Thursday, August 7, 2008

Holiness, purity, and satisfying intimacy

A couple of weeks ago, I called a non-religious friend of mine to announce the news of my pregnancy. After chatting for a couple of minutes, she asked me whether my husband and I still take the time to... be together as husband and wife now that we have, umm, "done our purpose". There, it was almost too embarrassing to put in words, but I said it because I feel it's important and should be brought up.

Many secular people tend to think that religious couples - especially wives - view intimacy in marriage as something dull, utilitarian, and tolerated for the sole purpose of making babies. Once you have the "result" of pregnancy, why waste time and energy on this "pointless activity"? We, the religious ones, are thought to miss out on all the fun and excitement.

To be frank, I find it very difficult to understand how a series of random flings can be more satisfying in terms of intimacy than a loving, stable, committed marriage in which you and your husband appreciate each other, truly care about each other, and accept each other completely in heart, body and soul. In marriage, I don't have to compete with an endless number of other women, many of whom will be younger, prettier, and more stylish. In marriage, I can blossom in the encouraging atmosphere of trust, respect and true love. In marriage, I can finally find myself and be myself, knowing I'm loved and accepted as I am.

The truth, despite the message of our materialistic culture, is that physical intimacy cannot be separated from our emotional well-being. The liberation that comes with being married to a loving husband will inevitably lead to better chances of satisfying intimate relations than one would have in an uncommitted relationship, where the woman constantly has to worry whether he will call her tomorrow or toss her aside because he found someone better and fresher.

We are children of a loving God who told us to "become one flesh" and "rejoice in the wife of thy youth". Note that it is said "rejoice", meaning that while physical intimacy is certainly a duty of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband, it's also supposed to be one of the greatest gifts God gives us in a marriage blessed by Him.

There's a false assumption religious people view sexuality as something shameful and dirty. Not so - how can it be, if we are supposed to "become one flesh"? On the contrary, physical intimacy is so cherished and precious that it cannot possibly be given away to anyone but your spouse.

Of course, after years of suppressing our desires - since teenage marriages are not the norm these days - initial intimacy requires some preparation. I don't know about others, but Orthodox Jews take one-on-one lessons prior to marriage, usually men with a rabbi and women with a rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) or other older married woman who is competent enough and has enough experience to teach. During these lessons, which are usually held in the form of a conversation, we discuss family purity, as well as physical aspects of intimacy in marriage.

There's also this image of a frumpy exhausted woman who is busy running after a bunch of children all day long and doesn't even have time to comb her hair in the morning. Since I'm not a mother yet, obviously I have no experience to share, but I do realize children take a toll on our time, especially when you have a few - children require feeding, changing, bathing, educating, and of course, playing and spending time together. Having children also normally adds to the amount of housework, and I can readily imagine it limits possibilities for spontaneous romance. However children are supposed to be a source of joy and love in marriage, not otherwise. I'm sure my husband and I will have to somewhat rearrange our schedule once we have a little one in our arms. Still, hopefully our life together as a couple will be kept on top of our priority list.

We have an opportunity to show the world that holy and pure does not mean dull and boring. Of course, as religious people obviously we won't discuss intimacy in public with the excessive degree of openness it's normally done these days, but a sparkle in your eyes when you look at your husband will say more than words!


Wenonah4th said...

Now I just hope enough people read this and understand, who don't already realize that marital purity does not equal dull!

Sammybunny said...

How wise and true your words are, Anna!

CappuccinoLife said...

We are so totally on the same wavelength I often feel reading your blog as if I'm reading my own thoughts!

What I find interesting is that while secular people think *we* are dull and only focused on producing babies, I hear and read constantly about how *they* are having troubles in their, uh, intimate life. Trying to stay discreet here. ;) Every single women's magazine I have ever flipped through has at least one article touching on this problem. It's all over the web. I hear it countless times when I listen to Dr. Laura's callers to her show.

Plenty of a-religious women "use" men to get the babies they want and then turn thier fun-loving side completely off. Expecting husbands/shack-up-boyfriends to live celibate lives because "I'm hormones are off...he doesn't do enough for me..." And heaven help the man who *asks* for a little intimate attention from the woman he loves!

Sure, I've got the whacky hormones and I'm tired at the end of the day, but fun is good for our marriage and for us. :D Why cut off my nose to spite my face?

Hazel said...

Dear Anna

I'm new to your blog and wanted to say hello. I'm not religious, live in Denmark and lead a very different life from yours (the only thing we have in common, I think, is our age). But I really appreciate your thoughts and contemplations and think that your view of life and the world isn't just useful for those who are religious. In todays world it doesn't seem that love is a top priority (or perhaps as a very simplified, narrow version of romantic love it is...) and I think it is refreshing to come across somebody who makes it a top priority :-) So thank you for the daily reminder.

