Wednesday, November 28, 2007

You're Sexy: Now Own It!

I find it frustrating that so many people I know are uncomfortable with their own sexuality. This to the point where they cannot say the word; they must supplement with milder terms such as "beauty" or at the very worst "desirable."

This idea was brought home to me once again as I sat in English class this morning. We were learning John Donne, a melancholic religious poet who enjoys using charged euphemisms for sexual ideas throughout his work. One of the girls was clearly uncomfortable with this and said to the teacher in an accusatory voice, "Well, it's clear he has no shame." The teacher was perplexed by this. "Do you mean he ought to?" he asked, surprised. The student found the very mention of sexuality to be somehow problematic, even though this was one of Donne's less melodramatic poems; in fact, one of his sweeter ones, "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning."

Why is this idea so prevalent? Why this instinctive shrinking when sexuality is mentioned; why is it forbidden for the Jewish girl to admit that she too may be beautiful, that sexuality and eroticism are a part of life, and that both of these aspects to life, when sanctified within the bond of marriage, are utterly wondrous? I have had discussions with many people, some of whom have ashamedly admitted to their thoughts about those of the opposite sex or worse, in their eyes, the fact that they fantasize about their future partners. It is worrisome that they feel so guilty and ashamed of thinking in this manner. What would be the better approach? To claim that human beings are not highly sexual creatures, to somehow never think about the physical part of a relationship until the very moment that one finds oneself married? That is unnatural!

It all stems from this obsession with the idea of tzniut. I find it strange that tzniut must now extend to one's entire personality and demeanor. If there are halakhot of tzniut, then yes, one must keep to them. But since when does God mandate that one overthrow one's entire personality, one's entire way of acting, all that makes you you, in favor of this quiet, demure, meek, assumed character? If one happens to be of a milder temperament, that is one thing. But to return from seminary having been taught that one actually has to change one's personality in order to be accepted by God- what is this? Do you honestly think that God requires you to present a false front in order to keep his mitzvot? Do you truly believe that God desires you to quench your natural fire or curiosity in favor of this retiring Fanny Price?

Where did you get this from? Have you looked at our women in Tanakh? I honestly think that these women haven't read Tanakh! Every single one of our Patriarchs were married to absolutely gorgeous women. Tell me, if physicality doesn't matter, if one's physical attributes and beauty is irrelevant, then what need had they to be married to the most striking women of their generation, women desired by kings? Or go back to the very beginning, to our own Eve! Eve persuades Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit, according to the midrash, having told him what it truly was! And how did she do this? Through her own power, her own ability, her own beauty and sadness and playacting.

Do you see the women in Tanakh? All of them are strong, charismatic personalities! Consider Tamar, who dons a harlot's disguise in order to entice Judah, then brazenly presents him with the tokens that he gave her when he thinks that he will burn her. Consider Jael, who sleeps with Sisra in order to kill him and thereby save the Jewish people. Consider the wiles and wisdom of women of Tanakh, whether it be the Wise Woman of Tekoah or the peerless Queen of Sheba! Consider Tzipporah, performing milah upon her son while her husband is being swallowed alive by a threatening snake. Consider Delilah, following Eve's footsteps in ruling her husband. Consider On's wife, who saved him by letting down her long tresses and combing them before the tent!

Who were all these women? Strong women! Strong women with strong personalities and most importantly, women who not only admitted for their sexuality but used it as a weapon. Eve, Tamar, Jael, On's wife and so many others- this is the way in which they achieved their ends! Consider the wives of the Jews in Egypt, who donned beautiful garments and used cosmetics in order to beautify themselves for their husbands, then seducing them in order to ensure the continuation of the Jewish nation. Consider Esther, or outside of the canon, Judith! All of these women were sexual beings who used what was theirs in order to achieve their ends. And certainly there are women in Tanakh who use their beauty for evil ends- consider Zelicha, Potiphar's wife- but there are also those who accomplish so much good because of it! Like everything else that God has given us, this too must be channeled in the appropriate way in order to accomplish good.

Every single character trait, personality trait or ability we have can be channeled toward a positive or negative goal. But one cannot deny one's very nature! One cannot simply pretend that one isn't a human being, that one's wants and desires do not exist, cannot completely block off or destroy an entire part of their makeup. And why would you want to? Why should girls be taught that their innate sexuality is somehow ugly or distorted; why would we introduce Christianity into Judaism? Sexuality does not mean acting in a manner which is promiscuous or forward; it is simply an attribute of a woman and one that she ought to have. A woman is a woman and she does not belong dressed in a burlap sack!

So why this fear? Why this discomfort with the idea that you as a woman are meant to be a beautiful, physically attractive person who has the power of your own sexuality? Why the desire to alienate this completely, to pretend this does not exist, to somehow see this as something flawed or wrong or off limits? If it's yours, then own it. You don't have to be dressed in a provocative manner or act uncharacteristically in order to own your sexuality. You simply have to accept that it exists, that you have this innate quality and it is yours. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and part of that comfort lies in accepting all parts of you, including your own sexuality.

If you're not comfortable in your own skin, it suggests that you are somehow under the impression that something that has to do with you is wrong, dirty, shameful or otherwise problematic- and why would you want to think that about yourself?! That's a harmful and terrible way to think about yourself! How can you be you if you want to utterly cut out a part of yourself, a part of yourself which was given to you as a tool, which the strong women of Tanakh have used as a tool countless times in order to advance the Jewish nation?

You're sexy, you're beautiful, you're Jewish: now own it!

80 comments:

Ezzie said...

I'm not going to disagree with the overall thrust of the post, but the supports are rather weak.

1) Where do you see tzniut is only about halacha and dress?

2) Eve uses her sexuality to get Adam to... sin.

3) Tamar gets Yehudah to do something he thinks is a sin, and it's only 'accepted' because she was considered desperate. And even then, it's questioned.

4) Didn't Delilah end up costing Shimshon?

5) On's wife did something that was viewed as BAD in order to scare people away. That's the whole point: Something that people normally *shouldn't* be doing.

