Sisterhood Blog

Daphne Merkin Stops 'Acting Like the Virgin Mary!'

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

My favorite essayist, Daphne Merkin, has a piece in the new issue of O: The Oprah magazine, about discussing the topic of sex with her 19-year-old daughter. Titled “Stop Acting Like the Virgin Mary!” — after what her mother exclaimed when the writer brought up fears relating to her own virginity as a young woman — Merkin treats the topic with some delicacy.

Bringing literary wit to the most ribald of topics, Merkin has written extensively about her own erotic life, most infamously in a 1996 New Yorker essay, “Spanking: A Romance.” The last section of her collected essays, “Dreaming of Hitler,” is devoted to disquisitions on matters explicitly Jewish.

Merkin is my favorite essayist for her fearlessness in excavating what lies beneath the polite evasions on topics that most prefer to gloss over. She is never anything but ruthlessly — though artfully — honest. We’ll see what, if anything, she eventually writes about the sad trouble into which her brother J. Ezra Merkin has dragged their family name. (J. Ezra Merkin is the money manager who was last week charged with civil fraud by the State of New York, for “secretly steering” $2.4 billion of client money into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.)

But in O magazine, Merkin writes of that rarest of moments — being invited into a conversation her daughter is having with friends from their high school. She is asked to weigh in on the issue of whether oral sex (which, sadly, always seems assumed to be something that boys will receive from girls) is more intimate than sleeping with guys. She writes that they come to no conclusions, but simply a deeper appreciation of “the complexities of sexual arousal.”

There is so much rocky emotional terrain to be delicately navigated by mothers when dealing with our adolescent daughters (and sons).

Sex and sexual identity. Body image and food. Class consciousness and social dynamics.

None of it seems easy, though I am grateful to have a paradigm of Jewish values in which to root discussions around relationships and sexual behavior with my children. That said, I’m not sure which group has more of a challenge — Orthodox Jews, who live in a community where discussing these issues in detail is not typical, and so they are largely ignored, which engenders its own problems, or liberal Jews, where Jewish values as they relate to these issues may be part of youth group and Hebrew school lessons, but not always a part of our thinking as parents.

In a world in which black-and-white positions around religion and sexuality are easy to understand (if not always to integrate into the messiness of real life), it isn’t easy to live consciously “in between,” religiously and culturally. I try to communicate to my children the deep value of being comfortable with our bodies and sexual feelings, while also treating themselves and others with dignity — and I hope that it will help them navigate the difficult shoals of adolescent and young adult relationships.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Dapne Merkin, Sex

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
d Tue. Apr 14, 2009

She wrote about Madoff in the Times




Find us on Facebook!
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.