3 Common Sexual Disorders Plaguing the Jewish Community
Do sexual disorders in the Jewish community exist?
Sexual disorders in the Jewish community have always existed. More recently however, addressing these issues in therapy is becoming more commonplace. I just discussed with Dovid Lichtenstein in his Headlines podcast how the Torah offers such rich discussion on the topic of sexuality. In fact, sexuality has such vibrancy and holds such a spectrum in Halacha that it truly honors the age old adage “shivim panim l’torah.”
Today, however, the frum individuals and couples who come to my office for treatment of sexual and/or marital dysfunction have found that frum society has lost its sexual vibrancy. Not to say that it doesn’t exist, because it most certainly does. However, in place of that vibrancy and color my clients find dullness. In place of discussion they find whispered conversation or silence. And, instead of hanaah, enjoyment of the mitzvah, they find chiyuv, obligation.
What causes sexual disorders in the Jewish community?
There is much that can contribute to the development of sexual disorders in the Jewish community: anxiety, depression, trauma, misinformation, unhealthy sexual development due to cultural, religious, familial, and personality factors, and a lack of education, just to name a few.
While I attended sex therapy school at NYU there was a lot of discourse on which sexual disorders are most common in different populations and religious communities. We also explored the possible reasons for these findings. In the Jewish world we found that there is a high prevalence of anxiety. It’s an entirely different discussion as to why that might be the case. However, our tendency towards anxiety heavily affects healthy sexuality especially when compounded with a lack of education.
Sometimes the type of education we receive about sexuality exacerbates this anxiety. For example, if I am told at a young age that I am a bad or dirty person for having curiosity towards my sexuality, it will increase my sense of shame towards this part of my life. So, within the Jewish community there can be particular sexual disorders that surface more frequently due to our tendency towards anxiety as well as other unique characteristics of our community.
I had the privilege to discuss the topic of sexual disorders in the Jewish community with Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, Clinical Director of Maze Women’s Sexual Health. Out of the nine sexual disorders listed in the DSM 5, we agreed that there are 3 most common sexual issues we treat within the Jewish, and specifically the frum community.
3 common sexual disorders in the Jewish community are:
Combination of Issues
Vaginismus is one of the most common sexual disorders in the Jewish community that both Bat Sheva and I treat. The numbers are staggering when it comes to how many frum women suffer from Vaginismus.
What is Vaginismus?
Vaginismus is a female sexual disorder in which a woman experiences vaginal pain due to involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles. This pain is often experienced as a burning or stinging sensation. Women with this condition report that any penetration, whether from intercourse, a speculum at a gynecologist visit, or a tampon, causes this pain.
Vaginismus is the number one cause of unconsummated or sexless marriages. It can appear at the onset of marriage or years into a marriage. Women often come to me feeling very frustrated at not being able to have intercourse. They feel angry at themselves and their bodies and their self confidence is diminished. They also frequently blame themselves for their troubled sex life.
Vaginismus’s dangerous impact:
When this sexual disorder goes untreated for months or years, women develop extreme anxiety about having intercourse. The mere thought of sex can cause a fear of the pain they will experience and the subsequent feelings of disappointment, frustration, and inadequacy.
Bat Sheva puts it succinctly:
"People hold anxiety in different places. Vaginismus is about holding anxiety in the vagina instead of the back or any other body part."