I published two blog entries in January that concerned different aspects of sex. The first was called “Sex…Kosher Style” and the second was “Guilty Pleasures.” They, by far, were the most read entries of the thirty I’ve posted to date. So, it’s time for another boost in ratings!
What exactly is it about S-E-X that commands our attention? Are we just obsessed about wanting it? Getting it? Not getting it? Hating it? Loving it? Wanting to do it better? Wanting to do it differently? Is it boring? Is it an addiction? Is the topic of sex the proverbial “train wreck” that we can’t seem tear ourselves away from? Regardless of how you may answer those questions, the subject of sex – just the ability to talk about it out loud in public – is a WAY different conversation today than it was during my parents’ generation.
The first time I watched the HBO series “Sex and the City,” I happened to be visiting my parents in Florida. I was dumbfounded (and embarrassed) when I learned that they regularly watched the show. After all, how could they even relate? These people would never have supported my living alone in New York City, and certainly would not have approved of a string of one-night stands as I searched for Mr. Big…uh, I mean, Mr. Right. Well, maybe they too have finally changed with the times…
Our fascination and obsession with sex is being taken advantage of by a multitude of business industries. Movies and premium television networks seen in our living rooms show more flesh, body parts, and sex acts than “Debbie [did in] Dallas” at the old X-Rated theatres. Magazines like Cosmopolitan tell and show us how to look and act like a sexual siren. Cosmetics, perfumes, lingerie, shoes, clothes, and plastic surgery are all readily available to create the look and promote the image of youthful beauty and sex appeal. Of course, various types of sex-related products – in all shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors – can be easily purchased in stores or online to keep things interesting, different, and (hopefully) fun. And we, seemingly willingly, buy into it all.
In Judaism, the principle of tzniut is taken very seriously in Conservative and Orthodox circles. It refers to the concept of modesty; displaying modesty in the ways one dresses, talks, and behaves – especially in public. Women in particular are encouraged to avoid calling unnecessary and undue attention to themselves, and to stay away from potentially compromising situations where they may be alone with men who are not husbands, sons, or other family members. While these are the practical applications of tzniut, the rabbis recognize the power and potential danger of sexual urges. They aim to have us channel and control these drives, but not ignore or deny them entirely. Although premarital sex between single, consenting adults is not explicitly forbidden, marriage is still perceived to be the sanctioned relationship within which to engage in meaningful sexual behaviors and relations.
Besides modesty, there’s another important factor at play here. It’s perfectly all right to be curious about, interested in, and engaged in fulfilling sexual activities. Sex is a basic human need – like eating and drinking. But it’s one that’s different because it involves another person. And, it’s that fact that really matters. Who is that person on the other side of the kiss, the touch, the …? What does he care about? What are her ambitions? Serious thought and consideration should be given to the choice of person, time, place, circumstances, and potential outcomes of each encounter. Everyone should be treated with dignity, care, and respect. We are, after all, created in the image of God.
At the end of the day, what matters most is the quality and integrity of one’s relationships with others. As modern day Jews, we should strive to balance being bombarded by society’s temptations and trends with adhering to Jewish values.