Sisterhood Blog

Rabbis Nix Frank Language in Sex-Ed Book

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share

Sex educator Sara Diament has written a book, “Talking to Your Children About Intimacy: A Guide for Orthodox Jewish Parents,” meant to encourage parents to speak frankly with their children about sex, starting with helping preschoolers describe their body parts accurately up through the more complex task of talking with teenagers.

Diament, based in New Jersey, teaches health education to girls in Orthodox day schools and yeshivas, and also teaches pregnant public high school students. She found that the parents of girls she was teaching in Jewish schools felt comfortable talking with their daughters about puberty but “were anxious about the next level of conversation. They couldn’t even get the words out,” she said.

At first she sent them to Barnes & Noble, which has a wide selection of relevant books, but then realized they were inappropriate for Orthodox readers, who probably aren’t going to want to tell their 13 year olds about birth control and HIV-AIDS. Those books also lack discussion of the spiritual and religious dimensions that are ideally intrinsic to sexual relationships between religious Jews.

There was also a distinct need for information: “Alot of girls have extraordinary gaps in knowledge,” Diament said. “It’s not infrequent that we’ll be talking about the biology of sexuality, girls don’t always have a good sense of their genitalia on the basic level. Or a girl asked something when she was a little girl, got an incomplete answer and that was the last time she and her parents talked about it. For a lot of modern Orthodox girls movies and magazines are their primary source of information, and they really don’t they have the knowledge they need.”

While all of the Jewish publishers she approached recognized the need for her book, Diament had to publish the book herself because none of them would. “They didn’t feel they needed to stick their neck out for something some people might feel is ‘inappropriate’ They all recognized the need but have their private concerns, which I understand, but I feel is unfortunate,” Diament told The Sisterhood.

The most noticeable thing about her book devoted to healthy sex education is that Diament doesn’t actually use the term “sex.” Instead, it is peppered with euphemisms like “marital relations,” “physical intimacy” and “procreation.” Just about the only place where the term “sexual intercourse” is used is in a translated direct quote from the Ramban.

An early draft of the book used straightforward language. But then, seeking the rabbinic approbation needed to sell books in the frum community, the rabbis she consulted told her to “tone down” the language, Diament said.

Her rabbinic advisors on the book, Rabbis Hershel Schachter and Mordechai Willig told her to use the modest language because “society is so overtly sexual that we have to make sure that we have to keep sure we keep our sexuality within a modest framework. You have to put that extra fence around it,” she explained.

After chapters addressing issues of puberty, preparing to date and other developmental stages, Diament encourages parents to discuss abuse and how to help children protect themselves. “This is a discussion that you must have with your child, in the same way that you teach them to cross a street safely, not to touch fire etc,” she writes. “It is also not a topic that can be mentioned once – it must be revisited and reviewed as your child gets older and encounters new situations. It might not be one of the conversations that you look forward to having with your child, but it will be one of the most important.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Orthodox, Sara Diament, Sex Education, Hershel Schachter, Mordechai Willig

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.




Find us on Facebook!
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • 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.