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Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Religion of Consent
Stacey, Psychotoddler, and I had an interesting email conversation today that touched on the topic of societal sexual behavior standards – how different groups set standards of what sexual behavior is acceptable and what is not.

In the first half of the twentieth century this answer would have been simple. Society first of all taught young children next to nothing about sex, believing that to expose them prematurely to this topic would erode their innocence. It taught young adults a behavior code largely based on religious precepts, that the ideal for sexual behavior is confined to monogamous heterosexual marriage. All other sexual expression – premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior, even masturbation – fell short of this ideal and was met with some level of social stigma. This social compact certainly had serious flaws. Some felt terribly repressed or terribly guilty. Others, such as gays, felt that society had written them out entirely.

These flaws were examined, aired and protested with great enthusiasm in the second half of the twentieth century. The sexual revolution that began in literature in the late 1800s spread through general society in the 1960s. The ideal of monogamous heterosexual marriage, in fact the very idea that there should be any ideal of sexual behavior, was considered entirely repressive and hopelessly anachronistic and discarded.

What has replaced it? The ideal of consent. There is nothing that consenting adults can do that may be judged in any way. The crassest promiscuity, the most predatory sexual pursuits, the most careless disregard for the consequences to one's children or their other parent, these are simply various acceptable choices in life's smorgasbord. The only thing that can not be tolerated is intolerance. To rank some behaviors as better and some as worse – that is the only sin in the religion of consent, and this religion is taught to children at an increasingly young age. The degradation of families, of children's innocence, of our sense of privacy should have been predictable. But even the most jaded should be surprised by how far we've fallen.

I mentioned in a previous thread that I've been reading Theodore Dalrymple's Our Culture, What's Left of It. It turns out that many of the essays in his book were first published in a terrific conservative publication City Journal, a link to which I've just added to our sidebar. An author search for Dalrymple will provide you with great conservative reading for many lunch hours to come.

The specific article I'd like to draw to your attention is All Sex, All the Time. In it Dalrymple details the loss of sexual standards in Britain. He does not provide a solution. The clock can not be turned back. But while some celebrate the nearly limitless freedom that has been gained, Dalrymple reminds us that we must also make an accounting of what has been lost.
Part of the problem is that too many people are trying to combat this by racing in the other direction as fast as possible. Moderation and balance are necessary. I am not an advocate of saying that there should be a complete free for all but I definitely am antipuritan lifestyle.

Parents play a huge role in their children's lives. How many take that seriously.
I tend to be a moderate in most things, but in terms of sexual promiscuity, I find myself leaning towards the right these days. Something about having teenage kids...

We are obviously seeing some fallout from sexual repression in our right wing yeshiva system, but I find that most of the stories we 'hear' are anecdotal. No good statistics have been offered up in terms of how many kids in single-sex yeshivas engage in homosexual behaviour, see prostitutes, etc. They're just 'stories' now, and they obviously command a lot of attention.

On the other hand, we don't need to go to rumor or conjecture to find out what's going on in the public school systems. Go to any metropolitan HS and see how many teenage mothers are there.

Again, I think the truth is somewhere in between. But I still believe it is possible to teach our kids to respect the opposite sex and remain abstinent until marriage.

Like I said, 3 teenagers (one off in college now) has made me a little more conservative.

It was an interesting set of emails...
That's a good analysis of the issue, Dr. Bean. I think it's correct to conclude that we have lost something (not least, youth have lost their innocence to an unhealthy degree — e.g. eleven year olds tarted-up a la Britney Spears) along with gaining something (particularly so for homosexuals, it seems to me).

Pace Psychotoddler, I don't think it is realistic to expect our teenaged children to be celibate. In fact, I don't think it is even ideal.

I hope my children engage in a little sexual experimentation before they settle down in a marriage (with emphasis on "little"). I think the old pattern led to a lot of people who married the first person they had sex with. They did so not because the person was a good choice of a life partner, but because premarital sex was bad, and promiscuity was bad, so you married the first person who charmed their way into your pants to make it "right".

