My Thoughts on Pre-marital Sex

It seems like today was pre-marital sex day on the internet. The New York Times published this piece by a 35-year-old virgin considering her choice to wait for true love to have sex, over on FrumSatire blogger Heshy Fried wrote this piece about virginity and the orthodox community, and Shmuely Boteach wrote this piece positing that saving sex for marriage makes better sex.

I guess I ought give my two cents.

It’s no secret on this blog that I had sex before marriage. In fact, I had sex with three different partners before my husband: A long term boyfriend, a one-night stand, and a guy that I was dating casually but very much not in love with–I was just bored. Ironically I suppose, my husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t have sex until we were married, and that’s what we did.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to say on this subject, and I’ve got a few thoughts:

Prequel: This is not a halachic discussion.

I know there are those out there who will tell me that I shouldn’t have had sex before marriage because it is a violation of halacha. I know there are also those out there who are of the opinion that pre-marital sex can be done within the auspices of halacha. This is not a discussion on that issue. I fully believe mikvaot should have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding unmarried women, but beyond that, I don’t want to discuss the halacha. I want to discuss the mental thought process of premarital sex.

I will also note that when I was engaging in premarital sex, I felt a tremendous amount of Jewish guilt.  I read up on all of the opinions that said that premarital sex/mikvah usage was totally halachically appropriate, and yet, still, I felt like I was doing something innately wrong by having sex. Perhaps because my world viewed it that way. For this reason, no amount of halachic reasoning would have been able to change the guilt I felt.

1. I think the long term boyfriend and I dated longer than we should have, because of sex. 

This is important. This was the reason I didn’t want to have sex with my husband before we married. I wanted to be sure he was the one, and I remembered being blinded in this previous relationship. The relationship was very much over, we were in different places both literally and figuratively, I wanted to move forward with my life and he didn’t, we disagreed on some pretty important life issues, I felt like I couldn’t talk freely with him–and yet, still, we dated for several more months. The sex was good, and I think we were both just really afraid of sleeping alone.  I didn’t want this to happen again, so when I started dating the man who would eventually become my husband, and things started getting physical, I said “let’s take this slow”. As I started to realize more and more that I was falling in love with him, I told him, “let’s wait for marriage for sex.” This maybe was a mistake, because he was very strict on not letting me break the rules. I tried, oh, I TRIED, but he always found ways to convince me not to go the distance. Still, things worked out for us in the end despite us not actually having sex before our marriage.

2. I think having casual sex was very important for me. 

I learned a lot about myself when I was having casual sex. I learned what I liked sexually, and that’s huge. (Often, I hear people talking about waiting for marriage in a negative light, by positing that one takes a huge risk by not having sex with the one person that they will be having sex with for the rest of their lives. It’s a real concern, and I don’t know how to answer it other than by saying that with my husband and I, we had a pretty good taste of what the other was like in bed before we got married and before we had sex, because we had done “everything but”.* I’ve also never heard of any couples actually breaking up solely because they weren’t a good match sexually-unless you count the people who went from being gay to being straight or vice versa. I think that most of these “issues” can be resolved by honesty, communication, and a willingness to be adventurous.)

Having casual sex also gave me a huge self-esteem boost when I most needed it. I was in a bad place. I felt like no one could ever love me, because, well, I wasn’t in love with anyone at the moment. But then came my opportunities for casual sex. They thought I was pretty. They wanted to have sex with me. I liked that, a lot.

I felt empowered when I was having casual sex. I was in control of what I wanted. I could try out whatever I wished without scaring the guys away, because hey, there’s always a new guy willing to try new stuff with me. This was an amazing feeling that I think more people really need to experience.

3. Married sex is really, really, good. 

I guess I’m a little biased, because I’ve only been married less than 2 years. I wonder what we’ll say in 20 years. Still, there’s something  really amazing about having sex with someone who knows you inside and out, someone who cares more about your own pleasure than their own, someone who wants nothing more than to make you happy. I suppose these same things would apply in a long term relationship, but in my very limited experience, it was totally not the same. With me, there is so much more concern for the other in my marriage than there ever was in any of my long term relationships. That’s not to say there wasn’t concern before, but the level is just so much MORE in my marriage. To go off tangent for a bit, my co-worker was telling me about her thanksgiving plans: She lives with her long term boyfriend of seven years. Every year, they go to her family’s house and have a huge Thanksgiving dinner with about 35 relatives from all over the country. His mom usually spends thanksgiving with friends at the beach. This year, she decided that she wanted to stay home and have the couple over for dinner. My co-worker was feeling torn about the different options. One person suggested, “It’s just his mom? Why don’t you bring her to your family’s gathering?”. She responded that she didn’t think her boyfriend was ready to take that step yet. We all were a little surprised, I mean, you’ve been together for seven years, you live together, but you don’t want your parents to meet? I think it goes back to the fact that there is an inherently deeper connection within marriage than in any other romantic relationship. But that’s just me. To each her own.

