Sex At the Synagogue- An Oral Report

Ok, I have to admit that I played around with multiple headlines for this story. It was hard not to get more creative but I think that there is enough real material here to warrant a mention without the juvenile humor.

Rabbi Marc Gellman is a columnist for Newsweek who writes upon various affairs. In his real life he is the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York.

In a recent column he wrote about his thoughts about what is supposed to be a recent increase in the amount of oral sex between teens as well as about sex in general. I applaud him for speaking about this topic because I think that it is a worthwhile discussion, but I have to say that I am very skeptical about the assertion that there is some kind of tremendous increase in the amount of sexual activity in our youth.

I do not have any hard data to offer you, just my own thoughts and experiences and that which has been shared with me by my friends but I have a very hard time believing that there is some kind of tremendous increase. For that matter I do not believe that there is any more sexual activity now than in the past.

If anything I expect that there is more coverage and conversation about these topics. Some of the social taboos about discussing such things more publicly are not as firm as they once were, but on the whole, I don’t buy it.

I went through USY, Camp Ramah and a number of other youth groups and let me tell you, there was sex and sexual activity. I know from friends who attended NCSY, AZA, BBYO and NFTY that there was sex.

Part of growing up includes a section of time in which you are in hormonal overdrive and for many people that includes experimentation with people you love and people that you really like.

I think that it is important to discuss sex and the ramifications of it with our children. I don’t think that it should be presented as something that should be done just for fun or because you can but it is a grave mistake to pretend that it is not happening and or not going to happen just because we wave our fingers in someone’s face.

And for my friends who taut being Shomer Negiah as a solution let me say that the unspoken secret is that this still doesn’t prevent sex. It may slow it down or force more creative solutions to having it, but it still happens.

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  1. PsychoToddler November 27, 2005 at 10:40 pm

    I had more of Ezzie’s background than yours, Jack, and I agree with him. There is definitely less sex in the Orthodox community. I mean, I was in NCSY and I didn’t get any. But maybe I was hanging around with the wrong crew. Or maybe it was my complexion at the time.

    But I digress. My perception is (from my interaction with a broad spectrum of the Jewish as well as non-Jewish communities) that there is more sex now all around. certainly in the non-Jewish community, it is a given that most kids will lose their virginity before the end of HS. I’m constantly in a state of shock and awe when one of my teenage patients tells me he/she is not sexually active. I usually wait until the parents are gone and ask again. The answer will change quickly.

    Amongst the non-orthodox Jews I see, that answer is changing too. And yes, it is happening amongst the orothodox. But they are still a fringe element and very much in the closet.

    To quote my rabbi, our way of life is under seige by the society around us that considers you abnormal if you are a virgin at 14. His answer is to shut society out.

    I’ve thought about that, even as I’m sending my 16 year old to the big city for college. She’s dealing with boy/girl relationship issues that most kids deal with in 6th grade, but because she’s the product of a right wing, single sex educational system, she hasn’t had to deal with them until college.

    Thank Gd she’s a good kid who has a great relationship with her parents. And thank Gd we’re still young enough to know exactly what’s going on in that mindset and can advise her.

    But you’re right, you can’t stop it, only delay it.

  2. Jack's Shack November 27, 2005 at 7:51 am


    You are up late, aren’t you.I used to keep those hours and then my children kept waking up at 6 and I was stuck with all of three hours of sleep.

    Not that this relates to the post, but…

  3. Ezzie November 27, 2005 at 7:43 am

    Jack – I thought I had emphasized that dress is the smallest factor of them, but I think I deleted that sentence. I know of my fair share of stories as well (FFB in all difference circles), but the more someone appreciated shomer negiah the less chance they came near that ‘line’ – and even those who crossed would stop at some point.

  4. Jack's Shack November 27, 2005 at 7:22 am

    Hi Tamara,

    As I mentioned in my post I can really only go by my own experiences. There was a ton of sex in my schools and youth groups. There were pregnant teens.

    That doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t valid, just different from mine.


    I hear what you are saying. I disagree with your comments about dress because the attraction between sexes is strong enough that dress will not inhibit it, ok maybe a burka might.

    Being kept separate will make it less likely and less prevalent, but it doesn’t prevent it. I am one of those people who grew up with the FFBs and the BTs so I know a few stories here and there.


    It does seem to be easier for people to discuss in public.

  5. Robbie November 27, 2005 at 1:46 am

    I’m actually teaching a class about this right now to high school juniors. From my discussions with them I’ve noticed that it’s not necessarily more sexual activity across the board (although there are probably communities that sense a rise in activity), there seems to be a rise in the comfort of discussion about the topic.

    Teens aren’t nearly as self-concious to talk about their (or any) sexual activities – talking is no longer taboo like it used to be. Teens have been bringing it up more, and I think that adults are getting more comfortable with it.

  6. Ezzie November 27, 2005 at 1:21 am

    Interesting post…

    [sorry – thoughts below not well-formed… random, you might say…]

    Shomer negiah and tznius (when presented properly) definitely do cut down on sex et al; though granted, there are always those who will experiment regardless. Education is far more important in this regard. That said, if people – particularly teens – can be well-educated on both sex and tznius, and the positives of being shomer negiah vs. the negatives of not, there would be far less cases of teen sex. Throw in yichud, as well.

    The less someone is placed in a situation where sex is even a possibility, the less likely it is to happen. When teens are encouraged to pursue good, safe ways of passing time and having fun, they don’t fall into situations where they will have sex. Dressing in a more modest fashion reduces the likelihood somewhat as well; not being alone too often even more. When you are brought up with the ideal that it’s best not to touch the other sex [unless it would be rude etc], it makes the likelihood of anything happening even smaller. If you’re going to do something “wrong”, you might touch or kiss; it would be a while before anyone took that to a different level.

    Would they reduce teen sex to zero? No. But it would be very, very low.

  7. Tamara November 27, 2005 at 12:52 am

    As a public high school teacher, I can assuredly say that sex is more prevalent. I also am a product of public high school. Kids are much more touchy, much more scantily dressed, much more open about kissing, feeling up, etc. I have students who are pregnant. There are students who constantly leave school to go to schools for pregnant teens. A school I worked at in San Diego had a day care on campus for the student’s babies. So…yes, I KNOW it’s more prevalent. And as far as oral sex, I believe (don’t laugh), that I saw this on Oprah. The fact that teens don’t consider oral, sex, means they have more of it because they believe it still qualifies them as virgins. They also THINK oral is safe. That being said, it’s so important to tell our kids (grantedf I know observant communities handle things differently) not only how to have safe intercourse, but what IS and ISN’T safe when talking about ALL things sexual. Good post Jack…thanks

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