Below is my summary in English.
Open Letter to Young Girls and Women on Positive Sexuality, or How to Feel Good about Ourselves and Our Bodies. Things We Did Not Learn at Ulpana.
Written in Hebrew by Tiferet Shaham. English summary by Hannah Katsman of A Mother in Israel
- You can be comfortable with your sexuality without being sexually active. People are interested in sex at different ages and to different degrees, and all that is normal.
- Feeling guilty about sexual feelings and sexuality can be harmful and counter-productive. Find someone you feel comfortable speaking with on these topics.
- If you do go “too far” (whatever that is) it doesn’t mean that you aren’t religious anymore and should drop Sabbath observance. You can say, “I did something that I don’t feel comfortable with, and I won’t do it again.” Don’t let others judge your religious observance.
- Your body is yours. If you find yourself in a new situation where you will meet members of the opposite sex, you need to decide on your boundaries. You may have different boundaries for different settings, and it’s okay to change your approach if it’s not working for you.
- “Sometimes a girl who observes negiah [does not touch members of the opposite sex] will put herself in a situation where she does not have full control (like getting drunk) so she won’t feel guilty afterward. Instead, think about what you want or don’t want, out of awareness and responsibility, and there won’t be room for guilt.”
- You are in control of your body. Women in all sectors of society can be naive. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. You have the right to say no, even to your partner. If you are raped or molested, report it. There are hotlines and websites for this purpose.
- You are a person, not an object. You do not exist to satisfy the needs of others. Be aware of the needs of others, and have them be aware of your own needs.
And what if I do have sex?
- Be prepared. Know what to expect. It’s more than just penetration. Think about what you want: physically, emotionally and halachically (according to Jewish law).
- Think about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It’s true that a condom is problematic in Jewish law, but if you have gotten to this point at least you will be protected.
- Sex is an important step. You should know what to expect and discuss it in advance with your partner, including pregnancy, STD’s, and the fact that it should not hurt. Come from a place of maturity and mutual agreement.
- Let’s say you had sex and don’t want to do so again. You don’t have to explain your reasons. Always listen to your gut feelings.
- Halachically, your status has not changed. Having sex does not mean you must get married to your partner.
One day the teacher brought a tomato to class to explain the point of waiting for marriage. She said that a tomato in the market has been poked and prodded and squeezed so many times, it has lost its smooth texture and juiciness. She explained that no one wants to eat that tomato.
Girls, you are not tomatoes! You are not waiting for someone to choose you or buy you. “Losing your virginity” has no significance except that you may feel closer to your partner, and if you both know what you are doing, you will feel physically and spiritually good.
There are many very good reasons for keeping negiah. But the claim that you are worthless if you have touched a man before your wedding is BS.
Dressing under the blanket
Did you ever learn that halacha (Jewish law)? [HK: I never heard of it.] I don’t want to denigrate Jewish law, but I have met too many girls who are disgusted by their bodies, by their menstrual cycles, or who have no idea what to do with a tampon.
We are all created in the image of God. Our bodies are amazing, special and perfect. Maybe there is value in dressing under the blanket. I know that there is also value in locking the door and posing alone in front of the mirror, dancing in underwear to good music and saying, “Wow, I’m terrific.”
Comments may be sent to the author, Tiferet Shaham, at email@example.com
I asked my 19-year-old daughter for her response to Tiferet’s comments. She said that while her teachers never compared girls to tomatoes, the system did not prepare her for working in a secular environment with members of both sexes. Neither the school, nor the many workshops before and during national service, discussed how to deal with co-workers who offer non-kosher food or men who greet you with a hug. Her unit have a good program on sexual harassment that dealt mainly with dating.
In general she says, “They acted like we were going to be staying in the same bubble we have been in all our lives. Actually, they act as if they hope we will be so traumatized by life outside the bubble, we will run back inside.”
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