6) Yael is considered as taking advantage of Sisra's improper, base desires in a wise fashion. Again, not something one should normally be doing.

Essentially, most of the examples you give can be used to support the side you're arguing against more than your own. There *is* a concept of tzniut in life, as far as I know, and it's not limited to women, either. What exactly it means? (Shrug.)

G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G said...

The Who, What, the Where, When, the Why and the How of this point would seem to stem from the same places as many other issues in today's religious shift:

--the lack of faith the rabbinate in general has in the community at large.

--the lack of guts/brains of anybody in a position of influence to step out onto a knowingly slippery slope.

--the ease or lack of danger in being machmir as opposed to being meikel.

eem said...

This is totally beside the point, but-what's your source for the name of potiphar's wife? I've never met anyone who knows it, and I have met lots of people who were curious...I'd love to have an answer.

eem said...

Aside from that,
Who says that tzniut in terms of behavior and personality mean a denial of sexuality? I don't see the contradiction at all. Denying an aspect of oneself is self-defeating and wrong, but knowing when and how to use each aspect of personality is part of wisdom. We don't act on everything that we are all the time.
When girls decide that tzniut means a denial of sexuality, I think that it's a confusion that makes sense (if that makes sense:), but a lot of that can get resolved with marriage when a woman gets more of an understanding of what sexuality is. The shame is when girls get the wrong information and the confusion never gets resolved-but the confusion itself isn't the problem. We don't have to simplify things in order to deal with them, we just have to be open to growth, even if it takes thought and effort.

Chana said...

Ezzie,

The point was the following:

"Like everything else that God has given us, this too must be channeled in the appropriate way in order to accomplish good."

I'm quite aware of all your objections. It's all good.

g,

You're already treating this as though it's halakha- adding in machmir and meikel. It's not halakha to acknowledge that a woman (or a man, for that matter) is a sexual being. What one does with that might be contained by halakhot of tzniut, but the healthy acknowledgement (and not complete alienation from oneself) must still be there!

eem,

It's in Bereishis Rabbah.

I disagree with you that the confusion itself isn't the problem; I think the fact that many people here try to fake their personalities due to what they were taught in seminary- and what they seem to have been taught about sexuality- is very disturbing.

G said...

"but a lot of that can get resolved with marriage when a woman gets more of an understanding of what sexuality is"

Yeah, that sounds healthy.

G said...

Okay, so for this point only the first two apply.

Jack's Shack said...

Tzniut is overdone. I find the idea that people cannot control themselves to be distasteful, disrespectful, demeaning, demoralizing and depressing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jack's shack.
Tzniut is terribly overdone in many girls'High Schools as well as seminaries(speaking from my experiences here).
It was hard to deal with feelings of shame once I was done with both.
God created us in His image...therefore we women need to learn to appreciate our bodies and accept sexuality for a precious gift it's meant to be.
Great post!

Y said...

eem, I believe the source is in 'Sefer HaYashar'.

Ezzie said...

"Like everything else that God has given us, this too must be channeled in the appropriate way in order to accomplish good."

Agreed. I just didn't like the proofs. Brevity, btw. :)

Anonymous said...

All right, I'm going to be foward. The issue of girl's not being comfortable/aware of their sexuality is not exclusive to frum girls. Girls in general- religious, nonreligious, have a far harder time dealing with their sexuality than guys. Part of it you could say is society, part of it is simple facts of life- a lot of girls don't become truly sexually aware until they become sexually active. Most girls (not all) dread the thought of their first sexual encounter, while guys usually don't.

And I must disagree about tznius being only a matter of dress- tznis is about more than superficial dress. Obviously you needn't change your entire personality and become a quiet little mouse, but you should certainly behave in a respectful and modest way in public. And this applies to both men and women.

Also, may I recommend the book, A Return to Modesty, by Wendy Shalit? I think you would be very interested in it.

MS said...

The root of this was that the use of sexual references in such a public forum (either for us or Donne himself) made her uncomfortable. This is hardly a reflection of her or anyone else's sexual self-perception. Perhaps she/we, being raised with tzniut built into our lives, are more sensitive to this than others, but I see nothing to criticize here. There may indeed be flaws in how we instinctively view our sexuality, but it was not related to this particular incident, nor is it connected with skating over more graphic terms in conversation.

In addition, SEXUALITY IS NOT A WEAPON, and its use as such is not something to be generally lauded. In certain situations, for certain women, perhaps-- clearly not, as for Chava or Delila, when sin resulted. The others, particularly Yael and Esther, are in my opinion more commendable for willingly submitting to rape because it was utterly necessary than anything else.

MS

Chana said...

MS,

"Perhaps she/we, being raised with tzniut built into our lives, are more sensitive to this than others..."

i.e. me? Quite possibly.

I find it interesting that you took this post to refer to you; I did not have you in mind while writing it. More importantly, this is based on far more than our one English class; that's simply the example I chose to use.

A slight but important correction:

"The others, particularly Yael and Esther, are in my opinion more commendable for willingly submitting to rape because it was utterly necessary than anything else."

Not rape. Far from it, actually; if she had been forced or if it had been rape, Esther would have been permitted to Mordechai, which she was not afterwards. Both were wholly consensual sexual experiences although indeed, for a higher purpose.

Daniel said...

I agree with the point you're trying to make here (sexuality is not inherently bad), but you're argument is all over the place.

Why is this idea so prevalent?

It really depends on what circles you move in...

It is worrisome that they feel so guilty and ashamed of thinking in this manner. What would be the better approach? To claim that human beings are not highly sexual creatures, to somehow never think about the physical part of a relationship until the very moment that one finds oneself married? That is unnatural!

I think a lot depends on context here i.e. what kind of thoughts, when and how frequently. It isn't healthy to repress one's sexuality totally, but it isn't healthy to go to the other extreme either. Just because something is natural, it doesn't mean it's moral or healthy.

I find it strange that tzniut must now extend to one's entire personality and demeanor.

I think you've got this completely upside-down. Tzniut primarily refers to one's general manner, and modest dress is merely a subset of that.

