Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Social Welfare


Deborah Tolman

Committee Members

Martha Bragin

SJ Dodd

David Ribner

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Work | Sociology of Religion


Social Work, Female Sexuality, Family Purity, Premarital Education, Jewish Sexuality, Gender Studies


The purpose of this project is to expand knowledge about the lived experience of married Orthodox Jewish women’s preparation and transition into sexual activity in marriage. When Orthodox women get married, they are undergoing a significant shift, for many, this is their first experience having a sexual relationship. In addition to the prohibition of premarital sexual behavior, the Orthodox Jewish community has a number of rituals, laws, and practices specifically related to menstruation and sexual relations within marriage. These laws, taharat hamishpacha, or family purity, are a set of laws and practices that regulate sex within marriage for both men and women. Most community members attend a premarital class that trains them in the laws of family purity and sexual education.

In this study, I looked to understand how women who are faithful to the traditions of the rituals, laws and customs of Orthodox Judaism experience their premarital education and early sexual experience within marriage. I was interested in understanding more about what makes premarital educational helpful to women. In addition, I looked to conceptualize the experience of early marital sexual experience and capture the experience of women as they transition into marriage and into a sexual relationship with a focus on sexual subjectivity.

This expanded knowledge informs clinical practice, education and program development to address their needs and to contribute to the broader conversation regarding female sexuality, particularly within cultural context. Specifically, this project generated new knowledge on the subject of sexuality, sexual education and help seeking behavior through the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.

The goals of this project were to gather descriptive and inferential data about the women’s experience and to elicit supplementary narratives to illuminate this data. Research about sexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community has been limited. The research in this project allows the otherwise silenced voices to surface and to have their experience acknowledged and supported. Project findings support social workers who provide services to, design programs for, and create community policy that concerns Orthodox Jewish women and their families by illuminating their experience.

I utilized a mixed methods study to collect data that included both an online quantitative survey and an online guided narrative with self-identified married Orthodox Jewish women. Both data collection tools were implemented through the use of Survey Gizmo, a secure website. The quantitative data was analyzed using SAS and is summarized using descriptive and inferential statistics. NVivo9, the qualitative data management software, and Excel were used for the analysis of the written narratives.

The purposive sample includes 398 self-identified married Orthodox Jewish women that conform to the criteria that they are currently married, identify as Sabbath observant, observe kosher dietary laws, and go to the mikvah (ritual bath) monthly, as necessary.. Participants were recruited online, primarily through Facebook, emails and word of mouth. In addition to this final dissertation project, findings will be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals and presentation at professional conferences in the fields of social work, Jewish studies, and gender and sexuality.