If you’re an unapologetic Marvelous Mrs. Maisel fan like me, you probably shrieked in laughter when Midge said, “All that shit they say about Jewish girls in the bedroom? Not true. There are French whores standing around the Marais District saying [French accent], ‘Did you hear what Midge did to Joel’s balls the other night?’”
All jokes aside, there are lots of stereotypes that claim Jewish girls are prudes, and therefore bad in bed.
I’d love for anti-Semites to keep out of my vagina, but also, these stereotypes are just fucking wrong.
When it comes to great sex, I feel there can’t be anything better than being a Jewish girl in 2018. And no, it’s not for some gross, racist, pervy reason. It’s because our religion, our values, and our culture enables Jewish spaces to be more sex-positive than most — unapologetically feminist and welcoming of LGBTQ individuals. Take notes, people: no shame = great sex.
Whatever their level of observance, I feel like I can discuss sex with my Jewish friends, have fun, and not be judged. So perhaps, like Midge says, Jewish girls are better in bed — and I think it’s because our religion has ancient roots in sex-positivity.
The women in the Torah provided such an instinctive path for us to interpret our religion through a feminist lens, even if those aren’t the most popular interpretations. Bad-ass women like Esther, Miriam, Vashti, and yes, Lilith, are empowering — even sexy. Of course, I can and have sexualized a bowl of Szechuan noodles, so I had to check in with a couple of other sex-positive Jews to get the dirty (not shameful!) details.
Sarah Elizabeth Hartman, who is getting her dual MA in Jewish Studies and Arts Education, says the story of Beruriah is “… a really sexy story in a weird way.” Beruriah, a devout scholar and loving wife, was tricked by her husband Meir who arranged for her to be seduced by one of his pupils so he could prove that women were vulnerable to “sexual sin,” just like men. When Beruriah found out that she was tricked, she was furious and committed suicide, while Meir exiled himself in shame.
Morbid as this story seems, Hartman feels it sends an important feminist message. “The male voice jumps back in like, ‘and then she was punished,’ but for a brief second there’s a moment of LIVING. A woman having sex… making her own choices… it sounds clichéd, but the empowerment is sexy as hell. It balances the power dynamic. Seeing a woman pissed off, smashing glasses… that makes her real. And that’s hot.”
Of course, ultimately, most religious texts are still written by the patriarchy, for the patriarchy. But if you read between the lines, you can find feminist messages everywhere. For instance, there are a bunch of Torah passages commanding men to make sure they sexually please their wives in bed, and that consent must always be present and in the verbal form of an enthusiastic yes. As a sexual assault prevention advocate, I was super stoked to read this.
Even if those passages still have elements of the patriarchy (rabbinical student Erik Uriate says the sages meant these instructions to produce healthy, intelligent sons), that’s a commandment that I’m in full support of. I’ll tell ya… my college years would have been a lot more fun if more men followed this particular commandment.
Speaking of sexually pleasing one’s wife, many Orthodox women feel conflicted about the extent to which Judaism is sex-positive. Yael*, a married Orthodox woman I spoke to for this piece, feels that sex-positivity in Orthodoxy only extends to those in marriages. Yael is contemplating the possibility that she might be bisexual, and says that she’s never seen same-sex intimacy represented in a positive way in the Orthodox community — it’s kind of just ignored.
Rivkah Standig, a pansexual Reform woman who also identifies as a Jewitch, agrees with Yael. She feels very supported in Reform Judaism, and less so in Conservative and Orthodox settings. However, she says that Christianity is a much more sex-negative tradition than Judaism, and so “even within more strict [Jewish] denominations, people might care less [about someone being LGBTQ] than in Christianity.”
It’s true that Judaism largely lacks shameful messages that cause internal distress, like the concept of hell. It’s also true that while Orthodox Jewish leaders are often unsupportive of LGBTQ people and sex outside of marriage, it’s uncommon for them to publicly attack those who they deem unacceptable. But still, Orthodox women and LGBTQ-identified people feel marginalized in Orthodox communities.
Ray, who is non-binary, described feeling conflicted when choosing which side “to pick” for praying in Orthodox synagogues (where men and women are traditionally separated). “Some of those settings made it clear that as someone who looked like a woman, I was just a prop — not to be really seen or heard. And I wasn’t — and I’m still not — comfortable enough with myself… to try sitting on the men’s side. It’s so anxiety inducing. I feel like an imposter… like everyone’s staring at me. But I don’t feel like I belong on the women’s side either.”
Ray also echoes the sentiment that Orthodoxy can be sex-positive, but only within marriage: “I know plenty of Orthodox couples who’ve been encouraged by their rabbis to try BDSM to stimulate a lagging sex life, but [polyamory] would still be a no-no.”
For many Jews, the emphasis on family can be something that leads to more sex-positivity. Most children know where babies come from, and sex is encouraged — not demonized. But sometimes focusing on family can feel like pressure to have kids, which is not very sex-positive at all. The tradition of the mikveh, where married women immerse themselves after nidah (their period) to prepare to have sex is a great example.
During nidah and five days after, Jewish law states that a woman cannot have sex.
Although there is no known reason for this, Yael and I both noticed that the timing lines up with normal ovulation patterns. During a menstrual cycle and for a bit after, it’s almost impossible to get pregnant. Combined with the fact that there are no similar restrictions after menopause, it’s entirely plausible that this bit of Jewish law is meant to increase pregnancy rates by making sure that women are only having sex during ovulation.
This constant pressure to procreate is hard on Yael. She’s fed up with the constant questions about when she’s going to get pregnant, saying, “It’s almost like you can’t get married until you’re ready for children.”
No one should feel pressure to have a child before they’re ready. Also, many people never want children at all. When Louis* came out to his Conservative Jewish mother, she was extremely supportive… until he said he didn’t want kids. That was harder for her to accept.
So yes, there is still work to be done. Our communities still need to be more welcoming of LGBTQ and polyamorous individuals. Also, we should be aware that one of the best parts of our culture — the love of family — has a negative side sometimes, and it can lead people to feel pressured and judged. Not all our spaces are sex-positive, but they should be!
The cool part about our religion is that the foundation has already been laid — pun intended. Like Rivkah says, “Overall I think Judaism is more about doing than believing… it’s about living a righteous life and treating others well. Being queer [and having sex] doesn’t hurt anyone… so why would God care?”
As for me, I feel that whenever I go into a Jewish space, I have the privilege of interacting with individuals who are all about exploring sexual identities and preferences. As someone who is constantly doing the same, this is so vital.
I’ll say it again: no shame = great sex. So does consent and being generous with the giving of sexual pleasure. I’m so glad that these concepts are already inscribed in our traditions. It makes sex, and being Jewish, so much more fun.
*Names have been changed.
Header image via phazed on giphy.
Nylah Burton is a writer of good journalism and mediocre poetry. She has been described by racists and anti-Semites as “emotional, disrespectful, and volatile.” She thinks this is the best review of her writing she’s ever received. Her grandma has it on the Fridgidaire. You can follow her on Twitter, at @yumcoconutmilk, but she’s cooler on Facebook.