Susan Weidman Schneider

Explicit and Liberating Sex Education

Bat Sheva Marcus, a sex educator, has a new tool for enlightening not just the Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox women who are the base of her clinical practice, but the rest of the human race as well. She is the lively and genial — and often funny — co-host and resident sexuality expert for a new podcast series, “The Joy of Text,” a forum for rabbinic and psychological perspectives on sexual behavior, from masturbation before (and during) marriage, to the use of sex toys, to whether fantasy can be a religiously approved aspect of sexual behavior.

“The Joy of Text” is billed as “in-depth conversations by rabbinic and medical experts about subjects that you’ll almost never hear discussed anywhere else, even online.” A podcast segment recorded live at LimmudNY this winter featured Marcus in conversation with Miryam Kabakov, author of the lesbian anthology Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires. In another segment, Marcus and her co-host, Rabbi Dov Linzer, answered a listener’s question about whether it’s permissible to “talk dirty.” Earlier episodes discussed premarital condom use and “sneaking out to the mikveh.”

Marcus, whose dissertation for her doctorate in human sexuality was on women and vibrator use, led off the LimmudNY podcast by describing how she told high school girls at a Jewish day schools that they should get a mirror and look carefully at their own bodies, and touch themselves to find out “what feels good.” When one student said, incredulously, “It sounds like you’re telling us to masturbate!” Marcus replied, “I am.” And then, Marcus recounted, some girls said that masturbation is used as a slur, that their male peers hurl insults like “You are so hard up you masturbate.” Marcus, with helpful humor, told the girls to hurl back with,“You should only be so lucky as to get to be with a girl who does masturbate.”

Marcus, featured recently in the New York Times, the Jewish Week and elsewhere, is the clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality and a co-founder of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, which sponsors the podcasts along with the Modern Orthodox rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

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