A good, old-fashioned virtue was "chastity". Usually we equate chastity with celibacy, but it is not necessarily so. Chastity = the mastery of one's sexual desires; aka self-control.

In my view, a few caring, sexual relationships — including a responsible use of birth control — before settling down to marriage would fall within the definition of chaste behaviour.
The standard today is clear, too - a young woman is considered a "prude" if she won't take it up the ying-yang.

Q - I must respectfully disagree. Obviously, a sexually active monogamous adult relationship is not the same thing as paying Sheila a five-spot for weinerschnitzel during AP English, but that doesn't mean it's ideal. That does not mean that if one is sexually active, that the ideal is necessarily to marry the first person you, um, sexually activate.

The most shocking part of this whole post is... email conversation? All three of you are bloggers! This conversation should have been conducted out on the open, in cross-posts or comments. Oh, the humanity.
Eloquently spoken as usual, Ralphie. I think we should have cc'd you into our emails. You would have enjoyed the euphemisms.

BTW I did start a blog 2 weeks ago when Bean started mass-emailing me and a bunch of other people. Bean decided not to join!

Q--you may not understand the orthodox Jewish community. It is expected that kids will be celebate, and most kids are. It's not impossible. You're buying into this whole lefty slanted view of our society promulgated by TV.


You people are bringing out the worst in me.

Anyway, even in 'modern orthodox' circles, which are notoriously lax in sexual issues, there is an expectation of celebacy. And it has worked.

I don't see anything wrong with people getting married young. That's how our society has propagated since earliest times. What's going on now is the disintegration of the family, and we have to be intellectually honest about why that's occurring. It's not that most marriages were bad and we're only now figuring it out. It's that expectations, particularly regarding sex, are not realistic.
Is this conversation only for members of the orthodox community? I had understood that there were a variety of communities represented here. I believe you when you say it's entirely possible for teens within the orthodox community to stay virgins till marriage. However, I doubt very much it is at all realistic for teens outside such conservative communities.

The question, of course, not is it possible, but is it essential?

I think not. I was not raised in a sexually conservative home, but I chose to stay celibate until I met the man I married. My choice surprised my mother, in fact, but it was important to me.

Had I to do it over again, I would certainly have had more than one sexual partner before marrying. (And no, I'd not have married him. We are no longer married.)

Though I felt very strongly at the time (age 19) that it was important to "wait for my husband", I just don't see the significance of that idea any more. This does NOT mean I condone BJs for pay in the high school! But a few loving, respectful, sexual partners? I see this as a part of the maturing process. Not essential (any more than virginity is essential) but not an evil, either.
"Others, such as gays, felt that society had written them out entirely."

No they didn't. People with such desires did not consider their sex drive "the" or even "an" essential part of their identity. There were artists, writers, teachers, businessmen etc etc who had homosexual desires but they were not left out of society because no one knew what they did in their bedrooms and no one cared and they themselves did not think in those terms.

"Gay" as the basis of self-identity is a completely 20th century phenom, and may I say, to base your primary self-identity on how you get your jollies is the most fundamentally unserious way of creating a sense of self that I can imagine.
PT - has it really worked in MO circles (I am MO but more of a square)? What about the well-documented "Tefillin Date" phenomemon?

Modern Orthodox, Black hat, Reconstructionist, Baptist, whatever... I am basically a disciple of that 16th century rabbi who said, "U toucha my daughter, I breaka u face."
"U toucha my daughter, I breaka u face."

Now we're getting somewhere. The "tfillin date" thing is after my time. People who can justify that behavior have some seriously screwed up priorities. I don't think they really want to be frum, but they are afraid to leave.

Bean and I had some very interesting conversations over shabbos about why we stick to certain rituals even though we may not necessarily believe in them. Maybe that should be a different post.

But a lot of it has to do with fear. Fear of not knowing where to draw the line, and if you start giving up this (shomer negiah) or that (onanism)or the other thing (kashrut) then the whole ball of yarn begins to unravel.

