Why Shomer Negiah
I did not grow up in an environment where being shomer negiah was expected of anyone. When I was young it was something that I heard about from friends in camp, school, and other Jewish places where I met people my own age, but not everyone was actually S.N. Some were, and some thought it was silly. Most were S.N. by default, because they didn’t know enough boys to not be S.N. with! But there were always the rumours about classmates and other acquaintances who had done things they shouldn’t have – making out, and sometimes (much) worse. I never gave it much thought actually because I was one of the “S.N. by default” girls. It wasn’t a practical question.
When I was around 17 I saw that the kinds of girls I admired were all shomer negiah. I wanted to be like them, a “good girl,” and so I declared myself S.N. too. Later, I learned more about the textual/halachic basis for it. Since keeping halacha was important to me (still is) it just confirmed my decision.
If you’d asked me in my twenties why I was S.N., I would’ve said because that is the Jewish law. I was definitely very attracted to men and thought about kissing and sex a lot. I mean a lot! I remember saying once to a frum friend of mine that if the voice of G-d suddenly announced that pre-marital sex was OK, all of us would jump into bed immediately. She agreed.
But now I wonder how much of it wasn’t exactly that we wanted to keep the halacha, but instead the halacha being an excuse for something else. Just a few decades ago, if a girl was uncomfortable about going “too far” with a boy, she could say “I can’t do this, my father would kill me,” and the boy knew that this meant he was dealing with a “good girl” and had to back off. But now, a girl who says that is called a prude. If a girl says “I don’t want to get any more physical with you because I’m not ready, because I’m scared” or “because I’m too young,” then the guy can just laugh and say What is your problem? What is the matter with you?
So, maybe being S.N., when I was younger, was a way to say “I don’t want to do sexual things because I’m too young or I’m not ready or I’m scared.” A way to tell boys “We can date, but I won’t do anything physical with you until I know that you really love me and will stay with me, because you’ve married me.” Only instead of saying all that the words we used were “I’m shomer negiah” because that is an acceptable way of saying it in our culture, instead of “My father would kill me.”
Now that I’m writing this, I wonder how much this was true for the religious boys, also? Of course they also would have said they are S.N. because that is the halacha, but was it really to keep Jewish law, or was part of them scared that without the halacha, they’d be cads who would hurt people? Were they also afraid of being sexual? I hear jokes sometimes about S.N. people being homosexual or frigid. I know that’s not true for me. But to give up so much for religion . . . is it beautiful, holy? Or maybe just a little crazy? Are people afraid of being sexual because they are shomer negiah? Or maybe are they shomer negiah because they are afraid of being sexual? Would that be such a crime?
Anyway since I’m being so honest here I should write that technically I’m not completely S.N. anymore. In my (non Jewish) work environment, I am often in a position to give encouragement to other people – sometimes I will pat someone on the shoulder or even accept a hug, even if they are a man. These people do not know about the S.N. rules, and it’s not sexual at all. They are just expressing gratitude or friendliness. To them it is like breathing. It’s never romantic or sexual. So I still consider myself S.N., because that is how I conduct myself with dates and with men in the religious Jewish community.
Even though it has been difficult, I’m usually not sorry that I’ve been S.N. all this time. I know single women who have not been and they are just as sexually thirsty and lonely as I am. And I know women who have had pre-marital sex and then broken up with the man and they feel very bad. But my feelings about it have changed.
A lot of time passed and I was still single. I got very depressed. I wanted to be touched by a man. I want to kiss and cuddle, and I want to have sex. I decided a few years ago that if I dated someone long enough, then even if we weren’t engaged yet I’d probably, how shall we say, “make out” with him, even though I want to get married before having sexual intercourse. But I haven’t dated anyone long enough to trust him enough.
You see, once someone has gone through so much time being S.N., then anything I might do with a man I was dating becomes much, much more important. The first man I kiss, for me it will be like what having sex for the first time is for some other women. For me it will be very significant. I’m not going to waste that on someone I’ve only met a few times.
On one hand, I’m not as committed to this halacha as I used to be. But on the other hand my sensitivity to being touched, in any sort of romantic or sexual way, is now so high that to be not S.N. with someone I don’t know well would – feel cheap.
Probably I’ll continue to be S.N. until I’m in a serious relationship. When will that be? What if it is never?