Think again: The hidden costs of all sex all the time

Rashi notes that wherever the Torah commands restraint from sexual immorality kedusha (holiness) is juxtaposed to the forbidden practice.

Couple (illustrative) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Couple (illustrative)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God,” begins last week’s Torah reading, Kedoshim.
Rashi, the greatest of the biblical exegetes, notes, based on the Midrash, that wherever the Torah commands restraint from sexual immorality kedusha (holiness) is juxtaposed to the forbidden practice.
That association of holiness with sexual restraint contrasts starkly to the modern sexual ethic. As described by the incomparable British essayist (and psychiatrist) Theodore Dalrymple, in an essay titled “All Sex All the Time,” the modern ethic identifies sexual enlightenment with casting aside all the social, psychological and religious accretions of the past and thereby gaining entrance to a sexual paradise without guilt, shame, jealousy, anxiety, hypocrisy and confusion.
To understand the Torah’s rejection of the modern Dionysian frenzy, we must first understand kedusha. In the Jewish view, man is a unique combination of a physical body, which he shares with the animal kingdom, and a Divine soul, literally breathed into him by God, which forever connects him to his Creator. That which increases awareness – at both the individual and societal level – of our connection to the Divine is infused with kedusha. It is the task of every Jew to maximize that awareness in himself and others.
The modern sexual ethic is predicated on a diametrically opposite conception of humanity: Human beings are, at the end of the day, just more sophisticated animals, and the essence of wisdom lies in recognizing that fact and acting upon it.
The Torah teaches that man is born incomplete, and that the task of his life is to develop himself in three ways – in his relationship to his fellow human beings, in his relationship to God, and in his relationship to himself, through the development of his soul. The modern sexual ethic is, by contrast, self-centered and soulless.
The focus of life is on pleasuring oneself through coupling, like putting together two Lego pieces, only more fun.
That narcissism serves neither the individual nor the larger society. According to a statistical review published in Clinical Psychology Review in 2010, every generation of college students from 1938 to 2007 has reported higher levels of depression, paranoia and psychopathology. That trend corresponds perfectly with increased levels of hedonistic behavior in each successive generation.
The celebration of sexual freedom has led to a coarsening of life. Seven-year-olds are free to watch on prime-time TV today what would have earned a movie an X-rating in my youth. The result is shallower people and shallower relationships.
Allan Bloom noted in The Closing of the American Mind that his students at Cornell and the University of Chicago lacked the passion, the yearning, the expectation of something great yet to come that once characterized college students.
Rather they enter college already jaded, lacking any sublimated erotic energy because nothing is left for sublimation. Dalrymple found the same thing among his underclass patients.
He describes one intelligent 20-year-old who basically left her education at 13 to pursue sexual encounters. At 20, the initial excitement has worn off leaving in its wake only “greyness and a vague self-disgust.”
The skyrocketing rates of illegitimacy attest to the greater difficulty women have convincing men to marry them, not to mention finding men worth marrying. The life prospects of those raised by single mothers are markedly lower in every respect, and many such children are in constant danger of physical or sexual abuse or both from their mother’s current live-in boyfriend.
Multiple past partners and widespread consumption of pornography have contributed to soaring divorce rates, as each spouse is forced to compete with multiple fantasy images and is always being measured against the sexual bliss that the entire culture promotes.
SEXUAL LIBERATION has hardly made relations between the sexes less fraught with tension. Violence between the sexes has increased, as most people are unwilling to grant their partner of the moment the freedom they claim for themselves.
The whole culture blares forth the message in advertisements and constant double entendres that the foremost thing on most people’s minds most of the time is sex. Yet a slightly off-color comment at the office water cooler based on that presumption can easily result in a sexual harassment suit.
University campuses are almost schizophrenic in the double messages conveyed. Administrators assume that undergraduates of both sexes will engage in frequent and often casual relations. The constant message is that men and women want sex in the same way and for the same reason – it feels good. Yet the American universities, acting under federal mandate (Title IX), have put in place elaborate apparatuses for dealing with claims of rape or harassment. An accused male enjoys no presumption of innocence.
No more than the women’s claim that the relations were non-consensual is required for the accused to be expelled and marked for life. Some universities even maintain a presumption that if the woman was drunk, as is often the case, by definition there was no consent.
In short, due process prior to the deprivation of a highly valuable benefit is almost entirely absent.
But, as Brett Sokolow, director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, points out, the stacked deck against the male accused is itself a violation of Title IX’s requirement of equal treatment for both sexes. “If both are intoxicated, they both did the same thing to each other. Why should only the male be charged... ?” EVEN ON its own terms the sexual revolution has failed to deliver the promised nirvana. The ready satisfaction of appetites only leads to the increase of appetite. Our Sages long ago noted that there is a small limb that the more we feed it, the hungrier it gets. We are empty within.
But what we require to fill the void cannot come from a Mercedes Benz or sexual climax, and the hope that it can just leaves us futilely chasing our own tails. As our Sages said long ago, “No one dies with half his desire fulfilled. He has 100, he wants 200; he has 200, he wants 400.”
Studies show that married couples have more frequent relations than those forced to hunt for their prey every night, and the difference widens with age, as physical attractiveness diminishes.
But the difference is not primarily one of quantity, but of quality. The Torah describes relations between husband and wife as da’at (knowledge) – knowing another human being in the fullest sense possible. How different from the often anonymous encounters of the hook-up culture.
The public, uninhibited display of physical expression deprives relations of much their mystery, intimacy, and power. “Kol kvuda bat melech p’nima – the glory of the king’s daughter is inside [hidden from public view]” (Psalms 45:14) provides the classic description of the modesty of Jewish women. The language of kavod (honor), however, is always associated with something that is revealed. That which is hidden from outside view is revealed only to one’s spouse creating an intimate realm shared only by the couple themselves. That intimacy provides a special intensity to marital relations.
Loving relations between a husband and wife are the glue (devek) binding them together. The act through which they “become one flesh” is described by the Torah as one of deveikut (cleaving).
Tragically, those who have spent years and years pursuing sexual gratification divorced from love and commitment cannot easily reconnect love and sex upon marriage. Procreative relations between husband and wife heighten the awareness of themselves as partners in life’s greatest project, the creation and raising of children.
Even where the wife has passed childbearing age, relations recall all that they have shared and continue to share.
A CLOSE friend once ran a Shabbaton for a Birthright group, and brought along his 18-year-old daughter. At the end of the Shabbaton, the participants were all asked what made the greatest impact on them. One pretty UCLA coed said that the most meaningful thing for her was a conversation with my friend’s daughter, which went as follows: “Do you have a boyfriend?” “No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Did you just break up?”
“I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
“Why not? You’re a pretty girl. Are you a lesbian? “I’m not a lesbian. I just want the first boy in whose eyes I look deeply to be the one with whom I spend the rest of my life.”
My friend’s daughter is today a young mother of four doing kiruv work together with her husband in a town in northern Israel.
I would guess the former coed still finds herself longing from time to time for something she can never have.
Rashi was on to something.
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.