Interview with an Orthodox Sex Therapist: Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum

Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum is a physical therapist who also specializes in sex counseling and treatment of sexual problems. She is one of few such therapists within the religious community in Israel. She has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

Mother in Israel: When I took a group class on Taharat Hamishpacha before my marriage, the teacher refused to discuss sex explicitly. She said that the couple, with patience and kindness, would learn from each other. What do you think of this approach? Are things changing? How long does it take for most couples to work things out in the beginning?

Talli: I think it is unfortunate. Patience and kindness is nice, but if sexual education is not provided by madrichim and madrichot (counselors who teach brides and grooms Jewish law relevant to marriage), couples will look for it through other resources, including the internet and books. Some of what they find may be OK, but much of it may be misinformation, or not culturally sensitive to Orthodox people.
I do think that things are changing, and there are many more madrichim and madrichot talking to young people about sex. As for your last question, that would depend on what you mean by “work things out.” Do you mean, figure out how to have intercourse? Figure out how to enjoy sex? Figure out what the partner wants? The sexual relationship is ongoing, and so couples are working things out throughout the marriage.

MiI: Can you give an estimate about the percentage of couples in the Orthodox community who need outside help? How does that compare to the general population?

Talli: Interesting question, which requires empirical research to answer. My colleagues and I did a study on this and found that the rates for dysfunction are slightly higher than in the general population, and in our sample, the rates for seeking psychological treatment of some sort were fairly high as well. However, our sample was highly educated, and this group tends to seek treatment in greater number. So the short answer is no, I can’t.

MiI: What are the factors that make the beginning of a marriage and sexual relationship more challenging for observant couples?
Talli: In the Orthodox community sexuality is not generally viewed as a developmental process, but rather as something that becomes relevant once you are married. This is challenging for many reasons. One is that young people are often at a loss regarding how to deal with their sexual feelings, may be used to repressing them, or feeling guilty about them, and then suddenly need to view those feelings and experience them differently. . Another, is that the expectation to go from complete sexual inexperience to complete intercourse in one or two nights is a difficult one. Finally, the transitions in the beginning from no touching at all to being sexual are often very difficult for a newly married couple . . . especially after that first time when they have to separate.

MiI: How common is sexual activity before marriage in our community?

Talli: I don’t think that has been studied.

MiI: Where can a young couple turn when they are having sexual issues?

Talli: Sometimes they can speak to their madrichim and madrichot. Depending on the community (modern orthodox, haredi, etc,) there are various organizations that can be helpful such as Machon Puah. But overall, there are not readily available resources to deal specifically with issues of sex.

MiI: How can parents better prepare their children for marriage?
Talli: I believe in modeling positive behavior and so I think that children who experience parents who are loving and affectionate to one another, or give each other a hug or kiss , will get the message that sexuality is a positive and natural part of marriage. Haredim tend not to to show physical affection in front of children, but the message can be conveyed through warm and loving verbal behavior as well. If a parent never talks about sex, it will feel weird once the child reaches marriage age to hear their parent even mention it. Parents need to convey the message to their children from a young age, that this is not a taboo subject . Children’s questions on the subject should be answered in an honest and age appropriate manner.
MiI: What can we do as a community to promote better sex education?

Parents can request that religious schools include a culturally sensitive sex education program. There have been such programs developed for modern orthodox schools.
Community members can organize lectures for shul sisterhoods on the subject of intimacy. These are just a couple of examples. Perhaps the readers of your blog can come up with some ideas of their own.

MiI: How did you get into this field?

Talli: While treating women with intimate problems related to the pelvic floor, such as incontinence, I found that many women had questions about sex and no one to ask. Women (and men) want to know what is “normal.” I mainly got in to this field, though, because as a physical therapist, I was seeing women having pain with sex, or inability to allow intercourse. This is still an area that I work with, mostly. But you can not just treat the pain without understanding the context, and knowing how to relate to the multiple issues involved, including the woman’s feelings about sex, her anxieties, and the marital relationship. So I still treat as a physical therapist but also provide sexual counseling.

