Friday, February 21, 2014

Promiscuity versus Societal Repression of Sexuality

Illustration by Kurt Hoffman in the Forward
There is way too much promiscuity in western culture. Ever since the sixties, having casual sex outside of marriage is practically the norm.  Pornography abounds on the internet.  What was once considered pornographic is now broadcast on free television in programs that feature models walking down an aisle wearing the highly sexualized underwear of ‘Victoria’s Secret’.  

Even a magazine dedicated to sports has as their most popular annual issue the swimsuit edition. This features women wearing bathing suits that  make them look practically naked in highly suggestive poses. This too is broadcast on free TV in an annual special called the Making of Sports Illustrated - Swimsuit Edition.  I can go on but you get the picture. Sex is all over the place.

At the other end of the universe we have societies in Orthodoxy where the subject of sex is so taboo, that it can and often does cause serious sexual dysfunction which can surface negatively in various different ways. In Chasidic enclaves like Satmar, Skevre, and Ger - sex or even talk of it is especially taboo. 

Both of these extremes are not good. I would never even try to choose one over the other. There is a happy medium of Orthodox Jews and the secular world that does not have either of these values and as a rule live normal lives with healthy attitudes towards sex. I believe that this represents the majority of the secular world and the majority of Orthodox Jews.

I  am not going to address that part of the secular world that thinks pornography is just great. My concern - as always is with my people - the Jewish people. 

Why is sex so taboo in these Chasidic enclaves? Is it too much of a good thing to suppress all talk of sexual subjects? I’m sure that the Chasisidc leaders who have established these policies and make sure they are strictly adhered to would answer, no. There is no such thing as being too modest in this respect.

But what is the result of such a policy? My guess is that it works for most of them. Although in my view even though there is less promiscuity in their world I do not believe that this is a healthy way to live. While I subscribe to the notion that if no one is hurt, by it, they have a right to lead their lives in any way they choose. But I am not worried so much about the majority. I am worried about the minority where such strong sexual repression will occasionally cause real problems for others. 

I have hard more than once about Chasidim who are outwardly quite reserved and a well behaved part of their mainstream. But at the slightest provocation they will react in completely inappropriate ways. Some of which are devastatingly harmful to the victims. 

Margaux Chetrit has written about her experiences and I am afraid that this is not the first time I have heard of incidents like this happening. Here is her description of 2 events. From the Forward:

First incident:
It was the evening before Israel’s Memorial Day more than five years ago. I was living on Mount Scopus and waiting for any form of transportation to take me to the Kotel for the state ceremony. With little time to spare, a taxi pulled up with a Hasid in the back and a seemingly secular man up front.
I knew the rules: The seating arrangement was just not going to work, and I had no time to wait for another ride. So, we quickly played “musical chairs” and arranged for the Hasid to sit as far away from me as possible during the brief ride to the Old City.
Upon arrival I began to make my way through the cobblestone alleys of the Jewish Quarter, when I noticed the same Hasid was nearly scaling the opposite wall to allow for the most distance between us. Too rushed to be bothered by his exaggerated piety, I continued until I heard him speak. I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that nobody else was around and he was addressing me.
The real shock came, however, when I was finally able to decipher his words. The very same man who refused to sit in the back seat of a taxi with me, in the name of modesty, was propositioning me for sex.

Second incident: 
Nearly a year later, after my faith in the good intentions and holiness of Haredim was restored, I found myself waiting for a ride on Mount Scopus once again. As my patience wore thin and I cursed the bus’s tardiness in every language I could speak, a yeshiva bokher with a fresh driver’s license pulled up and offered me a ride.
The timid and innocent smile on his acne-riddled face convinced me to accept. I proposed to sit at the back, but he insisted that it was okay for me to ride next to him in the front.
Five minutes of silently driving was interrupted by the click of his seat belt, and in a series of violent motions he lunged across the passenger side, with his tongue darting in the direction of my face.
As Ms. Chetrit noted she is not saying that this is endemic. And neither am I. But as she also noted what happened to her illustrates what can happen when the human sexuality becomes so repressed.  Repressed sexuality will almost always find a way to surface. In most cases it can be re-directed into one’s marriage. But as these two events show, that that is not always how it plays out.  From the article here in part are her observations.  
I’ve read about symptoms of this disease flaring up among the men of Monsey, N.Y., and afflicting the women of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, as well. And I would venture to say that similar incidents occur in most, if not all, sexually repressive communities…
If you don’t believe me, ask one of the many boys who have been robbed of their youth by trusted authority figures who molested them, or the girls who have been raped repeatedly and shamed into silence, or yet still, the young married couples who, because of an unfamiliarity with their own anatomies, have difficulty consummating their marriages …
The silence in which sexuality is so tightly shrouded within the ultra-Orthodox community is deafening. Its repercussions are destroying the community from within, as the violators and their crimes earn the support of their community, and as the victims earn their own exile for breaking the silence…
Sex is not a subject for discussion within the ultra-Orthodox community. In fact, students are not offered instruction in sex education (or at least a censored version of it) until the 10th or 11th grade. And often, said instruction is delayed, only to be conveyed in preparation and leading up to marriage.
Young men and women go through the hormonal rush of adolescence with little to no knowledge of what is happening to their bodies or why.
As a result, the innate curiosity typically attached to this period is explored inappropriately, and first-person accounts have shown that this can lead to severe violations of Jewish Halacha, including pedophilia — much worse than a cartoon diagram of the human body quickly explained in the classroom.
Furthermore, when a first contact with the human anatomy and sexuality is made only days before the ketubah is signed, the transition from chastity to marriage can be awkward and difficult, and lead to marital problems. Vaginismus, a subconscious spasm that prevents a woman from having penetrative sex, is a byproduct of unhealthy restrictive attitudes toward sex, many cases of which have surfaced within religious communities…
The silence around sex in religious communities can also prevent an honest conversation about incidents of sexually transmitted infections contracted by visits to brothels and other adulterous activities. No matter how hard religious leaders might try to avoid it, these unintended consequences exist.
Desire exists, too. It is strong. It is human. It is undeniable, and it can’t be silenced. Attempts to suppress it will ensure that it manifests itself in unhealthy, un-Jewish ways, be it with a stranger in an alley, in a car or worse. It will break through the silence and roar louder than ever. 
The bottom line is that I would not choose the sexually promiscuous lifestyle so highly visible in western culture these days. Nor would I choose the sexually repressed societies like these Chasidic ones - even though it avoids the problems of the outside culture. As always I opt for the middle.

Why do I care about a world apart like these Chasidic ones? Because they too are my brothers. And because I do not want to see the kinds of incidents described by Ms. Chetrit increasing. Furthermore - as the religious world continues turning to the right, these attitudes will creep into the mainstream, if they haven't already. 

What to do about it? I don’t know. But I hope that articles like the one Ms. Chetrit wrote will have an impact for the better.