Mary, the system DOES work, more often than it doesn't. But you really have to buy into the program. If you do it half-heartedly, it will fail.
Jack: I agree that both extremes are bad, but keeping balanced in a free society is tricky. Yes, parents are critical, but society used to strengthen the parents’ position. Now parents are frequently working against societal trends.

El Bambino Loco: But on sexual matters, even the strict Jewish and Christian ideal of abstinence until marriage isn’t as far right as some societies go. For example on the issue of (sexual) modesty, different Orthodox communities have different standards of dress in terms of how much or how little a woman may leave uncovered (length of sleeves, hair covering, etc..) And if the extreme conservative view on this is right, then we should all have our women wear hijabs, right? The point is that I completely agree with the value of modesty in displaying one’s femininity, so I totally understand the underpinnings of the hijab, but I think (and you would agree, I think) that the hijab goes too far against an important countervalue – personal freedom. Do you reject the hijab simply because our community has not adopted it? Are there no sexual / modesty restrictions of your community that you disagree with? All I’m saying is that unless you give personal liberty some merit, we should all be accepting hijabs for our women, and once you reject the extremes on either side of the spectrum you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to decide the details for yourself.

In any case both you and I are miles to the right of contemporary secular culture on this, and any difference between the two of us is much smaller than that.

Q: I honestly don’t know what I think about premarital sex for my kids. I appreciate your emphasis on keeping whatever there is monogamous, respectful, and few.

Ralphie: Sorry you were left out. Thank you for using the phrase “ying-yang”. Our blog really needed that.

PT: Um… You’re sounding like the rabbi now. I think in modern Orthodox circles couples who expect they will eventually marry frequently have sex. I have no problem with that. Unless she’s ugly.

Mary P: Welcome! Thanks for commenting. This conversation is DEFINITELY not just for Orthodox Jews. It’s not even just for Jews. It’s not even just for religious people. In fact, I’d love it if some secular hedonist who boinks multiple partners like a rabbit (as many of my patients do) would speak up and defend his life.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Ms. Katz: Your point is well taken. I’d love to hear the opinion of some gay men or women.

Psychotoddler: “If you do it half-heartedly, it will fail.” That’s where you and I disagree. I think in any community no one does it perfectly. You always pick and choose the rules that make sense and those that don’t. That doesn’t mean that you throw the whole system out. I speed frequently and I often jaywalk, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll cheat on my taxes or burgle someone’s home or commit battery. We all set our own limits.
• Psychotoddler:
I'm sure I have only the vaguest notions about the Orthodox Jewish community. However, I was an evangelical Christian for fifteen years, and the evangelical view of sex mirrors the position you're taking.

It is expected that kids will be celebate, and most kids are.

That certainly isn't true among evangelicals. The studies I'm familiar with show only a negligible difference in sexual conduct between churched and unchurched youths. Jack has commented on this issue on his blog, and suggested that a lot goes on among Jewish teenagers.

if you start giving up this (shomer negiah) or that (onanism) or the other thing (kashrut) then the whole ball of yarn begins to unravel.

It's impossible to accept even the slightest shift away from tradition? Even masturbation is a sin in your view? That is a very extreme position; with respect, it is not the path to spiritual or social vitality.

I agree with Dr. Bean's observation that we have gained something by the shift in sexual mores, even if we've also lost something. I introduced the concept of chastity (as opposed to celibacy) because I think it points a way out of the mess our society has created, without returning to the repressive extremes of the past.
I am late to the party, but yes...Psycho and Doc Bean and I had a very interesting email conversation. And these comments have been most interesting.

Everything Q has said I agree with. Good points, Q.
Jack: I agree that both extremes are bad, but keeping balanced in a free society is tricky. Yes, parents are critical, but society used to strengthen the parents’ position. Now parents are frequently working against societal trends.

I don't rely on society to help me raise my children. I am not convinced that it was ever as pleasant or idyllic as we like to think that it was. Now don't get me wrong, I think that society is very important and I think that being part of a community is critical. It is one of the reasons why I always want to live somewhere with a sizeable Jewish community.

