3 Lessons Every Chosson & Kallah Teacher Should Be Teaching
There is not a single soul on the planet who enters a marriage thinking, I would love to be as unprepared as possible for the greatest decision and relationship of my life.
We all go into marriage wanting it to be a success in every way, however we define that.
This is in part why men and women in the orthodox Jewish community have chosson (groom) and kallah (bride) classes. These classes are meant to teach newly engaged couples the halachos (Jewish laws) around niddah (family purity), preparing the couple for a halachic sex life.
It's a beautiful idea. Yet, it doesn't always go very well.
For many people, their first real sex education starts with these lessons. Sure, they may have watched some movies and/or have some basic understanding of what sex is, but the ins and outs of a sexual experience? No, many frum engaged couples don't have any of that sort of education.
As a result, the chosson and kallah teachers are usually thee front line individuals who now don't just have the task of teaching Jewish family purity laws, they now are tasked with providing a comprehensive sex education. And unfortunately, many instructors teach the former and not the latter or attempt the latter but don’t have the robust education themselves to do so.
Even further, the ones who give some sort of sex ed oftentimes cover all their material in 1-2 relatively short classes, which is akin to teaching a person about the complexities of building a social life from scratch in a matter of two hours. And let me be clear: you cannot possibly learn how to create a social life in that amount of time! Add to this the sensitive and oft surprising nature of sexuality to the frum person, and you need to at the very least quadruple that time.
So, what do we do? Well, it takes a lot to solve for a systemic issue and one can argue that there are many system-wide issues (what happened to parents teaching their children about sex based on their family and religious values!?), so we are not going to do that right at this moment. But we can start with supporting and educating our brave chosson and kallah teachers so that they are more equipped to do a job that arguably isn’t all theirs to begin with. And, we can also educate ourselves, filling in the gaps, so we can build a healthy intimacy.
Let’s begin with 3 core lessons:
1. Boundaries. Boundaries. Boundaries. - Each person is in charge of his or her body, and they are not in charge of nor do they own their spouse's body. This means when a person doesn't want to do something and communicates a no, that needs to be honored. When a person isn't sure what they want, that needs to be explored rather than pressured. No doesn't just mean no at the beginning of an intimate experience. It means no throughout the entire sexual experience, even if their spouse is nearing the finish line. Sure, that can be sexually frustrating, but it is possible. Sexual frustration is not damaging to a relationship the same way disrespecting someone's boundaries is. Disrespect erodes the entire foundation of a marriage. So, first lesson, honor the boundaries, which includes not being responsible for taking care of someone else’s sexual frustration.
2. No Goals Allowed! - Goals are awesome! They help us have vision, become motivated to act, live our lives fully, and feel content and empowered. Yet, when it comes to the bedroom, many couples put so much pressure on their intimate experiences, that it zaps all the enjoyment right out of their bed. A sexual experience is about pleasure and connection. That is it. This may or may not include an orgasm. That may or may not include "going all the way." A couple can experience pleasure and connection simply from kissing and cuddling.
Taking away the pressure to "finish" whether that means penetration, orgasm, or something else, can help the couple feel more relaxed and present with wherever they are in their sexual process. Rather than focusing on one thing, they get to enjoy many.
This is especially true for couples where one party is disabled, recovering from surgery, or suffers from some form of illness causing the couple to not be able to do all the same things that an abled couple can do. Do physical limitations mean that a couple can't have a beautiful sex life? No! If they integrate touch into their lives where the focus is on pleasure and connection, they are having a sex life.
Take away societal sex goals, and you can actually access more pleasure.
3. Last point – though in the frum world it’s considered a mitzvah (commandment) to consummate the marriage on the wedding night, it’s important for couples to understand that it’s not an aveira (sin) if they don’t.
Making the wedding night be about achieving the goal of consummation not only puts immense pressure on both the chosson and kallah, it also can be harmful to the sexual dynamic that they are just starting to create.
When we feel we have to consummate the marriage, it puts us at increased risk of ignoring our needs, preferences, and sensations, including what hurts, and then of course we are much less likely to communicate anything when we have no clue what we are actually feeling.
Ignoring ourselves and not trusting our own instincts and intuition is the antithesis of a healthy sex life.
See, the way to have healthy physical intimacy (which again, means pleasure and connection) is through presence. You can’t fully enjoy a good slice of pizza if you aren’t aware enough of the smells and tastes of that slice. When we are pushing away discomfort, be it physical or mental, for the sake of consummation, we then have to move away from the present moment so that we can cope with the discomfort. This sets the stage for a sex life where we believe our needs and experiences are not a priority. This also sets the stage for us to mentally check out, what us therapists call dissociate, from a sexual experience.
So, when you are planning your wedding night, think twice about consummation. Think instead: what can we do on that night that will create pleasure and connection and how can we go about that in a way that helps and doesn’t hurt our intimate life.
If you are struggling with misinformation, a lack of sex ed, or your sex life, we are here to help!