MiI: What do your children tell their friends about what you do?
Talli: Let’s just say it is certainly a topic of conversation amongst them, for better or for worse.

MiI: Are there any other questions I should ask?

Talli: You can ask me how one can go about seeing me. My email is tallr@netvision.net.il I can be reached at 0 50 5 689 572 for appointments. I see clients in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh and Tel Aviv. My website is www.physioforwomen.com

MiI: Thank you, Talli, for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

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Comments

  1. A Living Nadneyda says:

    Very interesting interview. Thanks to both of you.
    ALN

  2. Interesting interview. Thank you, Talli, for talking with Mother in Israel.
    One is that young people are often at a loss regarding how to deal with their sexual feelings, may be used to repressing them, or feeling guilty about them, and then suddenly need to view those feelings and experience them differently Yes, this makes sense, that this switch in outlook would be difficult.
    Look forward to what others have to say on this topic.

  3. MII,
    In your conversations with Talli did she mention any training/education/internships she did specific to psychology/sexuality? I’m kind of puzzled how she went from physical therapy, with its emphasis on physiology, to sexual counseling, which would seem to have a high psychological element to it.

  4. I’m glad to see that she is advocating talking to children about sex. It is foolish to think that “if I don’t mention it, they won’t think about it.” Of course they will, they just won’t ask their parents. I try to answer my own childrens’ questions in as simple and straightforward a fashion as possible, and I speak to them often about self-respect, respect for the bodies that Hashem has given us, and respect for others. It is up to parents to transmit their values to their children, but they can only do that if they actually address these issues head on.

  5. mother in israel says:

    ProfK, Talli’s credentials are on her website.

  6. wow, wow, wow is all i can say. Great interview. she confirmed many things that I have watched friends of mine go through (difficulties transitioning from shomer negiah to the wedding night) and my own experience (loving and physically affectionate parents as a model for healthy spousal relationships).
    I think they hyper-tzniut trend, especially in the haredi sector, will produce a lot more of these problems in this area.

  7. In addition to the emotional issues not addressed, frank and accurate physical/logistical education is needed when the couple is expected to go from absloute zero to complete intimacy.
    My grandparents were married for a year before my grandmother went to her doctor, and learned that they weren’t “doing it right”.
    She conceived her first child the next month.
    Talli is likely responsible for helping bring many children into this world.
    May she go from strength to strength, and have a portion of the joy she has brought to so many families.

  8. Raizy, glad to echo what you say (and to what Talli said) about talking to kids. Kids pick up all sorts of weird misinformation from their friends at young ages. We divided talking to our own kids by gender, so my husband has already talked to my boys about sex. Now I am thinking about what and how much and when and in response to what do I say to my daughter.

  9. mother in israel says:

    Random, I emailed Talli to let her know about your question.

  10. random person says:

    are there any books that she recommends for married couples to read? books “kosher” enough…instead of just googling and getting a whole load of ####

  11. Very interesting interview.
    Of course talking to children/teenagers is important. Otherwise they too will look for information elsewhere, mainly from the Internet and their peers. Not always the best and most reassuring source of information.

  12. This will definitely be linked up in the coming days. Its high time for the frum community to start having some sort of sex education for those about to marry.
    I find it hard to believe that there are women who don’t know that sex can be pleasuarble for themselves as well.

  13. I think that we should look to Torah on this matter. The Ramban writes in detail on the sexual duties of husband and wife to each other in the Iggeres Ha Kedusha. He writes that a husband should bring his wife to orgasm before himself, for this brings the Shechina into their lives, and of course, Torah overall encourages a healthy and joyful sex life, with romance, passion, love, care and the wife’s pleasure the top concern. It saddens me that (based on the trend identified here: http://archive.salon.com/sex/feature/2000/07/06/hasidic/print.html) a frum yid could not make his wife come until seven years of marriage! I personally don’t see how a man getting his quick shtup without his wife feeling the pleasure of orgasm can call himslef a good husband, good lover, or if the Ramban’s words are even half-correct, a good Jew. As someone who regularly engages in the activity that practically guarantees female orgasm everytime I am with my kallah, I feel that any man who has not done this is truly missing out, and in the case of those yidden who find it taboo, we can even say that they may be apikorsim for not following the eitzah of the Ramban, one of our greatest sages. And, in a nod to “Torah im Derech Eretz,” I suggest that men read Ian Kerner’s “She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman,” which gives brilliant information on techniques and strategies that will make any sex life fabulous. May we all be zoiche like Moshe in that article.

