Sunday, May 05, 2013

Getting Closer: A Review

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Getting Closer by Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch; thus, I did not pay for it.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch has done something revolutionary in his book Getting Closer: Understanding and Treating Issues in Marital Intimacy: A Guide for Orthodox Couples. Despite the plethora of colons in that lengthy title, the book itself does a very good job of serving as a primer for newlyweds and newly-confused couples navigating the complex territory of an unforeseen circumstance that could destabilize a marriage. This circumstance would occur within the realm of sexual dysfunction, and could be either physical, emotional or psychological in nature. 

Getting Closer includes in its table of contents intimacy through the lens of adult attachment styles, different forms of therapy, desire disorders, intimacy after pregnancy, postpartum depression, infertility, childhood sexual abuse, internet addiction and cyber affairs and then physical sexual dysfunction and male sexual disorders. The book does a great job of introducing the reader to many types of intimacy-based issues, although it is clear that further research and reading would be warranted. 

In his introduction, the author explains that he has seen many couples, and oftentimes, while couples feel comfortable talking about emotional difficulties, they do not report that they are having a sexual problem. It is easy to understand why couples hesitate to share this information with a therapist, but this can lead to their suffering in silence while feeling isolated from one another (Schonbuch 2). The author's intent is to create a sensitive, Torah-based book for Orthodox couples to "help them to decipher and resolve the painful role sexual dysfunction may be playing in their relationship" (2).

Schonbuch does a great job of outlying basic medical information about sexual dysfunction and its types. However, I take issue with some of his methods. His first method is to focus on EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) throughout the whole book. Though he does sometimes mention other types of therapies, they receive short shrift. I think it would be helpful for him to make sure all of the different psychological approaches couples could use to resolve their difficulties rather than honing in on only one. I am sure there are some couples who would benefit more from CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for instance, rather than EFT.

I am perplexed by Schonbuch's decision to first list all of the emotional or psychological intimacy disorders rather than the physiological ones. If you were to have an ear-ache or a tooth-ache, first you would see the doctor or the dentist to check whether anything was physically wrong. Only if they were unable to find anything would you then proceed to wonder whether you might be having these symptoms due to neurological or psychological issues; perhaps you are a hypochondriac. Similarly, it is odd to me that Schonbuch decided to hone in on Desire Disorders before introducing us to his Guide to Physical Sexual Dysfunction. I think it would have made more sense to reverse the order. A woman with vaginismus may well think she has SAD (Sexual Aversion Disorder) when she reads the symptoms listed under Desire Disorders, and may stop reading the book before discovering that she is actually grappling with a physiological issue.

I also find it odd that when Rabbi Schonbuch was interviewed, he said "It’s not easy for them [people dealing with sexual dysfunction] to talk about, which is why I wrote the book. Instead of bringing up these painful topics, they’d be able to read about it. Because honestly, sometimes, no matter how good the therapist is, some people can’t be relaxed enough to talk about it. Here, they can read it on their own and decide how to address their problems from there," yet at the same time, he does not provide a resource list within the book itself. At the back of the book, he writes:
    Finally, there are a number of key resources for Orthodox couples seeking marital therapy for emotional and sexual dysfunction. For an updated list of therapists and resources, visit
I am not impressed by the choice to make the list of resources available online-only. What if this book were to find its way into the hands of a yeshivish or Chassidish couple who do not have access to the Internet? Why is there no listing of clinics, specialists and therapists (including contact information) in the back of the book? These specialists are not only missing from the resource list; they are missing from the book itself. Heather Appelbaum, an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at Hofstra NorthShore LIJ University School of Medicine, writes the preface. But other doctors do not seem to have been consulted in this work. Rabbi Schonbruch makes assertions about the nature of physical and psychological forms of sexual dysfunction without quoting or seemingly consulting the experts in the field. Why are there no quotes from Dr. Andrew Goldstein or Dr. Lara Burrows of the Center for VulvoVaginal Disorders in Washington, DC? Why has Dr. Susan Kellogg of the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute in Philadelphia not been consulted? What about Bat Sheva Marcus of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality? Where are the studies and findings of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health

I admire Rabbi Schonbuch's initiative. He saw a need for a book detailing the issues that Orthodox Jewish couples face in their intimate lives, and he wrote it. However, the book he wrote should not have been published in its current form. It is a fledgling, waiting to be more seriously researched and bulked up. Doctors who specialize in these areas of sexual dysfunction should have been consulted and quoted, their works and contact information listed and cited in the back of the book. A resource list should have been included. The possible forms of therapy should have been outlined and listed without such a deep focus on EFT. Rabbi Schonbuch has written a book that details his own experiences treating and dealing with these couples, but his experiences are not exhaustive or summative. A better, more developed version of this book would reflect that reality and provide sufferers with more options, techniques, therapies and better ways to seek help.


Shades of Gray said...

"What if this book were to find its way into the hands of a yeshivish or Chassidish couple who do not have access to the Internet?"

They could perhaps use it in the public library. Once the word gets around, people know where to find it, just as they would need to get information about buying a house, medical information, etc.

With all the problems of the internet, the internet is actally a partial solution to the issue of distribution of such books, because it avoids the problem of having to sell them in Seforim stores(see below from BBC).

"I admire Rabbi Schonbuch's initiative. He saw a need for a book detailing the issues that Orthodox Jewish couples face in their intimate lives, and he wrote it"

Dr. David Ribner published a book as well in English and now in Hebrew:

Th English edition was mentioned in an article in Klal Perspectives by Dr. David Friedman(Summer, 2012) as being appropriate for some communities:

"Various approaches may be unacceptable to certain segments of the community while fully appropriate for others. For example, a self-help book (Et Leehov: The Newlywed Guide to Physical Intimacy, Rosenfeld & Ribner, Geffen Publishing 2011) was recently published for newly married Orthodox Jewish couples. This book attempts to provide comprehensive sex education within an Orthodox Jewish framework, though it may not be acceptable to all segments of the Orthodox community."

(In the spirit of "Klal Perspectives" the author seems to be looking at more than one community)

Regarding the Hebrew edition, there was an article in BBC this month:

"When the Hebrew edition is released in a few weeks' time, it could create quite a storm, says Menachem Friedman, a professor and sociologist who has written numerous books on Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

“I suspect it will meet tremendous negative reaction – at least within the most extreme elements of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community,” he says.

But he agrees that such a book is sorely needed, and foresees brisk behind-the-counter sales..."

Shades of Gray said...

"Klal Perspectives by Dr. David Friedman"

Should be Steven Friedman(professer at SUNY Downstate)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great review.

I also felt that there were some obvious grammatical errors.

The style of the writing was inconsistent and haphazard.

It sounded like he pasted together information he found on the internet.

Many issues are addressed superficially and don't reflect broad or in-depth knowledge on the issue.

And his last lines makes it seem like the end all and best solution for all problems is to go to which is actually his site.

It is useful to have a reference for these issues so you can do the research yourself, these faults put the whole book into question.

Chana said...


I think you're being a little too harsh. I thought the book was great overall, but just had some flaws/ areas where it could be improved. I am really happy it exists and I don't think that the whole book needs to be called into question. It's a great book, and it's going to help many people. It's just that it could be even better.

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