The gist of Shmuley Boteach’s argument is that premarital sex destroys the pleasure of married sex. One hundred percent not true. I left my previous sexual partners for a reason–I didn’t LIKE them. I chose my husband for another reason–I really really DID like him. Further, I want to stress that just because my married sex is way better than any sex I’ve had before, it doesn’t mean that I’d advocate celibacy until marriage. It means that I’d advocate marriage. But, as noted, there were a lot of benefits I achieved by having sex before marriage, and I think those are really important. Going back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

4. Sometimes, I really don’t see the difference between “hooking up” and having sex. 

I should be clear here. When I use the term “hooking up”, I mean partners kissing and touching and being naked with each other and getting the other to achieve orgasm, but no vaginal sex. I know the term is used for a plethora of meanings, and as such, has become a word with no meaning, but it is the best term to describe the aforementioned acts. The New York Times article makes a point that I thought a thousand times when I was in sexless relationships. The author describes a religious muslim friend’s opinion that if you’ve had an orgasm, you’ve had sex. I know I wouldn’t go that far, I mean, my first orgasm occurred was when I was riding a horse, does that mean I had sex with a horse? But still, when you’re in bed with someone and you’re both naked and you’re holding each others’ genitals, I mean really what’s the difference in how the orgasm is achieved actually? Any sorts of concerns about being “blinded” by the physical would still be present. The New York Times author described the difference as being able to feel in control of when things would start and stop, but it sounds to me like she just needs to try BDSM. She also talked about not wanting to be in a place of emotional vulnerability, but let me tell you, you are emotionally vulnerable in ANY relationship where you find yourself falling for the other person. And conversely, the ability to have casual sex and know that it’s only casual sex gives over the same feeling of control that she sought by refusing to have sex.

5. Above all, I think the decision to have pre-marital sex or not should SOLELY be a decision by the individual. 

I think community expectations, one way or the other, are really awful for people exploring their sexuality.  I would never tell someone, you must have sex before marriage. Also, I would never tell someone, you should definitely not have sex before marriage. I feel like these articles all come from one extreme or the other, some being liberal feminists that feel like women in particular are missing out because they’re not having sex, and some from religious leaders who feel they have a divine obligation to stop the immorality that  comes from having sex before marriage. The key here, really, is that sex is a deeply personal decision, and as such, should be decided upon by the person.

——

*I cringe a little when I hear the phrase “everything but” used, because I often feel that people don’t really mean it. You did EVERYTHING but sex? Really? Have you SEEN the internet. I’m SURE there’s a lot you haven’t done. There’s a lot I didn’t do. What I mean by the phrase is that we had come SO CLOSE to having sex, that we were pretty sure what having sex with the other would be like: awesome. And so far, we’ve been pretty right.

On Being Shomer Shabbat and Studying For the Bar

I’m taking the bar exam in 8 days, so obviously, I’m blogging instead of studying.

Throughout this whole process, the biggest strain I’ve felt was shabbat. I am privileged enough that I was able to take off the entire summer to devote solely to studying for the bar. I signed up for Barbri, the most popular bar review course. Barbri has an intense “paced program” in which they assign a combination of lectures, outline or notecard making, essays, and multiple choice questions. They say the expectation is that you do about 8 hours worth of work a day, 7 days a week. In reality, I found myself spending closer to 10-12 hours a day on the program. This does not take into account shabbat. I don’t study on shabbat. I certainly don’t make notecards, write essays, or bubble in answers to multiple choice questions, but I also don’t feel comfortable reading over my notes, either. I know there are halachic opinions that go both ways on this, but my opinion is that it’s really, REALLY not within the spirit of shabbat. Part of what I love about shabbat is the forced mental reprise, the time to get away from work and focus on friends and family.