It is hard to say where the balance should be and how to achieve that. I have a number of friends who are BT and FFB and when I think about conversations with the boys it seems to me that the BTs ultimately were much more relaxed about sex because it wasn't verboten.

Again that doesn't mean that there are not well adjusted people who never had any issues. But I suspect that we would find more problems in the extremes of the right and left. Sometimes straddling the fence can be a good thing unless you hit a post in which case your ying-yang might get hurt, right Ralphie. ;)
Mary's comment, part one (because it's a LONG comment!):

Hmmm... Sometimes people here speak in code. :-)

"tefillin/tfillen date"
"shomer negiah"

The only one I recognize is "onanism", which Christians have always read as masturbation, but which was in fact withdrawal.

Mary's comment, Part 2
I note with some dismay that all the references to modesty are directed only at women. Are men not required modesty? It would be a wonderful counterbalance to some of the more offensive excesses of macho-dom.

And the idea "u toucha my daughter, I breaka u face". I laughed when I read it, but, really, why is this concern restricted to female?

I have three children, by the way:
girl, 20; boy, 16; girl, 12. This topic is of immediate interest/relevance to me at this point in my life. As a mother, I feel equally protective of all three of my children. It is no worse for my daughters to lose their virginity than it is for my son to lose his.

In fact, given that my son is less emotionally aware than his sisters, I think he is more likely than the girls to be hurt in sexual matters, because he won't know what the heck is going on at that so-significant emotional level.

With their greater emotional awareness, the girls are/will be better able to protect themselves, not merely against the obvious physical risks, but against the emotional ones. No, he can't come home pregnant, but that's not the only, or even the biggest risk of sexual activity.

Nonetheless, it is a risk I think they should all be allowed to take, at a time of their choosing. Life is full of challenge and risk which stimulates the mind, and provokes growth and wisdom - who'd want it any other way?
Mary P: Sorry 'bout that. Would all of you guys please either write in English or translate for yourself. We're supposed to be a hang out for a broad audience.

MO – modern Orthodox, the left end of the Orthodox spectrum (with Orthodoxy being at the right end of the Jewish spectrum)
Tefillin - the English translation is useless – phylacteries (see?). They are leather boxes attached to leather straps that are bound by men to their foreheads and left arm during morning prayers. Let me see if I can find you a picture. Here.
Tefilin date – a date for an Orthodox couple in which the guy brings his tefilin because he anticipates potentially spending the night, i.e. having sex. Get it? The irony is that they don't mind having premarital sex, which is a violation of Orthodoxy, but he wouldn't want to miss morning prayers or do them without tefilin.
Shomer negiah – Shomer just means "observant of" or "keeper of". So "shomer Shabbat" is one who keeps the laws regarding the Sabbath. The laws of negiah have to do with touch between members of the opposite sex. Someone who is shomer negiah (Ralphie, Psychotoddler correct me if I'm wrong here) will date without touching the opposite sex until he/she is married.
Onanism – You got that right. Psychotoddler used it to mean masturbation, although I feel it's clear from the story that this is not what Onan was punished for.
Kashrut – the laws of whether something is kosher. (i.e. kosher is the adjective, kashrut is the noun) The Jewish dietary laws. (Someone who keeps them is shomer kashrut.)
BT – ba'al teshuva. A returner to the faith. Used to mean one who is raised non-religiously and becomes Orthodox later.
FFB – frum from birth. Frum = religiously orthodox, though people usually use it to refer to people more religious than them (i.e. to their right). Frumie = one who is frum, usually (at least as used by me) not complimentary
??? – a sign of confusion when a bunch of Hebes don't translate their jargon.

I'll respond to all of your comments a little later.
Stacey: Welcome. We missed you.

Jack: I mostly agree, I suppose, though in my years in a Conservative Jewish community I don't think I ever heard these issues raised. Do you get the feeling that there is any behavior that would be OK in the general world that your community would frown on or teach kids was not OK? I think the Conservative movement, perhaps because of their commitment to egalitarianism between the sexes and to the dignity of their gay members, tends to be purposely silent on issues of sex. That's not straddling the fence, that's surrendering the whole issue.

