There are many Western religions that promote the belief that physical pleasure is "evil," but that's not so with Judaism. Jews acknowledge that God made the world with physical pleasures for us to enjoy.
Physical intimacy with a spouse is one of the most holy and pure connections within Judaism. In fact, it says in the Talmud, "A man is required to make his wife happy." Moshe Meiselman explains in his book Jewish Woman in Jewish Law that there is a commandment of onah, which states that a husband is required to have "regular relations" with his wife.
In addition to onah, the husband is obligated to have sexual relations with his wife "whenever she indicates a desire" and he should also make sure that she is satisfied before he takes his own satisfaction.
This does not mean, however, that Jews are completely progressive. Traditional Judaism discourages premarital sex and strongly prohibits extramarital sex. Yet, as everyday Americans become more open to the idea of sleeping with significant others before marriage, so have many secular Jews.
In the 1950s, it was considered standard for two people to wait until marriage to consummate the relationship. At what point in recent history did waiting become less common? An interesting fact: According to Sylvia Fishman's book A Breath of Life, in a 1977 survey of 100,000 American women 25 and under, over 90 percent of Jewish, Protestant and Catholic women reported that they had sex before marriage. One can only imagine the percentage now.
In a culture where men and women are waiting longer to get married, avoiding premarital sex is often difficult. (This, of course, excludes Orthodox Jews who often marry in their late teens or early 20s.)
In 2007, the sexual options and range of acceptable norms for Americans have greatly expanded from earlier generations. But has sexual liberation helped us in the dating game?
Many readers weighed in on the issue, expressing a range of opinions in their e-mails. I have used names from "Sex and the City" to ensure minimum embarrassment to my respondents while retaining maximum exposure on this touchy subject.
"Personally, I don't believe you can know for sure if the relationship is going to work if you don't have sex first," said Aidan, 36. "It is possible to fall in love, but I think, without sex, you are more likely to rush into the marriage. If you get married without having sex with anyone else, you will always be wondering what else is out there."
Carrie, 25, is conflicted on the topic. "On one hand, I think that if you are safe and you are mature enough to handle it, you should sleep with whoever you want, when you want to. I don't judge friends who sleep with many guys or sleep with them more quickly then I would.
"On the other hand, I have certain standards for myself. Like all expectations that one has, if I don't meet them, I don't beat myself up. I'm human."
Samantha, 34, realized in her prime years that sex was not as intimate as she would have thought. "I have come to realize that you should just go with the flow. If you feel it is right, go for it and it is not different for men and women. Sex is sex. It is more of a challenge for me to hold a man's hand and put my arm in his than it is to take my pants off. Strange, I know! Sex should be intimate, but it isn't always."
Still, we all have to figure out the appropriate amount of time to wait before sleeping with a new suitor. Out of all the responses I received, the most common was something along these lines: "It depends on the person and the situation" or "You'll know when it feels right." Another common answer (given mostly by the ladies): "At least a month or two."
I then asked, "Why wait a month if you're not going to wait for marriage?"
I got an array of answers.
"I wanted to see if it would go anywhere and I don't want him to think it's that easy to get — at least from me," said Miranda, 32.
After a month of dating someone, do you really know that much more about a person? Does setting a specific time limit really make an impact on the strength of a potential relationship or is it just a security check that women set up to make them feel justified in sleeping with a new partner?
When men were asked if they would judge a girl for sleeping with them too soon, most responded with a resounding, "No." I was not sure I could believe that. I then asked, "What if she slept with you after the first date?" Most agreed that if the relationship is meant to go anywhere, sleeping together on the first date is a no-no.
"I find that as I get older, I wait a little longer to sleep with someone — especially if I have strong feelings for her," said Steve. "I think after having some one night stands and a few purely physical relationships, I was able to feel like I had experienced enough to not rush into sleeping with someone. I like to wait until the fourth date if possible."
I applaud Steve's ability to wait four whole dates before moving into the bedroom. I wonder what would happen if he dated my female readers. They seem fixated on waiting at least a month. Could he hack it?