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Navigating the Laws of Shomer Negiah in a Secular World

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The Modern Orthodox Jewish (MO) community currently functions on the fantasy that MO teens are receiving all their messaging around sex from their Jewish schools and communities. The messaging these students receive tells them to refrain from sex and touching people of the opposite sex until marriage. This messaging can be confusing for young people who live in both the secular and religious worlds and don’t know which religious laws or cultural norms to conform to. This study seeks to find the impact that growing up in this community and attending these high schools has on young MO women. The study was conducted through 17 interviews with unmarried MO young women ages 18-25 about their sexual health and past experiences. Participants were recruited through Facebook groups and participated in an hour-long Skype interview that focused on interviewees’ perceptions of their sexual health and experiences. The data were analyzed through a process of open coding which were turned into analytic categories leading to the final analysis of the full dataset. This study found that participants strongly identify with being Jewish but are simultaneously figuring out what that means to them; they all feel a pressure to be shomer negiah (refrain from sexual activity) to some extent; they feel that sexuality is not talked about enough; and they want to talk more about sexuality. The data from this study could be particularly meaningful to therapists and school administrators in helping religious women better understand their own sexual health and engage in healthier practices.

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  • 06/03/2019
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