  14. mother in israel says:

    Random, Talli suggests the following;
    The Joy of Sex (Alex Comfort)
    Seven Weeks to Better Sex (Domeena Renshaw)
    Books by Ian Kerner

  15. woman who disagrees says:

    I think this interview highly misrepresents what happens in the frum world, at least where I live (a chareidi community in Israel). Granted, there are definitely exceptions, and surely there are going to be problems. However, as someone who has many bones to pick with my community, THIS is one area is one which I think they really have it right and I have come to highly appreciate their outlook on intimacy in marriage, and I think all communities could learn something from…
    1) Yes, it is true that areas of physical intimacy are not regularly talked about in an open forum, but if anyone has questions as teenagers, and at any point in time, assuming they have a close relationship with their parents, they know they can ask them, and many, many do. Parents are encourages to be open with their children when asked, although believe there is no reason to lecture about this if there is no need. I have spoken to plenty of “charedi” women who have told me of the conversations they had with teenage daughters and sons, where they answered all questions honestly, and with the proper Jewish outlook of physical intimacy- which is supposed to be beautiful, special, bring the couple closer, and, definitely enjoyable.
    2) IT IS NOT TRUE that by not talking about intimacy in a public fashion that the kids have a harder time once they are married. This has been told to me by many Kallah teachers. They have actually told me that the women who have been more exposed to the media have more hang-ups about their bodies, and have a longer and harder time letting go and receiving pleasure. It takes getting used to no matter how much you’ve seen on TV (and in MANY cases, actually makes it harder for the women because they are trying to live up to misrepresented nonsense on TV). The way I’ve seen charedim go into marriage is absolutely beautiful. They are pure and unaffected by the garbage of society, whose views of intimacy are either from a Christian view of “it’s dirty/ inherently evil”, or a “Sexual Revolution”, where it’s all about YOU- and therefore? anything, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, anyone, etc. Neither are Jewish views. These charedi couples only look forward and are excited about being together, and cant wait to experience this closeness and pleasure. They are untainted and have such a refreshing outlook on intimacy because it’s taught the Torah way, not the garbage media way.
    3) IT IS ABSOLURLY NOT TRUE THAT KALLAH/CHOSSON TEACHERS DO NOT GO INTO DETAILS!!! My Kallah teacher not only gave me *highly* detailed descriptions and advice, but she calls all her kallahs a few weeks after the wedding to discuss more in depth, now that they have an idea of what its about. She gives ideas, tips, and encourages alot of questions. She is always available and encourages questions the whole first year, and longer if necessary. In addition, my husband’s chosson teacher spoke intensively to my husband about what women want and need, how th

  16. woman who disagrees-cont. says:

    they need to feel loved beforehand, and intricate and intimate details on what to do. There are also public Shovivim classes for men, which my husband has also attended, where, in addition to discussing Halacha, he talks about what women need intimately, and how to make it better.
    All this in the “charedi” world. In my community, although not perfect by any means, this area of intimacy is so much healthier, happier and more pleasurable because it’s done in such a private way, and there are no billboards and movies and GARBAGE bombarding us. We have little contact with the opposite gender, and all this only makes for a better intimate relationship. We are completely for one another, and physical intimacy is a central and exciting force in our marriages.
    After I tried to eliminate all the misrepresented ideas which I’ve seen/heard from the media, I can honestly say that after 6 years of marriage (and 3 children), I couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling and loving intimate relationship- it constantly gets better and better for both of us- and a more meaningful way to view this area of marriage. And although I don?t “compare notes” with my friends so I have not heard it directly from them, I’ve spoken to enough Kallah teachers to know that my husband and I are not the only ones who feel this way.

  17. mother in israel says:

    Woman who disagrees–I appreciate your sharing your perspective.

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