Sex clinic reaches out to haredi groups

A new hotline and clinic are trying to combat the haredi community's stigma against seeking professional help.

By
May 25, 2006 20:37
3 minute read.
haredi girls backs 298.88

haredi girls backs 298.8. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The Tel Aviv-based Sexuality Center, which has branches in Jerusalem and Haifa, is seeking to raise awareness among the haredi community of the clinic's behavioral approach to sexual treatments and its anonymous telephone hot line, according to director Dr. Ilan Biran. "The free help line is open for everyone, but it is dedicated primarily to the haredim," Biran told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "The sexual problems that we see in the haredi community are really no different from those among secular people. However, they [haredim] lack basic information concerning sexual functioning and intimate relations. "Within the haredi community there is a stigma about asking for professional help and all those we treat are anxious about discretion," said Biran, adding that haredim were at a disadvantage because typically they do not have access to the volumes of information and support on the Internet. Biran, a veteran psychologist who has been working in sexual therapy for many years, said that the clinic's therapists had developed techniques specifically to deal with problems in the haredi community. "One of the basic exercises sexual therapists recommend to clients is masturbation, but that is forbidden to a religious man. Also, there are two weeks a month when a religious couple is not allowed to touch one another, let alone make love. Our therapists have learned to deal with these constraints and make the best of them," said Biran. Biran said he had been working with a number of rabbis and community leaders under condition of anonymity, and that they had been receptive to the center's work. "There are a few rabbis who are now offering sexual advice," said Biran, "and while they are not qualified therapists, I encourage this activity because it gives legitimacy to people to ask for help. A rabbi can then refer patients to us." Jerusalem-based psychologist Dr. Baruch Shulem, who is himself haredi, said he was doubtful that the clinic would get official recognition from the community. However, he did say that the stigma of seeking sexual counseling was changing. "I find that couples seeking therapy do not come to me quickly for help, but when they do come they are very cooperative," said Shulem. Nonetheless, it is the policy in the haredi community to allow sexual education to be a natural process, he said, adding that there were no steps being taken to increase sexual awareness among youth. "As a professional I agree with that approach," said Shulem, who treats both religious and non-religious couples in his private clinic. Biran noted that most of the haredim calling the help line, which has been running for nearly 10 years, were men. He also said that he had noticed a shift in the type of problems being raised. "In the past, most of the men were concerned about consummating the marriage," said Biran. "Today, however, men are also seeking treatments in premature ejaculation and in trying to help their wives reach orgasm. Also, there are women asking for help with penetration pain. The haredim are finally waking up to the fact that quality of life doesn't only come from the mitzvot." In regards to confronting issues of rape and sexual abuse, Biran said the community still had a long way to go. "What I have noticed is that in this sector they hide their problems and do not complain when there is a sexual offense," said Biran, who has worked with sex offenders in prison. Shulem, however, said that there is awareness of sexual abuse in the haredi community. "Things are being done about it - our way might not be acceptable to the secular world, but we believe it's the best way. "Despite what they [haredim] say, this kind of problem [sexual abuse] is as bad in the haredi sector, if not worse, as it is in the secular community," argued Biran, adding that he hoped haredim would welcome the clinic's sexual help line as one way of dealing with this problem. The hot line can be reached at 1-800-588-999 or for more information visit www.sexuality.co.il.

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