Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sex and the Internet

There has been much written about the ills of the internet. These ills are so pervasive and all encompassing that they can affect virtually every aspect of one’s life. Just as the Torah mandates how one should behave in any and all circumstances, so to does the internet provide obstacles to observing Halacha in any and all circumstances.

The focus of much of the banning by Charedi rabbinic leaders is in the area of pornography sites. To be sure that is enough of a reason for them to be concerned. But that of course is not the only danger. Much heresy, for example, can be found there and easily destroy one’s spiritual health if one is insufficiently prepared.

But there is another phenomenon that seems to be taking hold in the Frum Community. Something I would call “Frum online hookup lists”. According to an article in an online magazine, there is a preponderance of Frum Jews “looking for Mr. Goodbar”... that is: commitment free casual sexual partners. These individuals are from all walks of Orthodox life, including a great number of Charedim. Many are married. They are often members in good standing in their respective communities with families and young children who would normally not even dream of “hooking up”. But the anonymity of internet has enabled these individuals to seek sex without being stigmatized by their own communities. And the problem seems quite huge.

I have to ask, “What is going on here”? Is Torah Chinuch failing in this regard? I realize of course that the vast majority of Frum Jews do not go on these lists looking for illicit sex. But there are significant numbers that do. FrumSex, a six-year-old Yahoo! Group boasts almost 2000 members!

This begs the question, “Is opportunity the mother of activity?” Would these people not be involved at all in such behaviors were it not made so easy for them? And does that matter? How big is the group of Frum Jews that are religious primarily because of rote behavior and peer group pressure?

If Orthopraxy is a source of the problem then it is no longer enough to just practice rituals in a rote manner for social reasons. One must be religious in both an idealistic sense and a practical sense with core ideals as the true motivation.

But the situation is probably a lot more complex than that. There are shades of grey. It could be that there are some with core ideals who still succumb to temptation. There are still others who are Moreh Heter, explaining away Issurim as being Muter. What was telling in the article was that Frum Jews seek out Frum sex partners. Why? Because there is a rudimentary desire to avoid Issurei Erva at some level. For example a man might ask that a potential female sex partner not be a Niddah and that she use the Mikva prior to their encounter so as to avoid the Issur of Kareis!

So why do I oppose a ban the internet if these terrible influences are so compelling upon even Frum Jews? ...who might encounter such websites by chance and then slide down the slippery slope to hell?

Because banning doesn’t help. Many of the people who utilize services like this know about the ban and are members of the very community that bans it. Does anyone think a rabbinic ban will prevent someone from using the internet if that same person would violate Issurei Erva? I don‘t think so. I have written about the pros and cons of the internet before and I won’t repeat the arguments here except to say that there is enough positive on the internet and enough people who are not interested in vilolting Issurim with it to not ban it.

So what’s the solution to these kinds of problems? I don’t know. The problems are real. Those who use the internet as a tool to achieve whatever form of illicit behavior they want is a pervasive fact of life ...and probably growing exponentially. I don’t think there is an effective answer that will be total. Making it the forbidden fruit will only increases appetites.

While this won’t solve the problem completely, I think that the educational system is the key. We need to examine why there are so many Orhtoprax... and not enough Orthodox! Why are Yeshivas turning out so many Jews who practice the mintutia of Halacha and seek Chumros like using the Chazan Ish’s Shiur for the Araba Kosos, yet when it comes to matters like these, some of those people succumb so easily?

It is about parenting and education. Children develop their personalities at a very early age. What ever input a parent can make to develop a sense of ethics and morality at the earliest age should be priority number one. Sexuality is a normal pert of the human pshyche. And it too begins to develop at an early stage. One should be careful not to traumatize a child at any sexual stage of development as this is the cause for sexually perverse behavior in adults.

There are two areas of education that need to be the focus if this issue is to be properly tackled. One is the teaching of morals. The other is dealing with the psychology of human sexuality. Our educators need to start implementing seriously, a curriculum that deals with these issues in tandem. But even that is not enough. Parenting courses should be given to every high school student, boy or girl. It should be mandated and guided by rabbinic leadership in conjunction with the best minds in the field of child psychology. To me this is a given and yet I believe it is virtually non-existent in the Orthodox world. Perhaps if this is done now it can eliminate this kind of behavior in the future... or at least diminish it. And perhaps it can even prevent yet another molester from ever developing again. I’m not sure. But at least it would be a step in the right direction.