When it comes to sex, the Jewish tradition seems to promote a much more candid attitude than us guilt-ridden Gentiles.
Consider a few examples from the Mishneh Torah’s Sefir Nashim (the Book of Women):
A young woman was carefully examined for signs of sexual maturity:
[In addition to growing pubic hairs,] a woman has signs of physical maturity that are manifest in her upper body. They are referred to as “upper signs.” Among them are:
a) when the woman stretches her hand backward, a crease forms in the place of her breast; b) the color of the tip of the breast becomes darker; c) when a person places his hand on the end of the breast and it remains depressed slightly before rising; d) creases form at the end of the breast, and a nipple takes shape; my teachers taught that the formation of creases is sufficient; e) the breasts protrude; f) they become erect; g) the mound of Venus forms above the woman’s genitals, below her stomach; h) the flesh of this mound becomes soft and not hard. These are eight signs. (Ishut 2:7)
They did not think it “shallow” to disqualify a woman from marriage based on appearances:
What are the physical blemishes that cause a woman to be deemed unfit [as a wife]: All the physical blemishes that cause a priest to be deemed unfit [for service in the Temple] cause a woman to be deemed unfit. In Hilchot Bi’at HaMikdash, all the blemishes affecting the priests are explained. In addition, [there are other blemishes that cause] women [to be deemed unfit]. They include: foul body odor, [excessive] sweating, foul breath, deep voice, breasts of abnormal size, being more than a handbreadth larger than those of other women, a distance of more than a handbreadth between one breast and the other, a scar in the place where she was bit by a dog, and a birthmark on her forehead.
A non-laborer was expected to have sex every night:
Healthy men who are pampered and indulged, and who are not employed in labor that weakens their strength – but rather eat, drink and spend [the majority of their day] at home – should fulfill their conjugal duties every night.
[The following rules apply to] workers – e.g., tailors, weavers, construction workers and the like. If they work in the city [in which they live], they should fulfill their conjugal duties twice a week. If they work in another city, they should fulfill their conjugal duties once a week.
Donkey-drivers should fulfill their conjugal duties once a week. Camel-drivers should fulfill their conjugal duties once every thirty days. Seamen should fulfill their conjugal duties once every six months. (Ishut 14:1)
The wife had the right to prevent her husband from reducing sex:
A wife has the right to prevent her husband from making business trips except to close places, so that he will not be prevented from fulfilling his conjugal duties. He may make such journeys only with her permission.
Similarly, she has the prerogative of preventing him from changing from a profession that grants her more frequent conjugal rights to one that grants her less frequent rights – e.g., a donkey-driver who wishes to become a camel-driver, or a camel-driver who wishes to become a seaman. (Ishut 14:2)
A man’s virility was the primary reason a woman married a man:
If he becomes sick or his virility is weakened, and he is unable to engage in sexual relations, he is given a period of six months- for [a woman is never required to wait] longer for her conjugal rights than this – in the hope that he recovers. Afterwards, the prerogative is hers [whether to remain married] or whether he must divorce her and pay her [the money due her by virtue of her] ketubah. (Ishut 14:7)
Rebellious wives were publicly shamed:
if she rebelled against her husband with the intent of causing him distress, saying: “I intend to cause him distress this way, because he did this or this to me,” “…because he cursed me,” “…because he has caused me strife,” or the like, she is sent a messenger from the court, [who] tells her: “Take note. If you continue your rebellious conduct, you will forfeit your ketubah, even if it is worth one hundred maneh.”
Afterwards, announcements are made concerning her in the synagogues and the houses of study each day for four consecutive weeks,19 saying: “So and so has rebelled against her husband.” (Ishut 14:9)
Wives were expected to be ready and willing at all times… never using sex to manipulate:
She should not deny her husband [intimacy] to cause him anguish, so that he should increase his love for her. Instead, she should oblige him whenever he desires. (Ishut 14:18)
A man was expected to give a… um… “healthy” performance in the bedroom:
[The following laws apply when] a woman comes to court and claims that her husband cannot perform sexually in an ordinary way that will lead to the conception of children, or that he does not [release semen] as one shoots an arrow. The judges should try to arrange a compromise, telling the woman: “It is proper for you to conduct yourself with your husband [as follows]: Remain [married] for ten years. [If] you do not give birth, come to him with a claim at that time.” (Ishut 15:15)
They had an offensive secret to having a happy marriage:
And similarly, they commanded a woman to honor her husband exceedingly and to be in awe of him. She should carry out all her deeds according to his directives, considering him to be an officer or a king. She should follow the desires of his heart and shun everything that he disdains.
This is the custom of holy and pure Jewish women and men in their marriages. And these ways will make their marriage pleasant and praiseworthy. (Ishut 15:20)
I’m not saying we need to follow Jewish tradition. But the traditions are worth paying attention to since they are derived from Scripture. For all God’s rebukes against the Jews for going beyond what was commanded, being too occupied with sexual functions was not one of them.
Judging by the myriad of sexual problems we experience in our Greco-Roman culture, perhaps we could learn a few things from our Jewish counterparts.