But, I pay the consequence. As a result, I spend Saturday nights up until way late doing everything I was “assigned” for Saturday. It’s really draining. I’ve been googling things like “Barbri shomer shabbat” and “studying for the bar shabbos” to no avail. I was hoping to find someone that compiled a list of tips for handling both the Barbri paced program and not studying on shabbat, but I couldn’t. I concluded that either singles shomer shabbat bar taker either had no need for sleep, did a lot of studying over shabbat, or just fell way behind in the program. Since I don’t fall into any of these categories, I guess I should be that person that writes a list of tips. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

1. Have a strong support system behind you. 

I know that this is really not a choice for most people. You either have it or you don’t. I’ve been blessed with the most amazing husband in the world, and there’s no way that I’d have been able to do this without him. For the past 8 weeks or so, I haven’t done a single load of laundry or washed a single dish. I haven’t scrubbed any toilets. I think maybe I’ve swept the floors twice. The fact that he comes home and takes care of all the household chores so that I can study was pretty much the only way this would have happened. Other people might have the luxury of being able to move in with parents or relatives during this time, and I’d highly recommend it, if it can work for you.

2. Don’t go to lectures on Fridays. 

Barbri gives all students the opportunity to either watch the lectures at home or go to an actual lecture hall to watch the lectures with other students in a classroom setting. In general, I suggest going to the lectures. I find that I am more focused when I’m physically present at the lectures. However, I found Fridays to be tough. Since I had to be ready for shabbat by 8pm or so, that meant I had to be done studying at the latest by 7, earlier if I was making meals. In order to accommodate, I tried to wake up early on Fridays and start the lectures at 7am instead of 9:30 at the lecture hall location. This eliminated the hour long commute I had each day and gave me the ability to maximize my time. I’d throw a chicken in the oven with some bbq sauce during the two 10-minute breaks in the lectures.

3. Minimize the amount you cook for shabbat. 

I like to cook, so this was a hard one for me. We spent a good number of these summer shabbatot at my in-laws house, allowing me the luxury of not cooking. We also bought take out once or twice to serve on shabbat, again allowing me the luxury of not cooking. Friday is much less hectic when basically all I have to do is shower and light candles.

4. Be at home-or in a study appropriate place-when shabbat ends. 

I found that if we were spending shabbat at my in-laws, I often wouldn’t get home until 10 or 10:30 pm (even though they live less than a mile away from us and shabbat was over by 9:15 pm) because you can’t just run out the minute the clock strikes zman. Therefore, we’d try to walk back home before shabbat was over, so that I could immediately hit the books after havdalah.

5. Know that you can utilize Mondays and Tuesdays for catch-up, too. 

At first, I’d spend all of Saturday night and Sunday catching up from Friday’s and Saturday’s work. It just wasn’t feasible. In a ~30 hour period, you just can’t do 30 hours worth of work. It’s not possible. Therefore, I’d save things like reading over model essay answers (if you haven’t figured this out, don’t write out the model essay answers, ever, unless they tell you to. Do a BRIEF outline of what you’d answer–like, just spot the issue and maybe the conclusion–and then just read the model answers!) for Monday and Tuesday, which helped a lot. I didn’t get too behind.

6. The Guzman lectures will kill you, but they’re worth it. 

Towards the end of the paced program, you will take a model MBE (Multistate multiple choice section of the bar exam). There will be 15 hours of review lectures afterwards. Mine were given by Prof. Raphael Guzman, yours may be given by another professor, but regardless. They’re actually really helpful, but ain’t nobody got time for them. Find the time. I found that listening to them while commuting was a good use of time, although I wasn’t able to take notes this way.

In general, just relax, remember “this too shall pass”, take a deep breath, and study on. Oh, and I spent a few Saturday nights not studying and watching movies instead. I felt incredibly guilty, so much so that I opened my laptop just so that I could feel a little bit like I was studying, but I needed it. Remember that shabbat is a mental break, but you might need a different type of break to get back into the study mode, and that’s okay.

Good Luck!!

My Secret Life

This blog is the one and only secret I keep from my husband, and it tears me up inside. I pride us on having amazingly honest and frank communication. He knows all my dirty secrets, and I, his.

I find myself posting less frequently now than when we were engaged, because now I live with him and in a one bedroom apartment, it’s fairly difficult to work on the computer without him at least asking what I’m doing. We have plenty of moments where I’m just nonchalantly surfing the internet and he’s playing video games, sure, but if he hears me furiously typing away, he’ll probably notice something’s up.

So, I find myself having to write posts before he comes home for work, or while I’m on my lunch break. When I write on my lunch break, I’ll write the posts in an email and discreetly post later, because I don’t want my coworkers to see my blog either.