Best wishes,

Z said...

Dear Anna,

I totally agree with you! I have been married for 12 years, and I got married when I was 18. A lot of people I know around here (midwest USA) think that's weird. But, I think we love each other more now than when we were first married!

Marriage does not have to be dull and boring. Marriage can be exciting and wonderful! In my humble opinion, I think one problem is a lot of people nowadays expend all their energy on the journey towards marriage and the "big day", and then they quit trying. I guess they figure, ok, I caught my fish, I'm done. Mission complete. I'm sorry to tell these people that's not true. Marriage takes work, an active effort on the part of both spouses. And it is SO worth it!

Best wishes to you and your family, your blog is a joy to read!


Anonymous said...

Shabbat shalom, Anna! May you and Mr. T (haha, that is the name of a celebrity here in the States) have a blessed day of rest from the cares of the world.

As much as I often find cause to disagree with you or at least offer a different perspective, on this issue we are perfectly in alignment. If God created the body and intimate relations, why on earth would these relations then be “dirty” or unholy? When the Lord created the Heavens and the Earth, He declared it “good,” but when He created the first marriage (Adam and Eve) and told them to multiply, He called it “very good.” We should be careful not to call something unholy that the Lord has called “very good.”

God could have chosen any act He so desired for procreation. If the Lord had so willed it, we might conceive by licking one another’s armpits…but instead He has chosen this glorious, wonderful union of a man and a woman in marital intimacy to bring about children. If the Lord did not intend for us to take pleasure in the act that results in having children, I doubt He would have made it a pleasurable act. If the Lord loves marriages and the Lord loves children, why would He not also love the act that seals the former and creates the latter?

No, the world lies about sex. The world tells us that sexual intimacy is not intimacy at all – that it is just bodies rubbing together with no emotional consequences whatsoever. That is not God’s design for sexual intimacy, though. From the very beginning, His design has been that the two will become one flesh, that sex will be an act that encompasses not only the body but also the heart and the soul. Sex is beautiful, wonderful, an unbelievable blessing if we enjoy it in the proper context (the marriage bed).

Can sex be evil? Of course it can, if it is misused. Then again, that is the truth with anything, is it not? Food is also a blessing, but if misused, it can have very negative effects (obesity, heart disease, increased cancer risk, and so on).

But in the context of a husband and wife enjoying marital intimacy the way God designed it? No, my friend, that cannot be evil, dirty, sinful, or anything else negative. Let us not call evil that which the Lord has called “very good.” His thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts, are they not?

Thank you for this post. There are many, even and perhaps especially in the religious community, who will benefit from hearing it.

Melian said...

I, too, find it surprising that so many people don't seem to appreciate the freedom and beauty that comes with intimacy between a husband and wife. I can't imagine being so casual about something that could, instead, be so precious and unifying. I appreciate your careful discretion in this post, and I agree that it is a subject that should be broached. Perhaps it is partly our discretion, brought about by an acknowledgement of the unique and special nature of union between a husband and wife, that mistakenly leads people to negative assumptions. Too bad that they can't understand why someone might guard a dear treasure so closely.

Andrea said...

Anna, insightful as usual!

I do actually understand where your friend might get that impression; an unfortunate side effect of some enthusiastic but poorly thought-out "purity campaigns" aimed at young people, either by youth groups, parents or other trusted adults, is that rather than communicate a message of the body being precious, worthy of resepect and therefore worth treasuring and saving for one special person, they instead communicate (most often without evenin meaning to) the idea that the body is somehow dirty, shameful, and better kept to oneself. They spend too much time telling teens "you mustn't you mustn't you mustn't" and neglect to assure them that that some day, one day, they can, should, will, and what's more, when that day comes, it's actually fine for them to learn to enjoy it!

Rather than presenting sex as something that is not only natural but also precious, holy and so intimate that it should be reserved only for that person to whom you pledge the remainder of your life, it seems like a lot of camps instead communicate an impression of "dirtiness" associated not only with sex, but also with human body in general, which can lead to some serious intimacy problems within a marriage.

You can see some aspects of this type of shame surface when people are more than a little uncomfortable, even in a private and safe setting, to discuss ordinary body functions like childbirth and intestinal disorders in plain language- whether or not they know it they have often internalized messages that there is something embarrassing about these very natural and ordinary things. I've read several studies where pastors, rabbis and religious therapists have had to work very gently and respectfully when counselling young couples in order to help them repair decades of damage and negative body image perpetuated by these misguided (though surely well-intentioned) "purity campaigns."