Quite simply, one should not flaunt one's attributes all the time, whether those attributes are physical, intellectual, spiritual or any other kind. For example, I know I happen to be quite intelligent and have a reasonable knowledge of many subjects. However, I also know that most of the time I should not flaunt that knowledge and intelligence, for a variety of reasons (it can belittle others, it can seem like showing off etc.). I know that I could get a certain amount of attention (positive or negative) by flaunting my intelligence, just as an attractive person (male or female) can get attention by flaunting his or her looks. It just happens to be a bad thing in many circumstances, so I don't, even though some people probably dismiss me as stupid, boring or unlearned as a result.

if physicality doesn't matter, if one's physical attributes and beauty is irrelevant, then what need had they to be married to the most striking women of their generation

How do we know that the matriarchs had to be beautiful? We are told that they were beautiful to explain the consequences of that (that people were attracted to them, fell in love with them etc.). We do not hear about the appearance of people if it is not directly relevant to the story. We do not know if Avraham was particularly handsome or ugly. Even Leah's beauty is debated among the midrashim.

All of them are strong, charismatic personalities!

I'm not going to repeat what Ezzie said, or what I've said in the past about the difference between women in Tanakh trying to have children (which involves having sex) and just trying to trick men. If sexuality is being used as a weapon, nine times out of ten that is wrong, just using one's intelligence or physical strength as a weapon is usually wrong. Actually, it's arguably worse with sexuality, which gains its holiness from its selflessness. True, there is a time for deceit and cunning, just as there is a time for war, but generally modesty, discussion and compromise are the aims.

There is also a real difference between 'having a strong personality' and 'flaunting one's sexuality'. I think you know that, but your argument is badly phrased (particularly the example of Tzipporah, which seems to have nothing to do with sexuality or personality).

I don't want to sound prudish, because I'm not, but I have had a far from sheltered life, and I've seen the negative consequences of unfettered sexuality. I've read the stories, and in some cases actually met, people who've come from broken homes, who've had abortions, who've had sexual abuse in their families, who've had - or tried to have - 'open' relationships. I know you are not advocating anything like that, but I know that the line between 'good' and 'bad' sexuality is really much finer than you might think, and I wouldn't be so off-hand about it.

jackie said...

I remember the last time you posted about your frustration with Jewish women being uncomfortable with sexuality. :-) I think I gave you a very hard time about it then....

Perhaps your classmates were uncomfortable because they view sexuality as something negative, and if they do, then you are correct in thinking that such is not a Jewish value, traditionally. However, I give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that they were not uncomfortable for that reason.

Perhaps the reason why these classmates were uncomfortable is because they are only comfortable with sexuality when it is in the context of kedusha. You yourself alluded to the idea that Judaism views sexiality as positive in the framework of marriage in your post. Perhaps to these students, the idea of presenting sexuality outside of the context of kedusha is makes it mundane, which is an insult to the subject matter. Judaism recognizes that it's a powerful thing, which can be channelled for great positive good but can also makes us more animalistic than anything else. Not all sexuality is beautiful--some of it is vulgar.

I think you should cut your classmates some slack.

And having hirhurim in one's mind is halachically frowned upon if not forbidden--your classmates didn't invent that one. I think Chazal say that you bring a korban olah for hirhurei halev.

MS said...

Oh, I didn't take it to refer to me :-) But I was sitting right next to her, and I understand how she feels. I find reading some of these pieces uncomfortable myself sometimes; it depends largely on where an individual places the line between acceptably public and absolutely private.

I know you feel this incident encapsulates many of our issues with sexuality. I do not deny that these difficulties exist, but as I said, I think this is an issue of privacy rather than comfort with sexuality in general.

Tangentially, I was using a looser definition of rape; obviously, Yael and Esther were not forced to submit to Sisra and Achashverosh. What I mean is that these were both evil men, whom, had circumstances not demanded, Yael and Esther would never have chosen to sleep with. Emotional rape, you could call it, perhaps.

MS

Anonymous said...

"Why is this idea so prevalent? Why this instinctive shrinking when sexuality is mentioned;"

Ive actually heard (dont know if its true) that the majority of stern girls have NEVER had sex by the time they hit 21 (other than girls who marry very young). If this is true, it could be the major source of the problem.

For one thing, its very weird. Most girls lose their virginity by the time they graduate highschool, or in freshman year of college. For a girl, other than socially unacceptable girls, to still be a virgin in their 20s would completely shock most people.

If girls are told to fight very basic impulses their entire lives, its no wonder they have such an attitude about sex.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, what an absurd post. (To anonymous 7:39)

Yes, the majority of Stern Girls do not believe in pre-mariatal sex, and are usually virgins into their 20s.

So this is weird? Yeah, you're right, I'd so much rather be normal like my other friends. Like one girl who lost her virginity at 14 in the back of a car with a guy she barely knew. Or one at 16, cause she knew if she didn't do it her boyfriend would dump her. Or my friend at 19, from a drunken one night stand.

Yup, those girls are so comfortable with their sexuality. Those are just a few examples, and every single one of them regrets loosing their virginity at that time, and none of them have remotely satisfying sex lives.

Most girls today dont' have a healthy attitude about sex. If god forbid they don't want to loose their virginity while still a teenager, they know they'll be labled "socially unacceptable," as you so aptly put it. so they give it up when they really dont' want to. You prove my point exactly, it's entirely because of social preasure that girls have sex, when most of the time (in my experience), they'd really rather wait.

Anonymous said...

To anon 7:49-

Thank you for that piece of social commentary. I get it- you don’t like the fact that virtually all girls lose their virginity by the time they hit 21. Be that as it may, this is the reality we live in. You can go on shaking your fist at the sky, lamenting the state of society, but that doesn’t change the fact that its completely normal behavior, and being a 21 year old virgin isn’t.

And of course you have personal anecdotes about friend who perhaps used poor judgment. Since billions of people have teenage sex, there are bound to be plenty of cautionary tales.

Anonymous said...

