at all inherently dirty or vulgar because it can be engaged with in a tzanua and nurturing way; that self-pleasure can be a tool for women to learn about and become comfortable with their bodies; and that it’s important to challenge unhealthy ideas of sexuality where women are seen as sexual objects and men as helplessly sexual. Judaism provides a helpful framework to understand sexuality in a wholesome and empowered way, and I hope more women become aware of this.

I think that a woman’s sense of sexual agency is cultivated when she learns to understand sexuality in ways that feel wholly aligned and integrated with her religious identity. Sexual agency is a precious tool while navigating sexual encounters, and it might mean something slightly different for each person. For me, it means engaging with sexuality in ways that align with your values, and not letting yourself be coerced by external pressures – whether it comes from a partner or social norms (i.e., the pressure to engage in hookup culture). After a woman has taken the time to find her voice – that is, to understand her sexuality and to integrate it into her value system – she could confidently use it to express her sexual preferences and boundaries as needed once she is in a sexual relationship.

There are wonderful, trustworthy and religiously-informed resources on sexuality education out there. Here are the ones I am most familiar with:

  • Malka Chana Amichai – the founder of Bohemian Balabusta, an educational platform that provides workbooks and online courses for women on topics ranging from sexuality education to Jewish family purity laws.
  • Elisheva Liss, LMFT– a licensed marriage and family therapist from New York who has created an online course about sexuality education, and has a blog that includes informative posts about sex and sexuality within the Jewish community.
  • Elissa Hellman, MD – a board certified OB/GYN in Milwaukee, WI who also has a telehealth service (named The Confident Kallah) made for women from the Jewish community with questions related to reproductive and sexual health.
  • Intimate Judaism – a podcast by Rabbi Scott Kahn and certified sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum that discusses topics related to Judaism, intimacy and sexuality.

This post has focused on single women but regardless of relationship status, religious background, age or sexual history – it’s not too late for any woman to cultivate a healthier and more wholesome approach to sexuality. The quality of a woman’s relationship to sexuality is equally relevant for those who have yet to find their partners as much as it is for married couples. A woman’s relationship with ideas on sexuality serves as the foundation on which other relationships can be nurtured – such as the one with her partner, whether in the present or future.