So while I can (sadly) very easily see where your friend might have received such an idea, I agree wholeheartedly with your own assessment. This was a most welcome read!

Much love,


Bethany Hudson said...

Oh, Anna! This is such an important topic, and you discussed it so eloquently. We have been asked similar questions (it's amazing what people think it is appropriate to ask, isn't it?!) since we gave birth to our daughter a year ago. Thankfully, both my husband and I have a Godly view of marriage and intimacy within marriage. Have a child and gaining the responsibility of raising her didn't change a thing in our marriage--except that it gave us something new and exciting to do together, raising our daughter for the Lord. I am joyful to say that my husband still rejoices in this wife of his youth! (I guess we're still youths, though, seeing I we're both 24).

Neuropoet said...

I know many people that I would love to have read this post, Anna, and the comments so far have also been wonderful! I don't really have anything else to add - everything has been so well said - but I just wanted to let you know that I'm glad you thought to broach this subject. It's an important one...


Mrs.KAOS said...

This post is written tastefully and beautifully. It is also very truthful. I think the stigma of religious people and intimacy stems from early Catholic views. I was raise Catholic and studied some of the early writers and some do not think highly of women or the 'distractions' they produce. Many even object to the state of marriage.

ROSIE said...


Thank you for addressing such an important topic so tactfully!

My husband and I, long married, are more in love than we have ever been. The deepening emotional intimacy over the years has definitely enriched our physical intimacy, which in turn revitalizes our marriage and still gives us those wonderful feelings we had when we first began to love one another.

As I tell my teenage daughters, "Love isn't a feeling; it's a commitment. It isn't an adjective; it's a verb. It isn't something beyond our control that happens to us; it's a choice. It isn't an instant gratification; it is an investment. Yes, it is at times hard work...but it is also incredible joy!! Most importantly, the love between a husband and wife is holy."

It is hard, when there are little ones, to sometimes find energy (or waking hours!) for quality time as a couple. My husband and I always made that a priority, though. Children need the security of seeing a healthy marriage between their parents. What more powerful way to teach them about the beautiful holiness of marriage than to live it?



Sheri said...

Anna, I agree that this is a much needed topic in today's world... oh how beautiful, pure, and intoxicating sexual intimacy is in marriage. Like you said, "We have an opportunity to show the world that holy and pure does not mean dull and boring." Amen!

Anonymous said...

Having experienced this act in and out of marriage I have to admit I found it less satisfying before. I thought that was how it was supposed to be breif pleasure with the emptiness that comes from all such things.

With my husband it was completely different the love fill us completely and it is pure joy. What more is we have become comfortable to share with each other without worrying we might "do something wrong" and scare then person off. Pure joy free from insecurity and doubt...that is a blessing.

Rose said...

Dear Anna, your wisdom and dignity astound me regularly.
On a separate issue, you may wish to stop by Rhonda's blog if you have not already done so today. I mention this because I know your Shabbat commitments will start in a few hours.
Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

Anna, such an important subject you chose to address. It's sad that we have taken something of great wonder & turned it into a joke. I always appreciate the way you approach topics that are more sensitive....very well done.


Tammy said...

I agree whole-heartedly! Who wants to be intimate with someone who has already been with who-knows-how-many others? The very thought is repulsive to me.

There is so much joy and freedom within the bonds of a pure marriage, it is worth the wait! I have never regretted not "getting more experience" before making my choice. My sweet husband is the only man I've ever known intimately. I want the same joy for my daughters when they marry, and for my sons as well.

Anonymous said...

All I can say to this is "AMEN"!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna: I have been reading your blog for a few months now and I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said on just about every subject, Your maturity, tact and tastefulness to make a point even on the most thorny issues is outstanding. Keep up the good work
!!! I could not have said it any better and sign me: Catholic mom of 11 (eleven, not a missprint).

Neuropoet said...

I just wanted to point out that the "dirty body" idea did not come from Catholic teaching. The Catholic Church has always taught that the body is "clean" because Jesus had a real body and if it was somehow "unclean" he couldn't have been the redeeming sacrifice for us. There's an entire Theology of the Body that explains the holiness of the marital embrace and how God created man "good" like Anna talks about in this post. I know it can be confusing, but the Catholic Church doesn't necessarily teach everything any specific Catholic theologian says it does - it teaches only what is in the Catechism, only what was handed down from the Apostles - theologians are allowed to say whatever they want to say, but they can't change Church teaching - even the Pope can't do that. (He can change the disciplines, or the way we live our Church teaching, but he can't change the teaching of the Apostles itself, he simply doesn't have that power - his whole job is to protect what the Apostles taught.) I'm not sure where this idea of "things pertaining to the body are bad" actually came from, but it wasn't from official Catholic teaching. :)

Peace be with you,

Andrea said...