MS and Jackie,
the student in the English who stated:"Well, it's clear he has no shame."is passing judgement based on her possibly unresolved issues re sexuality.

Chana does have a point here.

Anonymous said...

Nearly all sexual encounters that take place while still a teenager involve poor judgement. Of those billions of teenagers having sex, I'd think that quite a lot of them are like the situations I described. Yes there are some who are comfortable with their partners, are sexually ready, and truly want to do it, but I don't think that's usually the case.

It's not that I don't like the fac that girls loose their virginity by 21. I don't like that a girl must loose her virginity by 21, lest they be considered, as you previously described them "weird."

MS said...

Anonymous 8:27,

Why? In her opinion as I understood it, Donne had no shame because he was exposing ideas that should have been kept private. We never dealt with whether sex in general was good or bad, only if it should have been presented as it was. A preference for sexual modesty, even in discussion, is a personal opinion. I would have to know the girl in question far better than I do to assume her feelings came from repression or unease in her own sexuality.

Anonymous 8:17,

Why on earth would anyone make a personal decision based on what general society holds normal? That is peer pressure at its finest and most dangerous.

That Frum Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
That Frum Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
That Frum Guy said...

Your posts are usually enjoyable and accurate but this one has exaggerations and misrepresentations of the truth in it. For example: You say that the Patriarchs were married to beautiful women which in most cases was true but then you make it sound as if this was a "need" they had. Like the reason the Patriarchs married the Matriarchs was because they were gorgeous. What's the chicken and what is the egg? Is there causation here or just correlation? Chazal say that the Matriarch's external beauty was a physical manifestation of their internal spiritual beauty. Beauty serves a purpose... but it serves that purpose in a context. As one of my Rabbis put it: Beauty is a 0. Together with something else like a 1 it makes someone into a 10. But without other qualities, it is just that... a zero. I do not believe that women should be squelching their sexuality. However, the way you write this post it sounds like you believe that women should be doing something about it. Whether that something is discussing it openly in classrooms or more, I do not know. Being aware of your sexuality is one thing. Knowing that it is there is fine. But once it becomes common conversation, a topic for a classroom, that is removing the kedusha from it. It is destroying the purpose for which it was created.

gavi said...

cf. shulchan aruch even ha'ezer 26 in the Taz: one of my favourite comments in all of shulchan aruch. In short, it is all a question of channeling energies into positive ends.

Anonymous said...

I find that most Jewish girls are sexually repulsive and they know it also, that is why they are ashamed. Sexy is a goyish thing. Show me one picture of a sexy Jew? It is hard to find.

Anonymous said...

In the days of the Temple, people got married in their teens. It is only in the last 50-80 years that people get married in their 20' and 30's people they are more concerned about attaining unnatural knowledge than doing what is natural.

Anonymous said...

Chana,

On a scale of 1 to 10, how sexy are you?

Anonymous said...

"Why on earth would anyone make a personal decision based on what general society holds normal? That is peer pressure at its finest and most dangerous."

Not really. This is what separates sane people from crazy people. You shouldn’t confuse doing things that are unpopular vs. doing things that society views as abnormal. The guy who puts on pants before he leaves his house every day because its social convention is normal. The person who walks around without pants because he rejects society's rules is insane.

While deviating from conventional wisdom doesnt make you automatically nuts, you may want to give it some thought. There is wisdom to conventional wisdom.

Ezzie said...

Argh, I knew I left some points out.

Jackie nailed one of the ones I missed: You yourself alluded to the idea that Judaism views sexiality as positive in the framework of marriage in your post. Perhaps to these students, the idea of presenting sexuality outside of the context of kedusha is makes it mundane, which is an insult to the subject matter. I presume that in the context of the class, it was not referring to it within marriage.

Also, about the Matriarchs - I don't see how their being beautiful mattered except that it often led to bad situations. Yes, they were beautiful - and therefore...? How does that show us anything about sexuality. They were also described as rather modest.

Ezzie said...

Anon - Explain the wisdom in most sexual encounters by teenagers.

Ezzie said...

Also, strongly agree with MS that sexuality is not a weapon. That we see people using it as such in Tanach is meaningless: Unless you're some Mossad agent who can take out an Ahmadinejad, I fail to see how a similar situation could possibly be coming up in your lifetime.

Rapunzel said...

You go Girl!

MS said...

Anonymous 11:27,

Conventional wisdom cannot tell me or anyone else what to do with my body, my mind or my soul. The decision, or agreement to put on pants will not effect my life; it is part of what society as a whole has agreed to so that said society can function.

The personal decision whether or not to remain a virgin past twenty (and allow me to be so crass as to say that I am nearing twenty-one and happily chaste) effects no one but myself. Ergo, the scruples of society are not a factor in this decision.

Chana- I agree that you should read A Return to Modesty if you have not already. Not in an instructional capacity, but it is interesting and Ms. Shalit is very entertaining once she gets going.

MS

Anonymous said...

Concerned adult, where is your voice and position on this topic? Why aren't you concerned?

Ben Ibn Avraham said...

My favorite reading of a Donne piece sees him as completely insincere, trying (rather successfully) to poetically sweet talk a naive nymphet.
It's called The Ecstacy (http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/ecstacy.php) and I haven't been able to read Donne the same way since.

Erachet said...

Okay, so like a lot of people here, I do agree with a lot of what you say. I agree that I don't think outgoing Jewish girls suddenly have to become meek and quiet in order to be modest. There is room for modesty and strength of personality.

Here is where I disagree:

1. I think modesty does have to do with personality. You can be outgoing and strong without flaunting yourself and your talents and beauty, etc. That doesn't mean you have to go out of your way to hide them, but it doesn't mean you should be a show off, either. Do you see what I mean? Both extremes are not good.

2. I am troubled by this: women who not only admitted for their sexuality but used it as a weapon.
I don't believe a woman should use her sexuality and beauty, and certainly not as a weapon! I don't believe in hiding beauty or sexuality at all, a beautiful woman should be allowed to be beautiful! But to use this beauty against others? Or to get ahead? To use it for a person's own ambitions? That's wrong. Sexuality is not a weapon and it should not be flaunted - which doesn't mean it should be hidden, either - it just means, again, I don't think it should be shown off.

