Written by Daniel Bergner for The New York Times. Originally published January 22nd, 2015.
“In one of her early sessions with the patient, Bat Sheva Marcus, an Orthodox Jewish sex counselor, drew up a list. The patient, who was in her 20s, wore the uniform of her rigidly devout sect: a dark suit with a shapeless skirt reaching well below the knee, dark stockings, a plain blouse buttoned up to the neck and both a wig and a crocheted hat covering her head. She had come to Marcus’s offices in Midtown Manhattan from a cloistered community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, because she had been recoiling from sex with her husband. There was pain, and, more problematic for Marcus, there was no desire. The pain, Marcus and her staff deduced right away, was a result of muscle constrictions stemming from childbirth; this could be treated effectively with dilators — and without objection from the patient’s rabbi. But the deeper aversion was more complex. Talking with the woman at a round table in a room decorated with still lives of pears and berries, Marcus wrote a list of ways that the patient and her husband could make sex, for her, more appealing.
The suggestions ranged from the seemingly modest to the more direct, from reading romance novels to kissing with the lights on to wearing a lacy nightgown to his touching her clitoris to the use of a vibrator. The woman would take the list home to her husband, and he would take it to their rabbi, who would rule, one by one, on whether these interventions were allowed.
“She’d just found out what and where her clitoris is, after her third child,” Marcus said. “She’d told her OB-GYN that she was having pain,” and during their conversation he informed her about her anatomy. Merely having this basic knowledge put her ahead of plenty of Marcus’s Orthodox patients, who tend to be from the Satmar sect, one of the most strictly observant groups within Hasidic Judaism. Their circumscribed upbringings, in sections of Brooklyn or in Monsey, N.Y., a hamlet north of New York City, have been utterly insular, their worlds devoid of secular books, let alone television and the Internet. About sexuality, their minds have been kept free of information and infused with fear. “They have zero — zero — connection to pleasure,” Marcus said. “And there’s no vocabulary to start with them. We have an intake form to fill out, and they get to ‘orgasm’ and go to the receptionist and ask, ‘What is this?’ ” When Marcus begins to explore whether they’ve ever been aroused, they have no understanding of the concept.”
Read more about Bat Sheva Marcus and how she’s helping orthodox women begin to enjoy sex here.