"Who wants to be intimate with someone who has already been with who-knows-how-many others? The very thought is repulsive to me."

Ouch! I do believe I understand what you are trying to say, and there is certainly truth there, but I think we need to be careful to balance good, high standards with a little grace. I have personally saved myself for marriage, but I don't pretend to believe that every person who now leads a chaste lifestyle has always done so; sometimes people make a few very big mistakes before they find their way.

While I love and treasure the idea of finding a man who HAS saved himself for marriage, I certainly won't hold it against my future husband if he happens to come from a past where he was less than perfectly chaste, provided that he has since repented of his old ways and made a commitment to hereafter save himself for the one woman God has in store for him. After all, if our situations were reversed and I had made mistakes before coming to him, I would certainly want him to show the same grace and love to me :)

Mrs. Anna T said...

I'm with Andrea here. Many of us have made mistakes and repented, and it would be devastating to be denied a second chance because of our past.

Mrs. Wayne Hunter said...

Hi, Mrs. Anna T.!

I found your blog a few days ago and LOVE it!

There are so many blessings of our Father's law and wisdom found in His Word that, if lived, would make many issues of marriage and family that women face nowadays non-issues.

One example is that which you pointed out - the haggard housewife with unkept hair chasing after children. This simply doesn't have to be - before a woman gets married, she should plan for having help with her household and children. A wife and mother can keep her fun side, keep her looks, keep up with her housework, and raise several wonderful children by having some extra pairs of hands around to help her out. Here in the United States families, even ones that weren't very rich, had house help up until several decades ago.

These things should be thought of and discussed with our sons and daughters long before marriage so that each can prepare to set up a strong, sturdy home.

Also, here in the U.S. it seems that among homemakers there's this proud "have it all" mentality - that a "real" woman of God will homebirth, homeschool, cook from scratch, be her family's nurse/doctor, seamstress, etc. Well, yes, the Proverbs 31 woman did do these things, but she had house help. Most any woman who tries to do everything without help is going to be handicapped and burn-out.

Anyway... thank you for this super blog!

Mrs. Wayne Hunter

Coffee Catholic said...

THE #1 hardest thing that I've had to deal with in pregnancy is... the lack of lovemaking. Due to sevral normal pregnancy "problems" husband and I have had to practically take a vow of celebacy! And yet we have just as much passion for one another as we did before I became pregnant. We can't even LOOK at each other when we change! We are like a couple of giggling fools ~ "Sorry, can't look or I'll go crazy!" Ooooh it's torture! Yeah, we "religious ladies" certainly do not view intimacy as something that is only for making a baby and then, "Don't even think about it, Mister!" LOL!!!!! No way!!

Six months without intimacy... Huh!! Give me morning sickness, give me hormonal emotional flare ups and crazy house-cleaning spells... fine, I can deal with that! But 9 months of celebacy?? ARRRRRRG!!!

Anonymous said...

I've got to agree with Mrs. Wayne here. Household help is often a life-saver. I know not everyone can afford it, especially not those who stay at home. But I've also sensed a disturbing mentality among some young stay at home moms in the US - the more they sacrifice, the more they do, the prouder they are. Hiring a cleaning lady to help out is admitting failure, something to be ashamed about. As if a woman isn't worth much if she isn't doing every single thing in her home with her own two hands, from schooling her kids to making jam. Yes, many women did it all a few generations ago...but many of them had help. And those who did not sure wished they did...and sometimes, if they took too much upon themselves, became haggard before their time.

I would advise any stay at home mother to hire help if she can afford it and if she needs it. And if she can't afford help, she shouldn't feel she needs to conquer every aspect of homesteading. Easy go easy does it.

Luckily this attitude of 'I must do it all from scratch just like in the olden days - or be a failure' isn't as prevalent in Israel.


Elizabeth Bussey said...

I enjoyed reading this beautiful post. I'm so glad I found your site today. Your country is amazing! Please stop by and visit sometime.

Buffy said...

Another good post, Anna. I loved this quote:

"We have an opportunity to show the world that holy and pure does not mean dull and boring."

I think the equation of sexual intimacy and impurity has stemmed from misguided religous teaching over hundreds of years. Somone who commented earlier mentioned the negative views that were held about women as a "distraction", and there are plenty of examples of this. I do wonder how much of this was due to the enforced celibacy of priests. I'm not sure where the idea that religious teachers should be celibate came from as I don't think it's anywhere in the Bible. (I am using celibacy in the original sense of "unmarried".)