So, to conclude, there is definitely a middle ground between hiding yourself a way and being a ba'alat ga'avah. Both extremes are undesirable and no one is demanding either extreme. Somewhere in the middle works, I think. Being beautiful, being glad of one's beauty, feeling beautiful - all good things! Using beauty as a weapon? Not so good.

eem said...

Every society has their own normal. So even if you want to say that it's "normal" to do what's normal, an orthodox jewish girl who loses her virginity before she gets married is veering from her own societal norms. So your point isn't relevant to these circumstances, either way.

Aside from that-healthy ideas work for healthy people. Teach a confident, stable, healthy girl (first you have to find one:) about tzniut, and it will strengthen her, because it's about being what you are in a real and wise way. Give these ideas to someone who is struggling with self-esteem or self-acceptance, and she'll interpret it through that lens. I think that teachers need to be more aware of this when they're addressing young women, but the main problem is that girls today, across the spectrum of society, are learning to reject their bodies and themselves.

And g-I don't think it's unhealthy for a girl not to have a full understanding of her own sexuality until she really gets to experience it, in the context of marriage or not. Women work that way-our sexuality is tied into our emotionality and our actual experience much more than it is for men. The confusion that I was talking about was the lack of resolution of the conflict that happens when a girl intellectually knows that there is a sexuality to her, and thinks about it-but doesn't really get it until she experiences it physically. Why is it unhealthy for that to happen in the context of a marriage? I think that it's actually part of the reason that you see young women seem suddenly have this contentment once they get married - they feel more whole, and it's happening in a stable, committed setting.

G said...

"Sexy is a goyish thing."

That depends on the definition, which is highly subjective.

"Show me one picture of a sexy Jew? It is hard to find."

This speaks volumes of your idea of what sexy means.

Anonymous said...

"Every society has their own normal. So even if you want to say that it's "normal" to do what's normal, an orthodox jewish girl who loses her virginity before she gets married is veering from her own societal norms. So your point isn't relevant to these circumstances, either way."

While this is true, chana was asking why girls who have been raised in a frum culture would have different attitudes about sex than general society. And the answer is just that. They were raised to view sex very differently than those in secular culture. Just look at how hyper defensive everyone here is getting about remaining a virgin in their 20s. Most people in their 20s would be embarrassed to admit it if they were virgins, on this board, however, people wear it as a badge of honor.

Whether or not one is better off remaining a virgin is probably subject to debate, but that doesnt change that fact that society views it as abnormal. By arguing this point youre just shooting the messenger. I didnt cause society to view older virgins as creepy and weird, its just the way it is. Yes, perhaps there is no wisdom whatsoever to having premarital sex, but it is still considered strange.

morpheus said...

poison me tonight
so that I lie drugged, immobile
scents of poppy on the air
alone with you, inside the dark
an intimate experience
in the depths of beyond

I want you, be my lover
come, I claim you
be mine

Anonymous said...

In jewish Orthodox schools and seminaries for girls,many teachers "beat" the girls into submission and force them to believe that their bodies MUST be covered from head to toe and the clothes need to be baggy in order to preserve their tzniut/sexuality for marriage. Do you have any idea what these wise "teachings " do to the young woman's self-esteem?
There must be moderation in everything. A woman can be aware of her sexuality,needs to be taught to love and except her body and not be ashamed of it.
I don't believe for one second that Chana suggests to flaunt one's sexuality(I take a good number of classes with her @ Stern).
All she is trying to say is that one needs to know deep down where one stands re sexuality and why, feel comfortable with a concept of a Jewish Orthodox woman who is in touch with her sensuality and nurture it/not view it as something undesirable.
THAT'S ALL.

MS said...

Just look at how hyper defensive everyone here is getting about remaining a virgin in their 20s. Most people in their 20s would be embarrassed to admit it if they were virgins, on this board, however, people wear it as a badge of honor.

Pardon us if we take offense at being insulted. If offering refutation when we are branded "weird" for (gasp!) standing up for our beliefs is "defensive," than I suppose we are. Just another badge to add to the collection.

And again, why on earth would we be ashamed of our virginity? Because others have made decisions we disagree with and wish to subject us to the consequences of their actions? We have examined that cool-aid and found it poison; therefore, we do not drink. As I have said, my beliefs and those of people I trust are the only factors here. The opinions of society simply do not matter.

MS

Jewish Atheist said...

Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love. ~ Butch Hancock

When one starts with a simple idea -- that sex belongs only in a marriage -- and tries to enforce it via social pressure, it's inevitable that people get the "wrong" idea. It's a lot easier to thwart our most powerful drives with the simple message that sex is wrong and bad and shameful than it is with a message that sex is wonderful and holy and beautiful, but must be done only in this way.

To put it another way, the message that sex is a wonderful thing in the context of marriage but not beforehand simply would not be sufficient to stop most teenagers from having it. Therefore we get all kinds of strategies aimed at that goal which are not necessarily founded on the essential idea that is being protected. We get bizarre and humiliating encounters where principals will force girls to kneel before them so that the length of their skirts can be verified. We get rulings against going to certain pizza places on certain evenings. Some Christians have other, equally bizarre takes on it, such as purity balls and purity pledges.

Basically one has to weigh staying truthful to the original message and success in preventing premarital sex. Now, personally, I think it's sad that more frum people don't have premarital sex, but I know that argument's not going to go too far around here. :-) But if you are going to prevent it in the face of incredible natural urges, there are going to be unwanted side-effects. Thinking of sex and sexuality as something shameful is just one of them.

Anonymous said...

Chana its so obvious, you never went to Bais Yacob, lol....

Anonymous said...

"This to the point where they cannot say the word; they must supplement with milder terms such as "beauty" or at the very worst "desirable."


