As a young mother, and being the type of person who worries about things way before they actually come up, I’ve been spending some time lately worrying about how to help my daughter have a healthy understanding about sex, sexuality and relationships, when the world around us portrays such negative attitudes about these issues. When should I talk to my daughter about sex, so she hears about it from me, rather than her friends? Even scarier – what do I say to her?? How do I explain to my child the inherent beauty and holiness in a relationship that she is too young to fully comprehend? (And – how will I help her to recognize that she can’t run off and find herself a soul mate until she reaches adulthood?) And really, is this something that I need to bring up at this point (or next year, or the next, or ever…)? Wouldn’t it be sooooo much more comfortable to push it off a while?
I was therefore very excited to have the opportunity to read Dr. Yocheved Debow’s new book, “Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Parents .” As I picked up the book, I hoped for a “Bible,” hoping one book could possibly answer all my questions and allay all my fears.
While not exactly the “Bible” I was hoping for, “Talking About Intimacy & Sexuality” is a thorough cornerstone book, providing a fresh, desperately-needed and well-written Orthodox perspective to the issues of intimacy, sex, sexuality and relationships. This perspective also acts as a prism through which other books can be read and adapted for Jewish families. While reading, I personally experienced an unexpected jolt of chizuk, and pride in my religion that promotes such a beautiful way of life. I can already tell that this is a book I will refer back to again and again as my children grow and develop.
Dr. Debow emphasizes the need to have open discussions with our children about sex, sexuality, and intimacy, as part and parcel of the religious values we strive to impart to our children. She discusses the Jewish perspective on pleasure, (of which sexual pleasure can be understood to be the most intense form) and how Judaism views pleasure as an important side-effect, but never an end in and of itself. “Judaism sees the sexual union of two individuals as the deepest, most powerful way in which two people can connect… It is a deeply spiritual act; it is the joining together of two human beings, both body and soul, that reunite in what is described in Genesis 2:24 as ‘they became one flesh’.” (pp. 23-24) This notion, of course, being completely antithetical to modern Western values, puts us on a collision course with the world we live in, and is the main reason why a book like this is so necessary.
Debow scripts theoretical and actual conversations as well as talking points for parents. Because the book covers such discussions with children of all ages, I finished this section feeling that there could have been more sample discussions about the various topics, but I still walked away with a sketch of a conversation in mind, and a major confidence boost.
Debow offers ideas on how to find “teachable moments” during the average day or week to bring up important issues, especially on healthy body image, the value in relationships and the differences between what we see on TV and in movies and the way we, as religious Jews, live our lives – all of which will have a major impact on how our children view sexuality and intimacy in their own lives. She also makes practical suggestions about limiting our children’s access to media, including not having televisions or computers in young children’s bedrooms, limiting online chats to people you know offline, teaching kids not to share personal information online, etc.
Possibly the most important point Dr. Debow makes for parents of older children is this: Even if a child does not live up to the standards we have set for them as parents, it is vitally important that we not let them feel that they are “sinners” or that they will never be good Jews because of their transgressions. Our children need to know that we are not perfect and that most of us have difficulty with areas of the Halacha. This makes us human, and does not necessarily mean that we are “bad Jews,” but it does mean that we need to work at overcoming these difficulties, even if we sometimes fail.
The book is chock full of real-world issues and practical ways to deal with them from a Torah perspective – I highly recommend it to all Orthodox parents in today’s world!