My life would certainly be easier if he knew about the blog. He’d probably even encourage me to write MORE, which I’m sure you dear readers would appreciate. But, I don’t want to share this with him. I want to feel that this is my space where I can be open and honest. I don’t write too many negative things about him, because there just aren’t that many negative parts of him. But, on the off chance that something does come up, I want to be able to write about it. I want to not feel that I have to censor myself on this blog for fear that he might be reading. So, I stay private.

My husband used to be a writer, and has a bunch of published materials floating around the internet. Every now and then he’ll mention these articles, and I’ll want to compare it to my experience blogging. But then I realize I can’t, because he can’t know about my blog. He’s now a computer programmer, and I could certainly use his help in figuring out how to work certain features into the blog. But again, I can’t.

I imagine at some point I’ll tell him. I’ll open up all the old archives for him, and let him read it. It will be like showing him my diary. Which I did. The diary that I kept in middle school had all sorts of angsty pre-teen entries in it (“I hate X, because she pretended to be my friend but was really just using me!” and “I have such a huge crush on Y, but he’ll never like me because I have too many pimples. Sigh.” ). I recently found that diary and showed it to him. I would have died if anyone read that diary within a year or two of me writing it, but now that so many years have passed and I can look back at middle school and laugh, I was fine with it. In fact, I was glad that he read it, so that he can understand a little bit more about my childhood and how I developed into who I am today.

But that takes time. At some point, I’ll be ready to look back at this blog and laugh, at which point, I’ll want to share it with him. But for now, this is my secret place, and I’m alright with that.

Judging Sexuality

This morning, I may or may not have left a vibrating toy in the shower, which my uber conservative, religious roomate may or may not have seen when she showered after me.

By may or may not, I mean definitely happened.

I’m sitting here, holed up in my room, trying to avoid the room mate for a few days and see if she forgets about it.

But why do I feel the need to do that? Why is there any shame in sexuality? Having a vibrator doesn’t necessarily mean I am sexually active, and even if it did…why should she care? I’m clearly not bringing home random guys to our apartment? This has no effect on her whatsoever…except that she had to stare at a bright blue male organ the whole time she was in the shower.

When I realized what had happened, my body tensed up and got incredibly nervous. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything but lie on my bed and worry about what she would think of me?

And what WOULD she think of me? Would this mean I’m slutty? Would the fact that I have a vibrator mean that I know the pleasure of sexual orgasm, which would in turn mean that I have experienced it with a partner before? Which in turn would mean I’m not as religious as she is, which in turn would mean that she now has reason to doubt how kosher the food that I cook is?

Are those fair assumptions to make? No, but people make them anyway. Do I know for sure that she will make them? No, not at all.

But I have clearly made assumptions about her. I assumed she would judge me for owning a vibrator. And this puts me at just as much fault as I am putting her at.

Guilty Pleasures

Today, my english professor asked us to draw a picture of our bookshelves, and list what books were on them. Then she asked us to list the books that are not on our bookshelves, but would be on our ideal bookshelves. I made my lists, and while in general I am very pleased with my bookshelf, I deliberately left off some things that I didn’t want to share with the class, for example, the first book of the Twilight series.

I didn’t plan on reading Twilight. My reasoning was that if my fifth-grade students are reading it, the book couldn’t be THAT stimulating, and it certainly won’t be up to my intelligence level. I “broke” one Shabbos, while visiting a friend. I got bored of the textbook I had brought with me, and there was Twilight, sitting on her coffee table, asking to be read. It’s pretty poorly written, but it’s kinda like a Pringle-once you pop, you just can’t stop. I have to find out what happens to poor Bella and Edward.

Tonight, I was folding laundry while watching TV on my computer. My roomate came in to ask me a question, and I quickly turned off the show. Partly, it was so I could hear what she was saying, but partly, it was because I did not want her to know I was watching “The Secret Life of The American Teenager”. The show is TERRIBLE. The actors don’t really act, the plot is completely ridiculous and it glorifies teen pregnancy. Still, it’s a guilty pleasure. I have to watch because I want to know what happens-does the 15-year-old pregnant girl keep her baby or give it up for adoption? Does the father do as much as he says he will? What’s going to happen with this new boyfriend? Suffice it to say that I don’t watch much TV, because anytime I do, I get highly addicted.

Really, I shouldn’t be embarrassed at my forms of relaxation. If I solely read books such as Twilight, or watched shows like “Secret Life”, then I might have to start moving up to the next floor in the library. However, I’m comfortable with the amount of time I spend with these forms of entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with going brainless for an hour or two. Still, I close the computer and edit my bookshelf, because at the end of the day, I’d prefer to be a closet light-brain than a known light-brain.