Ok, so I'm one of those girls who doesn't like to call herself sexy. And it isn't because I'm not at ease with my sexuality, or in denial of it. In general I don't like describing my physical appearance (it's just so superficial, does it really matter?) But I can say I'm pretty, even beautiful. But why do I need to tell other people that I'm sexy? Consider this definition from urban dictionary:

"used to describe someone who you think is amazingly attractive, and you want in their pants."

Being a frum girl (by or modern,) I don't want to put myself out there as a girl whose pants people want to get in. That's not who I am, those aren't my values. I think the word beautiful works just fine. If a guy told me I was sexy, what does it say? That I'm a hot piece of meat. I'm sure this wasn't your point Chana, so maybe you could clarify. Especially with your first lines that I quoted, I really would like to know what you meant.


So I am equally opposed to calling guys "sexy." I've actually been married for a year now, but when I was single I would never call a guy I like sexy. Yes attractive, and I could say that I was attracted to him, (but really, is that anyone's bussiness but my own? I didn't usually keep the world informed on who I was attracted to). But to call a guy sexy, makes it sound as though I am only interested in the physicality.

Just because you're private about sex, doesn't make you an ignorant prude. Somethings just don't need to be shared with others.

Chana said...

Anonymous 10:41,

Thank you. That's it exactly. Which classes are we in together/ do I know you? Feel free to send me an email.

Anonymous 1:35,

Not only did I go to Bais Yaakov, I went to a rather Chareidi camp for three years.

Anonymous 2:46,

I said cannot say the word. Not that they choose not to say the word. If you prefer not to call yourself sexy, that's your call. Your point about defining the word in question is a very good one. I'm not thinking of sexy in terms of some kind of meat market and in fact find that concept rather disgusting. I mean accepting one's own beauty, personality, passion, etc and acknowledging there is a sexual side to oneself. That's all.

Halfnutcase said...

chana, I haven't read the rest of the quotes, but I find it sad that templars has so screwed up your conception of tznius and your conception of humanity that you think like this.

Tznius is not about teaching girls that those desires are bad. Tznius is not about teaching them that their bodies are sinfull, waiting to make other people sin. Tznius is not about destroying peoples personalities.

This is the reason why I say that intown girls don't have the first inklings of a clue what tznius means.

Tznius is about, more than anything else, the english word modesty. It is also about humility. it is about not bragging, about not showing off or making a show. This is true whether it is intelectual or sensual. It is about keeping those special parts of yourself for you, and for those who are close to you. If you make a big deal about giving charity, that is not tznius. If you flaunt ones physical appearance, that is not tznius.

but that in now way means that one is ashamed of these things. That no way means that one is to be upset about these things.

Additionaly, beauty and sensual appearance are definitely not the same thing. Apperantly after your templars education you no longer understand this. There are beautifull art objects, but they are in no way arousing. There are beautiful people, but that does not mean that they arouse other people necessarily. Infact, often beauty and sensual presentation are diametric opposites, not always, but often enough.

and one last thing, others have told you before, but sensuality is not a weapon. It is something to be shared with someone you deeply love. It makes love a much more pleasant thing, something special and unique, and when used properly and lovingly, it can help deepen the bonds of love. Using sexuality as a way of getting your way or controling your partner is manipulative and hurtfull, not unlike blackmailing someone. It is violence of the worst kind, and in some ways is similar to other violent acts which you would not condone.

I wish I could explain these better, or that I could explain them in a way you understand.

Anonymous said...

Halfnutcase,
please do keep your MUSAR to yourself and/or find another audience to preach to.

The comment section is not there to attack Chana or anyone else for that matter!

Chana said...

To Everyone,

About using sexuality as a weapon:

I did not say that everyone ought to do this! I am simply pointing out that women in Tanakh do it quite frequently (and are often placed in situations where they need to utilize their abilities in tihs manner.) If you choose to misread what I wrote and assume that I am telling everyone here to go seek out Ahmadinejads and attempt to seduce them, that's your call. My point was simply that not only is sexuality something every woman posseses, it is something that she can channel positively or negatively and sometimes she can use it assertively and authoritatively, as a weapon, in order to save her entire people. Which I do view as being a good thing.

Kindly stop attempting to diagnose me and determine which issues I have. Nobody ever agrees on them, so it's all quite futile, anyway. ;-)

G said...

"The comment section is not there to attack Chana or anyone else for that matter!"

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa????

--well now THAT explains so much.

Anonymous said...

But Chana, how do you know that they CANNOT use those words? How can you really be aware of the inner working of their minds, of their sexual thoughts? Honestly, I'm not at all trying to attack you, I just feel you're juding people a bit too quickly. They may not be comfortable speaking about sexuality in a public forum. That doesn't mean that you can make the assumption that they CANNOT say these things, and refuse to think about these things.


And by the way, I went to BY schools until I went to Stern, and I really must say that I had truly wonderful classes about tznis and sexuality. I guess I went to a more open-minded place then most, but I never once heard the words "shame" or "evil," in regards to sexuality. In fact I had a truly beautiful class senior year, on why G-d gave us such instincts, and it really gave all the girls a really positive view of sexuality and religion.

Anonymous said...

But Chana, how do you know that they CANNOT use those words? How can you really be aware of the inner working of their minds, of their sexual thoughts? Honestly, I'm not at all trying to attack you, I just feel you're juding people a bit too quickly. They may not be comfortable speaking about sexuality in a public forum. That doesn't mean that you can make the assumption that they CANNOT say these things, and refuse to think about these things.


And by the way, I went to BY schools until I went to Stern, and I really must say that I had truly wonderful classes about tznis and sexuality. I guess I went to a more open-minded place then most, but I never once heard the words "shame" or "evil," in regards to sexuality. In fact I had a truly beautiful class senior year, on why G-d gave us such instincts, and it really gave all the girls a really positive view of sexuality and religion.

Chana said...

Anonymous 5:50,

Your point is well taken. Perhaps I should clarify that this post is not written only with regard to the example I used (my English class) but to the issue overall. I know of people who have been taught the word "sexy" has negative overtones and they cannot/ should not use it. Actually, I know people who were completely unaware of the rudiments of sex because apparently they were not even taught basic biology, but that's tangential...