Mary P: Thanks for asking for translations. There is definitely a code of modest dress for men. Having said that, it is probably stressed much less than that for women. Why? Because men are much more visually attracted / aroused then women. I realize it's not fair to women to make them cover their skin because their skin arouses men; it would be more just to fit men with blinders. I also realize that this logic carried far enough leads to the hijab which is why I brought it up. Nevertheless, I hope you agree that this is not a symmetric issue for men and women. Women look better to men the less they are wearing. Men look better to women the more expensive their suit is. Trust me; in shorts, the chicks don't dig me. I have four kids, which also includes an emotionally clueless son and a tough girl. Nevertheless, that doesn't deny the general asymmetry in psychosexual drives between men and women. Men crave an unlimited number of sexual partners. Women crave infinite intimacy with one man. Hear me now; believe me later. That's why we are more protective of daughters. With your and my sons being possible exceptions, a brief emotionless sexual encounter is exactly what a man wants, and is very hurtful to a woman. This basic understanding of our differences is exactly what has been lost in the revolution I described in the post.
Very intriguing conversation!
OK, now I feel compelled to join in.

First of all, I am about as secular as they come, though lately have been making tentative peeks into observance.

Secondly, I think the issue of modesty and celibacy are really two different issues... which we sometimes forget. Lack of modesty may provoke sexual desire, but it does not necessary lead to sex. Of course, there are issues of *propriety*, but that's going off on a completely different tangent.

Anyway, I think in our society we overemphasize the physical part of what happens when a couple engages in sex. I really find it very sad when teenagers feel compelled to experiment, not because they are completely in love with the other person (most of the time, they are NOT), but just to find out what it's like. I think the problem with so many people engaging in premarital sex with different partners is not that they don't have self-control or basic knowledge about the consequences, but because they often do not understand the emotional side of the issue. Basically I have to agree with Dr. Bean, with women, at least, changing partners is more likely to be a symptom of dissatisfaction than a healthy experimentation... Of course, there are always exception, I happen to say. Is it realistic to expect every single couple to wait till marriage in order to engage in sex? No, of course not. There are always going to be people who don't want to take on the responsibilities of marital life and to have fun while they are young. But I do think it's possible, and even desirable, to minimize the number of people who engage in sex for the wrong reasons, which is what happens most often with teenagers and very young people.
I just want to clarify my position on a few things so you don't think I'm a right-wing hyper-orthodox nut-job:

Onanism: right. It's another one of those euphemisms. That probably refers more to using a condom, which is also against Jewish Law. I am not against Master..ing the domain. I don't decide what is right or wrong in Judaism. We have our rabbinic authorities for that. We may not like what they have to say. We may not agree with them. I don't agree that I can't turn right on a red light in NYC. But I don't make the laws. If you don't want to follow them, that's your choice. If you believe that there is someone taking account of what you do, then you'll have to decide if you're comfortable about going over the line.

Re: premarital sex. It is not forbidden necessarily by the torah. But according to many of the old authorities, having sex was a way of consecrating a marriage, so technically if you sleep with a girl, she's your wife. Sleeping with many girls=polygamy. Again, not my rules. If you believe in Halacha, that's how it goes. If you don't, why are we even talking about this? Go out and have a ham and cheese sandwich.

Many of you have suggested that it's ridiculous to even consider that kids will be abstinent until marriage. I'm here to tell you that you are WRONG. I was no prince. I'm admitting in public that I fooled around with girls as a college student. But it was really pretty tame stuff in retrospect and I managed not to sleep with any of them (and I was a low-life musician). There was a line and we did not cross it. It would have been better I think if I had not gotten so close to the line, but that's history. But the vast majority of my friends were similar to me because we had this Orthodox environment in which we were raised and certain expectations. Believe me, if my friends were having sex, I would know because we talked about it ALL THE TIME. There were a few who were, but they were exceptions, not the rule.

