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Can a Risky Sex Life, Lead to a Quality Relationship?

What makes for good sex? It’s an unusual question for the wife of an Orthodox rabbi to talk about publicly, but Doreen Seidler-Feller has made a career of it.

A clinical sex therapist and professor at UCLA, Seidler-Feller has been married to Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the campus rabbi at the UCLA Hillel, for more than 40 years, and she’s been talking about sex for about that long.

In fact, the two often host public talks about sex and Jewish tradition, as they did at the Limmud FSU West Coast conference in Pasadena, California, in late January. Theirs is a practiced routine. Chaim, with unruly white hair secured under a kippah, enthusiastically discusses passages about sex in the Talmud. Doreen talks about how to make Jewish sexual traditions relevant in modern times.

When Doreen first met Chaim all those decades ago, it “wasn’t in the script” to marry a rabbi and become Orthodox, she says. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she grew up eating pork and shrimp in her secular South African Jewish community. But her family’s history, and being a child of divorce, motivated her to help “shattered hearts” and articulate a new Jewish identity for herself, she says.

Today, that identity means helping couples work on their relationships – and sex. For a relationship to succeed, Seidler-Feller says, there must be a balance between stability and eroticism. That means risk-taking both in the relationship and in the bedroom.

“Where sex is concerned, be experimental,” she said. “Be willing to explore new territory because that’s what gets the neuro-chemicals going.”

Seidler-Feller’s specialty is Orthodox sex therapy, where she is one of only a few clinical psychologists working on the issue. Others include David Ribner, founder of the sex therapy training school at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and author of manuals for sexual intimacy for Orthodox couples, and Bat Sheva Marcus, a modern Orthodox, New York-based sex therapist.