Swatteam6 said...

Hey, its your cousin from scarsdale (Yechiel)

OK so i didn’t read the whole argument but what ever you’ll get over it. Anyway a funny note abut this was one time in my science class we were learning about biology and the body and when we came to this part, we all started to die of laughter cause of course when you talk about sex, who doesn’t laugh. so anyway the whole point to my conversation is to just say that its people who went to a more privet and "Jewish" school who have a problem with the word sexy and sex and stuff... but people who go to a more public school, (like me, have no problem with these words and in fact they have become such a common word in my vocabulary that now I me and my friend will throw words around to each other when were made.

Student said...

Chana-
I love reading your posts, and although I rarely agreed 100%, I usually shared a similar view with you on the subject at hand.
In this issue, however, I have to disagree. Micha 6:8 Hatzne'a lechet im elokecha-to walk humbly/modestly with G-d.
"Tznius" isn't just a list of laws like brachos or shabbos where something is muttar/assur, its an outlook, a mindset, a way of being. That's the difference here.
An additional idea:
The thrust of your argument seems to stem from the idea that "sexy" is just an extension of the beauty of a woman. That may be very true to girls. I'm a guy, and I'm telling you, even the ones having a daily night seder in YU (I'm one of them) still associate sexy not with beauty but with sex. There's a reason there are issurei histaklus for men and not women. Women see beauty, men see....sex. I'm trying not to be crass, I just want to get the message across. That's why in Judaism there's not an emphasis on sexuality.

student said...

btw love to hear what you think about my comments

Jack's Shack said...

Women see beauty, men see....sex.

That is not entirely true. I understand that some people like to portray men as viewing women as sexual objects first and people later, but that is a generalization.

I have a lot of friends who are BT and FFB. In my experience the BTs have a much healthier attitude about sex.

student said...

Jack-
I agree with you, there are definitely a few to whom this does not apply. But for the majority, unfortunately this is true.

happilymarried said...

I think it's tzniut, but I also think it's the negiah and obssessive separation of the sexes that is prevalent now. I grew up in an FFB home where my parents were always very affectionate with each other and there children. And though I learned about negiah in school and camp, it really wasn't drummed into me. I had boyfriends in high school and college and my mom would have thought it was very strange if we had absolutely no physical contact.

Those experiences were great, because I learned what I need from a marriage partner and what needs to go in the garbage. I almost made it to my wedding night a virgin (my fiance and I just couldn't wait). 7 years later, we continue to have a wonderfully open and fulfilling marital life that continues to thrill both of us, even after two children with one on the way.

I have friends who grew up in similar homes and communities who were terribly stunted by negiah, to the extent where even after they were married, they had great difficulty with sex. I think it's a big problem and I agree- both men and women would be a lot happier if they could own their sexuality.

happilymarried said...

"That's why in Judaism there's not an emphasis on sexuality."

I think you're confusing us with Christianity. The duty of a man to fulfill a woman's sexual needs is black and white halacha- onata. If that's not emphasizing sex, I'm not sure what is.

happilymarried said...

Btw, I live in Israel, that's why it looks like I'm commenting on Shabbat.

Anonymous said...

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Sex/story?id=3932047&page=1

"Losing Virginity Later Linked to Sexual Problems
Those Who Have Sex Later, Particularly Men, Seem to Experience More Sexual Dysfunction"

student said...

happilymarried-

I take no advice from a jew who happily and without shame announces she had premarital sex.

Anonymous said...

"That's why in Judaism there's not an emphasis on sexuality." I think you're confusing us with Christianity.
Reminds me of the old joke about the priest thinking fu** is a much worse word than sh** while the rabbi considers them equal words.

Anyway, I think it is horrible to label so-called older virgins as weird or other such characterizations. I knew a physician who did just that. This can cause a lot of damage! Should a girl who doesn't want to have sex feel pressure because of judgements from peers or, worse, authority figures to go out and have a one-night stand to prove she is normal?

And, yeah, one must look at societal context; if a girl is part of a community in which it *is* normal to be a so-called older virgin, then by the standards of her community, she *is not* an anomoly, even if she is by the statistics of the larger society.

happilymarried said...

Student- judge all you want. Very few older ortho singles aren't having sex. Just a fact of life. Deal with it. (Akin to the prevalence of extra marital sex in the charedi velt. I can't tell you how many gross charedi men I met in the elevator of my apt. building when I was in Stern, who were on their way to pay a visit to the prostitutes who happened to live in my building. (it was an outside apt. not a dorm). GROSS!!!!! And they had no shame, either)

anon- a healthy sex drive is a normal part of life. However, I think it's wrong (and very unprofessional) for a doctor to point at an older single virgin and say "Ew, you're a virgin?"

No one has to prove anything to anyone else. If someone is comfortable being a virgin at 35 or it's really important to them, more power to them. At the same time, if someone can't handle that kind of pressure and really needs an outlet, that needs to be respected too.

happilymarried said...

Also, student, i wasn't giving you advice. I was pointing out the error in your characterization that Judaism doesn't emphasize sex.

student said...

happilymarried + Chana-

I am sorry to point out, and I may have been misunderstood, but Judaism deemphasizes the ideal of "SEXY" that is being portrayed in this piece and which the prevalent culture puts on a pedestal. Yes, Judaism includes obligations to a wife, ona'ah, but has many many restrictions for men against viewing, thinking about, and socializing with women (who aren't their wives). There are whole sections of Shulchan Oruch dedicated to this. So yes, Judaism does push sex (DURING and NOT BEFORE marriage), but wholly looks down on the idea of sexy that Chana is prescribing. I don't know how you could argue with that.

(p.s. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw you, Chana, at the meeting at YU tonight).

Chana said...

student,

All right, you've piqued my interest. I've been meaning to respond before now but didn't. What you are saying may well be true- I'm a girl, not a guy, and it's possible that we see beauty differently. I think we agree that what I mean by "sexy" you might prefer to be said using the word "self awareness" or wholeness of personality- it's really just semantics where we differ.

