I want, I will, I should, I must: Is the sex you are having actually consensual?


I want to, so yes.

I want to want to, so yes.

I don’t want to, but  I know I should, so yes

I don’t want to, but must, so yes. I guess.

Numerous sources in Jewish tradition demonstrate that sex in marriage must be mutual and consensual and at no time can sex be forced or coerced. 

The ideal consensual situation is enthusiastic consent with mutual desire. In reality  a woman’s desire for sex may be influenced by several factors, including pregnancy, childbirth, fatigue, relationship issues and other variables, and contemporary sexual research has normalized the fact that women may not have constant ongoing spontaneous desire.  Therefore, having cognitive desire if not biological drive and high motivation for intimacy, known as “responsive” desire, is thought to  provide “good enough” consent.

In order to give consent, you have to also have the option to not consent. Sometimes the woman (and yes, even the man) wants to be able to say “no thanks, not tonight.”

However, many women report having been taught that  a married woman should be available to her husband when he expresses the want or need for sex. “What is a kosher woman?” said our sages, “one who does her husband’s bidding.” This statement, as well as those alluding to the expectation is that a wife is responsible to protect her husband from sin,  is often quoted regarding physical intimacy.  This type of instruction potentially creates a power differential and  instills fear of the consequences of saying no.  It describes men as needy and helpless to regulate themselves sexually. It also affects desire because it turns sex in to another caretaking need.

In this episode of Intimate Judaism, Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Scott Kahn discuss how non-consensual sexual dynamics can be built in to the system by marital education messages that teach overtly or subtly that women are obligated to provide sex ar certain times, or require rabbinic permission to say no. We invite you to listen to this thought provoking and important discussion about the importance of integrating sexual autonomy and ethical sexual behavior in Jewish marriage. Click here to listen.

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