While listening to the latest episode of Intimate Judaism, a podcast co-hosted by Rabbi Scott Kahn and certified sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum, a very important thought came up for me. Often, during my work as a couples and intimacy therapist, I wonder, “If this couple would have been directed, advised or counseled differently earlier in their marriage, would they be struggling to the same extent?”

As Talli mentioned in the podcast “Painful Sex and Vaginismus: It’s Not Your Fault,” we sex therapists don’t get the simple cases. Our clients are usually more complex, and issues surrounding vaginal pain and marital relationships very often become even more complex as time passes and preliminary treatments fail.

In order to avoid prolonging the marital stress that accompanies vaginal pain, I believe it is of extreme importance to find the right address for help early on. But how does a couple, often young, inexperienced and now in crisis, know how to navigate the field of sexual and mental health? This is a very important question in the mental health field in general and with sexual health in particular, as it is a very private topic. 

My advice is to begin by conducting extensive research. There is so much information about practitioners available online. You can look people up and check their credentials quite easily. In addition, anonymous posts in relevant Facebook groups can be very useful for getting personal recommendations in your area.

You can find certified sexual health therapists through ITAM (The Israeli Association for Sexual Therapy) and AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists). Support is also available from the NVA (National Vulvodynia Association) and Shlema (vulvodynia support). Although working with one of these therapists doesn’t guarantee a successful experience, the individuals affiliated with these organizations have earned professional certifications and have had their credentials vetted. Working with a certified professional can lead to a better outcome for you as a client. 

My second piece of advice is to go with your gut. Although sexual well-being is a private topic and a bit of discomfort is normal, if you call a practitioner, or have a meeting in their office, and you feel more than a bit uncomfortable, trust yourself. This may not be the right person for you.

After all, you are the expert on you.

Be assured that there are trained, professional sex therapists who help people every day with whatever sexual health challenges you’re facing. I encourage you to reach out to one of us to get the support you need.

Feel free to email me with any thoughts or questions at [email protected]

period power book cover

My reset button has been pushed and so here I am, sharing some of the insight I have gained over this tekufah (time period) in general, and in my private practice in particular. 

As we welcome in the New Year, we are met with the honor and privilege of reconnecting with the Torah from the beginning, with Parashat Bireshit. Bireshit details the Creation of Woman, Man and the World. It encourages thoughts about how  humans developed and how we function.  This Parsha brings the focus to the beauty and wonderment of the human body and cycles, The bracha of ‘Asher Yatzar’, where we thank G-d for the proper functioning of every opening and tube in our biological system. (Below you will notice a free resource surrounding this idea). 

period power book coverHere, I would like to draw your attention to an interesting idea related to human functioning. If any of you have heard me speak live, I often challenge my group of Rebbetzins, Kallah Teachers, Yoatzot Halacha, therapists or just ‘regular women’ (no such thing, we are all superwomen) if they have ever been exposed to Torah sources surrounding females and hormones. To this date, I have not yet received a ‘yes’. Which is astounding because the more I practice, and meet with couples and individuals struggling in the areas of Shalom Bayit and/or sexuality, the more it becomes clear to me that there is so much more at play here than what meets the eye. So please! Please keep your eyes open and let me know if you stumble across any worthwhile sources on this topic.

Until recently I was convinced that the ‘Curse of Chava’ in this week’s Parsha, was that she was given a more complex system of  hormones than Adam. The Torah is not solely referring to labor pains (which are hormone related), but will last a certain amount of hours – compared to Man who must toil in the field daily. How could our curse be limited in time and the male curse be ongoing?  That doesn’t seem fair to the men. 

There must be something else that the idea ‘והוא ימשל בך’ (and He shall rule over you) is referring to. If you think about it, there is not much different about men and women; not size, strength, intellect. All of that has been proven inaccurate. The one place where it is clear to see gender differences, is where hormones come into play. Yes, males have hormones as well. But we, we women, are gloriously linked to the moon on a monthly repeat cycle known as the menstruation cycle. This is often seen as a struggle, a hard place for women to function. But here I would like to present an idea that will allow for that negative attitude to take a new turn.  

I feel that I have been given a goldmine on the hormone topic in the new read ‘Period Power’ by Maisie Hill. With this book, I feel that many of my thoughts/ hypotheses surrounding the topic of female hormones and how they impact the individual, the couple and the family, are put into words. Maisie describes the changes that the female reproductive system goes through on a monthly basis (starting from the first period- age 12, 13….) are real, often consistent, and carry with them positive and negative consequences. She goes on to describe the ‘Cycle Strategy’ thereby explaining how it is possible for women to not only gain understanding and control of their monthly changes, but how we can use them to our advantage. Imagine that!?!  

Thank you, Maisie, for bringing this to the limelight…
>> Buy it now from Amazon

There is a cycle- RESPECT IT. Just knowing that there is really something going on, and that you are not ‘nuts’ is so significant. The monthly changes that a woman undergoes could affect mental health, libido, physical strength, appetite, social aspects of life, productivity… I mean, basically, everything in your life. When a person is able to gain insight into her own personal rythm, she is taking care of herself as well as harnessing her powers as a woman. Thereby allowing for higher level functioning. All of the hormones being fired off at all times of the month for different reasons and with differing effects. They are part of you and if understood, can be working FOR YOU and not against you.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the Cycle Strategy (I recommend buying the book for deeper understanding) :

Winter- A need for hibernation. Solitude. Quiet and alone time.

Spring- Getting back out there! Growth!

Summer – Rolling with it

Autumn- Returning to introspection and getting ready to hunker down in a healthy way.