That having been said, you were at the Kol Hamevaser meeting? Why didn't you come say hello? And who are you? Feel free to send me an email...

student said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you if what you meant in the thread was "self awareness" (yet I'm sure you wanted to spike some discussion with your use of the word "sexy"---self awareness, I guess, just isn't as ...sexy).

However, your post seemed to deviate from this meaning. Again, Judaism emphasizes sex between man and wife, while strongly limiting the flaunting of a woman's "self awareness." She can feel it, think she is beautiful, know she is beautiful, but translating this practically, ie behaving or dressing differently, is something Judaism highly frowns upon. For all the examples you gave, what about Dinah, who Chazal tell us was punished for "going out" (flaunting herself)? Sex is a great tool of love between a man and wife, sacredly guarded as well (laws of niddah), but the ideal of tznius overrides a woman's desire to display her beauty in a way unbefitting of a bat torah.

The gemara in Yevamos 79a says the three traits of klal yisrael are bayshanim, rachmanim, and gomlei chasadim-bashful, merciful, and doers of loving-kindness(I've always hated that word :-) - let's just keep it as chessed). The pasuk I previously quoted in Michah 6:8 says we should walk with tznius before Hashem (hatzne'ah lechet). Those are the traits that are valued in a Jewish woman...Now Own It!

Chana said...

student,

Within the context of my post, I was displeased by women who alienate themselves from their sexuality. I very clearly did not use the word flaunt or suggest that anyone need flaunt their sexuality, only that they own it. I explained that as follows:

"If it's yours, then own it. You don't have to be dressed in a provocative manner or act uncharacteristically in order to own your sexuality. You simply have to accept that it exists, that you have this innate quality and it is yours. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and part of that comfort lies in accepting all parts of you, including your own sexuality."

Your understanding of flaunting was hardly what I meant.

And Chazal also tell us Dinah was punished because Jacob refused to marry her to Esau. Go figure. "Going out" was not necessarily a flaunting of her sexuality, incidentally (she was going out to speak to the daughters of the land, not the men of the land.) In fact, the reason "going out" was the problem could theoretically be because she went out alone, by herself, unchaperoned. This was the issue, not the fact that she went out at all.

The gemara in Yevamos 79a applies equally to men and women, as does your quote from Micha. You are also misinterpreting the quote from Micha if you honestly think it refers to tzniut in the sense that it is understood today. It refers to humility and walking humbly with God/ in the presence of God. This is hardly the same as claiming that women need to dress/ act in a certain manner.

For the record, I think it is a little immature to inform me that you know who I am but refuse to inform me of who you are.

Anonymous said...

Student,
it's only proper and fair to id yourself to Chana.

student said...

I love how the previous comment is coming from anonymous.

student said...

Chana,

1. True, Chazal atribute the rape of Dinah as a result of Yaakov hiding her, but there also is a strong push in the sources that attribute the rape to her "going out," which the medresh rabbah explains as her going out with her arms bare and uncovered. (See http://parsha.blogspot.com/2004/11/vayishlach-3-q-where-did-general-keep.html). So no, she wasn't going out to flaunt herself, but yes, the rape WAS a result of her lack of tznius ie her going out.

2. Yes, the pasuk in Micha refers both to men and women, but the Gemara in Sukkah 49b uses the pasuk as a source for the thigh being covered-ie this pasuk does refer to tnius in the colloquial term.

3. While it is entirely acceptable to acknowledge one's sexuality, to "fantasize about [one's] future partner," which you see to have no problem with, is not something recommended by halacha, at least for men it is downright prohibited.

4. Chana: "But to return from seminary having been taught that one actually has to change one's personality in order to be accepted by God- what is this?"

How can you say this?? Our whole lives and the very idea of avodas Hashem focuses on improving and changing ourselves and our baser instincts for the better, to fall in line with what G-d demands of us! We might not have to change our personality, but everyone has better and worse traits. Our job in this world is to channel the "bad" characteristics for a higher goal. For example, the Gemara tells us that if someone has an anger problem, be a mohel or shochet, channel it for the better, as opposed to being a murderer (what this specific example has to do with our own lives is beyond the scope for this post).
Chana:"It all stems from this obsession with the idea of tzniut. I find it strange that tzniut must now extend to one's entire personality and demeanor."

Of course it refers to one's whole behavior! This is EXACTLY what the pasuk refers to in Michah: "v'hatzne'ah leches im Hashem Elokecha!" Just like halacha (from the same shoresh) guides us in our every action during the day (how to tie your shoes, go to the bathroom, how to go to sleep), so too our every action has to be with tznius, "hatzne'ah leches." And this does refer to tznius how we understand it according the the aforementioned Gemara in Sukkah.
This isn't a "false front" where you try to trick G-d, it's rather aspiring for how G-d wants us to act-that's what the pasuk says. Just look at the beggining of the pasuk: "U'Ma Hashem Doresh Mimcha"-this is what G-d requires/desires. He desires us to act in a certain way: with tznius.

student said...

Additionally, most of your biblical proofs deal with sexuality in a negative light, where it's used to spark sin (pointed out by Ezzie earlier as well). Not something laudatory at all.

LM said...

Sigh... I would be very careful about relying on "but isn't x natural??" Specifically, check out Rabbi David Fohrman's "The Beast That Crouches at the Door" for how one of the basic distinguishing factors that makes us human is our ability to listen to a higher voice than our desires/the natural.

Yes, I agree we should not be mevatel ourselves and shut our personalities/creativity/etc off for religion. I'm not arguing with that. But no, that doesn't mean that everything that something being "natural" should be used as an argument in its own right--has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or evil, which I hope we care about. That which is pleasant is not always that which is good, and that which is good is not always that which is pleasant.

LM said...

Sorry, that should have read:

But no, that doesn't mean that something being "natural" should be used as an argument in its own right--it has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or evil, which I hope we care about. That which is pleasant is not always that which is good, and that which is good is not always that which is pleasant.