Here’s a typical scenario I see a lot as a therapist: a young Orthodox couple has been married a year, and unfortunately they have not been successful with adjusting to intimacy. The problem could be with an unconsummated marriage, pelvic pain, or libido concerns. As a parent, what makes this story even more heartbreaking to me is that their parents have no idea that this is happening and that their children are really suffering. Furthermore, the situation the couple has been struggling with was potentially a preventable one.
Kallah and chatan teachers (pre-wedding instructors for brides and grooms, respectively) are great, but the burden of educating young Orthodox adults should not lie entirely in their hands. As a kallah teacher myself, I have heard this plenty of times before from parents. Parents say to me, “When my child needs to know the information, then they will be told.” In their minds, when their child is engaged to be married is “the time,” and the person who will be educating their child is the kallah or chatan teacher.
However, let me point out some problems with this approach:
First, kallah teachers often have no more knowledge, training, or education on intimacy than any other married woman. To become a kallah teacher, most training programs include a vigorous review of the laws of taharat hamishpacha (family purity). Most have absolutely no training on biology, physiology, or marital relationships.
Are you surprised? Did you think that the typical kallah teacher has some extra knowledge about intimacy that you didn’t? Most really do not. That means that they are relying on their own experience with one man or the experiences of talking to kallahs or other teachers in order to educate your child. Kallah teachers as a group simply do not have enough education to be entirely responsible for your child’s intimate education.
Second, the structure of most kallah classes involves six to 10 private sessions. The last session is typically reserved for intimacy. This means that your child will be given maybe an hour of intimacy education, at most. Again, there is a lot to cover in kallah classes, the emphasis is on the halachos, and there is not enough time set aside for this topic.
Third, given that the structure of kallah classes is approximately six to 10 sessions with the final session dedicated to intimacy, this means that their education on intimacy happens days or weeks before the wedding. This is not enough time for many young women to fully absorb the new information, ask thorough questions, and begin the transition to accept and welcome intimacy. This is not only a concern about consummation; this is also a concern about accepting and enjoying this new aspect of their lives.
Finally, kallahs are incredibly busy and mentally over-stimulated during the period of their engagement. They have a tremendous amount to think about and to do, and a lot on their plate. In a span of just months, they are getting to know their chatan, they are planning every detail of their wedding, they are buying sheitels (wigs), they are choosing furniture and an apartment, they are picking out their wedding dress and their flowers, they are buying new clothes, and much, much more, all while often continuing to attend school and/or work. They have so much on their minds that this is not the best time to fully learn about and absorb what they need to know about intimacy.
As their parent, you will be doing them a great service and will truly help them by talking to your young adult child about marriage, relationships, and intimacy. Studies have consistently shown that greater communication from parents on this topic leads to greater self-confidence and healthier choices on the part of the young person.
I encourage you to:
Start early and deliver age-appropriate messages throughout your child’s life.
Model healthy body image in addition to healthy relationships throughout your child’s life.
Use books to help you talk to your child about intimacy.
Buy them books on intimacy they can read themselves.
Give them “the talk” yourself, rather than relying on the kallah teacher to do it. You have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about! Your young adult child needs time to absorb the information and needs to know that you are there to come to if they have any difficulties.
Talk to your child’s chatan or kallah teacher about this topic to make sure the message they are transmitting is the message you want your child to hear.
By speaking to your child yourself, you are sending the message that you can handle this conversation and you can be the person they come to if they have any challenges. Although you will feel sad to hear of any difficulty your child may have in marriage, you will be glad to learn about this swiftly rather than many years down the road. Most importantly, you can play a vital role in laying the groundwork for a healthy and loving relationship for your child and their future spouse.
By Rivka Sidorsky
Rivka Sidorsky is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, a licensed psychotherapist, a Board-certified supervisor, a published author, a Harvard University research fellowship recipient, and an experienced lecturer. She speaks widely at professional conferences and universities on improving intimacy, female function and dysfunction, and pelvic pain disorders. For consultations and appointments, please visit www.rivkasidorsky.com. Rivka lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband and three children.