And who better to become experts on our cycles, than us Orthodox women, who spend much of our married lives ‘tracking’ and checking for the purpose of Niddut. 

So PLEASE. Get the book. Give it a read. Share your experience of it with me at [email protected]. And TELL YOUR FRIENDS. And your partner of course. Your kids.  And maybe your religious mentor/leader. 

This is one of those things it would be wrong to keep to yourself.

Personal Tales on This Topic

Tamar and Moishe came into therapy surrounding challenges in the bedroom, specifically related to Tamar’s interest in sex. As we worked through various issues, it became clear that Tamar WAS interested in sex, and did experience sexual arousal. The issue was that this happened during what we call ‘the Shiva Nekiim’, what Maisie refers to as the Spring, the 7 day time period after the menstruation ends. The work for this couple then had to become to figure out how to bring some of that ‘Spring Sexiness’ into the ‘Summer’ and ‘Autumn’. The being aware of what is going on when, and that this is not so much a couples issue as it is a hormonal issue, was a big piece of the work. One may imagine how hurtful it must have been for the marriage for Moishe to feel rejected on a monthly basis. And how Tamar had to doubt her own interest in her spouse. With this deeper understanding of how her body works, these truths can be mitigated as it makes sense hormonally for that to be taking place while the body is getting ready for ovulation.

Another important pattern I have seen in my work, is the down feelings that Autumn and Winter bring. I believe the need to be alone during this menstruating time makes individuals wonder about their feelings for their partner. With the information that it is normal to need alone time and space, and this is not necessarily a reflection of how one feels about their partner, there is again room for understanding and acceptance.  Two very important pieces to every puzzle.

mikva the musical image

NOTE: I shared these ideas at a performance of Mikva the Musical: Music and Monologues from the Deep in January 2019. I want to express hakarat hatov to co-producers Myra Gutterman and Toby Klein Greenwald and the entire cast of Mikva the Musical for making mikvah a “speakable” topic. This talk was adapted from shiur by Michal Roness, Yoetzet

For reasons of tzniut , people are commonly taught that the mitzvah of taharat hamishpacha should never be discussed, except in private settings between husband and wife. I believe that, contrary to this understanding, there are multiple benefits to making mikvah a “speakable” topic in your home.

We say in sex therapy, marriage counseling, and in regular therapy as well, that when a topic is off-limits or cannot be discussed, confusion, turmoil and potentially chaos surrounds that very topic. By making a topic “speakable”, by allowing it to be discussed, you’re automatically bringing light and clarity into the conversation, even before anything
was really said.

By allowing for mikvah -going, s hmirat hilchot niddah and taharat hamishpacha to be topics that are discussed in your home, with your children, you can create a healthy discourse around these very important halachot . You are also creating a healthy framework for sexuality to be spoken about in your home.

Very often in my office, I see that couples who struggle the most in the areas of intimacy and sexuality are those who got no messages about sexuality from their childhood homes. They often struggle understanding their bodies, its needs as well as the desires of the partner. Thus, the ability to have healthy discussions about intimacy and sexuality with your family will only help your children in their future homes, BeH.

It’s not that actual marital intimacy is the topic. We’re not talking about telling your kids about your intimate life. Rather, there is value in discussing going to the mikvah the same way we talk about Shabbat and kashrut . We teach our children, by example, how important those mitzvot are, and the details of how to keep them. We have the same opportunity with mikvah.

How do we allow mikvah to be a “speakable” topic? Once we’re open to the idea that mikvah can and should be discussed openly in our homes, we can take advantage of moments that naturally come up in the course of ordinary family life.

So much of what our kids get from us is by observation. They’re always looking. They notice everything. So the next time your kid is lying in bed with you and they notice that the beds in your room are sometimes together and sometimes separate, that’s a perfect teachable moment to explain to them that when the beds are separated, Mom and Dad are in a niddah period.

Similarly, when you’re introducing the idea of shomer negiah to your pre-teens and you explain the value of no touching between men and women, they may bring up the fact that they’ve seen their parents touch. That’s a perfect opportunity to teach them that there are times when the halacha requires you to abstain from touching.

Moments like this allow us to have naturally-occurring discussion with our kids. They give us an opportunity to explain what we do and that this is something that we’re strict about. We teach by example. Once the topic is open, we can discuss how these laws could apply to their future lives as well.

In fact, contrary to the popular understanding that we should never discuss this mitzvah in our homes, the Shulchan Aruch (197:3) offers a principle known as serech bita . The fact that we toivel at night is related to the idea that our children are always observing our behavior.

According to the Shulchan Aruch , we don’t go to the mikvah during the day because we don’t want our daughters to have the impression that we didn’t wait the proper length of time. We also don’t want our daughters to err by thinking they can go to the mikvah on the seventh day itself if they are nervous to go out at night.

As the Shulchan Aruch suggests, by not discussing mikvah openly in your home, you forfeit the responsibility to teach your children about the mitzvah by example.

We’ve all heard about elaborate ruses that women make up just so no one knows they’re going to the mikvah. They were taught that their kids should never know. I heard a story about one woman who keeps a bag of non-perishables, like canned goods, in the trunk of her car. When she comes home from the mikvah, she brings the bag into her home with her and so her kids think she was running errands.

The Shulchan Aruch actually offers an opposite approach. Let your kids know that you’re going to the mikvah . It’s our responsibility to teach our children that this is what we’re doing and why this is important to us.

In summary, by allowing mikvah to be a “speakable” topic in your home, when it comes up naturally and you take the opportunity to speak with your kids regarding healthy intimacy and keeping the halachot of taharat hamishpacha , your whole family benefits.

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