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How often “should” Orthodox couples have sex?

I  recently received the following question from a therapist:

“Is there a norm as to how often religious couples should engage in sex?  The question comes specifically from a woman who has reached menopause and is no longer a niddah. Husband wants often, she prefers less frequently, but wants to be a “good wife”.

My answer was as follows:

The standard answer to this question is that there is no determined ‘normal’, and that couples vary in the frequency that works for them. But, attempting to answer that question directly might prevent the rich opportunity to further explore the sexual dynamic.

This would include staying curious about why she is asking the question and what it is like for her to “provide” sex in order to be a “good wife.”

I would want to know what the meaning is for her about sex, besides the “should” which implies obligation. Does she anticipate pleasure, closeness, passion freedom and vitality? Or is it boring at best, painful at worst?

How does she view his “wanting often?” Is she flattered, annoyed, jealous that he still has desire, while hers may have waned? How does she perceive the meaning of sex for him? Does she believe that providing sex even when she is uninterested makes her a “good wife?”

Sex provided as a service is not sustainable and is likely to produce resentment and acting out –aggressively or passively. Men lose interest in receiving this service as they want a sexual relationship that is mutually pleasurable and satisfying for their wives as well. If that is not the case, this raises red flags and should be explored further. 

Sex changes for many couples after menopause, but not only because of the change in “availability” due to ceased periods. The marriage itself is getting older. The children are around less so there may be more time to spend alone together, but there also may be new stresses including caring for older parents, job stress, and grandchildren responsibilities. And for some couples, sex changes for the better.

While your client’s question is about frequency and receiving reassurance regarding how much sex constitutes being a “good enough wife,”  sex isn’t only about frequency.  It is about communication, acceptance, meaning, and how it can be a place of connection and joy, even if the function is not what it used to be. 

There are sources that indicate that Judaism views marital relations as an obligation. More emphasis appears to be placed on the husband to provide sex to his wife, but the obligation is seen as mutual. However, if sex is provided solely out of obligation and requirement, the connection that develops out of desire, mutuality and consent is greatly endangered. 

If I provide an answer of “once a week, twice a week, once a month” –  how would that be helpful? So that she can tell her husband that his demands for frequent sex are statistically unreasonable?

It would be unfortunate if she has to “bring data” to see her side of things. They need to be able to communicate their feelings to each other so that they can better understand one another. Yes, it is hard for him too, but if she feels more entitled to her autonomy and less guilty for not wanting sex as frequently, she could allow herself to be compassionate and empathic to his loss as well. 

Sometimes, all it takes is a loving expression or a suggestion for an alternative activity both partners enjoy, in order to soothe the feelings of rejection and maintain intimacy and closeness. This, rather than agreeing to unwanted and undesired sex, will make her not only a “good wife”, but a better partner…

Hope this helps,

Talli

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