Torah-Observant Jewish Married Couples: The Influence of Mandated Abstinence of Physical Touch and Marital Maintenance
Maintaining sexual desire as the marriage endures is a challenge, especially as it involves the interplay of seemingly opposing tensions of novelty, autonomy, and closeness. Difficulties can arise when autonomy, which requires spousal distancing, is perceived as a martial threat and therefore suppressed. This dissertation investigates whether prosocial marital distancing can nurture autonomy and promote sexual desire.
Torah-observant Jewish married couples practice family purity, a Jewish law forbidding sexual relations during menstruation and shortly thereafter. During this time couples often avoid sleeping in the same bed, physical touch, and behaviors that can instigate a sexual encounter. These distancing restrictions are lifted when the wife immerses in a ritual bath. The process repeats at the next menstruation.
This research examined the effects of family purity’s marital distancing through two studies. The first involved qualitative interviews of family purity wives (N = 10) guided by relational dialectics theory (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996). Study one findings suggest that family purity wives navigate the three tensions of integration, expression, and certainty. Study one also revealed a new tension, the dialect of restraint. The dialectic of restraint appears to enhance marital communication, heighten the appreciation for the mundane, and help sustain sexual desire.
Study two, the quantitative phase of the research, applied self-expansion theory (Aron & Aron, 1986) to investigate differences between family purity and non-family purity couples. A sample of 90 married Jewish dyads (N = 180) participated in a cross-sectional online questionnaire. Findings suggest that while non-practicing couples report greater self-expansion, family purity couples report greater sexual closeness. Family purity couples also report the same closeness and sexual closeness ideals, whereas non-practicing couples reported divergent ideals. Non-practicing family purity husbands had the greatest reported discrepancy between ideal and actual sexual closeness.
The combined findings suggest that sanctioned prosocial distancing as practiced by family purity couples enables the integration of cognitive growth and mitigates the threat of autonomy. Prosocial distancing within the family purity marriage appears to provide the wife space for autonomy that in turn provokes novelty and sexual desire. Findings are discussed in relation to theoretical contributions, study limitations, and future directions.