Re: Modesty: I am technically modern orthodox. I don't have a problem with girls wearing pants and the like. I don't think they constitute "wearing the clothing of a male" and I wouldn't be caught dead in "slacks." Some people have different opinions. I think wearing a wig is ridiculous. But many rabbis have said this is consistent with halacha.

With that in mind, I don't mind that my kids (boys and girls) dress modestly. I don't need my daughters to dress like tarts or my sons to walk around with their underwear exposed. I personally have no problem with my daugher exposing her elbows on hot summer days. Others have problems with that.

I'm really middle of the road, but I am on the road.
I think the Conservative movement, perhaps because of their commitment to egalitarianism between the sexes and to the dignity of their gay members, tends to be purposely silent on issues of sex. That's not straddling the fence, that's surrendering the whole issue.

I spent close to 18 years in the Ramah system as a camper, counselor and staff person. I also did the same with U.S.Y. so I feel somewhat qualified to comment on the Conservative movement and its position on sex as we learned and instructed.

I sat through a number of lectures given by Rabbi Elliot Dorff regarding why masturbation was preferable to premarital sex. This also included discussions about modesty in dress and behavior.

I personally led many discussions with teens and preteens about similar issues. In those discussions we spent a lot of time talking about respect for ourselves and for others as it relates to sex and sexuality.

Come to think of it I should include my time at LA Hebrew High school on that list as well.

On a side note, there was a bit of an unwritten/unspoken rule in which dating was encouraged, not hardcore take him/her to bed dating either. The reasoning was that if we got these nice Jewish boys/girls to spend time together it as another way to try and encourage them to marry someone Jewish.
PT: Interesting, but middle of the road? Ummm, not so sure. Maybe our roads have different lengths.
Whew. A lot going on here.

Re: Society and parenting. I agree with those who say it's the parents' responsibility to watch out for their kids, but also with Bean who says that today this means a parent has to fight against society in order to do so. I realized recently that Mrs. Ralphie is the arbiter of child-appropriateness in our house. I was renting DVDs for the kids that I thought were harmless but that the Mrs. Pointed out (using a red-hot furnace poker, I'll add) were inappropriate. I am of course talking about gay porn.

No! It was more subtle than that, of course. And it wasn't about sexuality, per se, either. I mean, unless you think that sluttiness is sexuality.

Cut that out! No, it was just that the stuff was about high school and high school issues and just above their heads in a certain way, I suppose.

Bean's definitions - I don't think that the general use of the term "frum" means "more religious." Just religious, or observant of Torah laws. Although I admit that once my wife and I were driving around a frum neighborhood in another state and wondering about the housing prices. We saw a woman in a snood (a type of hair-covering... wait, that's English) and my wife said, "There's a frummie. Ask her." We rolled down the window and, before asking about housing, asked the woman her name. "Frummie" was the answer. She probably still has no idea why we collapsed into uncontrollable laughter.

Onanism - Yes, Onan the man withdrew and "spilled his seed." When it comes to observance of Jewish law, it doesn't necessarily matter what we as biblical critics think happened in the narrative - it matters what the Rabbis codified. On this I think it was unanimous (onanimous?) - when seed comes out, it has to be cervix-bound or it's "spilled" - that's why withdrawal, condoms, and, yes, masturbation are out. Is it better to masturbate than to have premarital sex (also forbidden by the rabbis, although later on)? Technically speaking, no - the reverse would probably be true given the right conditions, actually. But then, eating a chicken-and-swiss sandwich is technically better than eating a cheeseburger, but why is that the choice? Why must one do either, or at least say that there's nothing wrong with one or the other?

On that topic, I know since Dr. Ruth it's all been okay, but why? Why is it so shocking to think that there might be something wrong with masturbating? No, you won't grow hair on your knuckles (or if you do you can just laser it off) or go blind (again, lasers), but is it so difficult to imagine that there might be a danger is completely disassociating sexual release from emotional responsibility? That doesn't apply to condoms or withdrawal, necessarily, I admit. But it doesn't necessarily need to, either.

Modesty - at the risk of exposing my identity to anyone with a Lexis-Nexis account, I once wrote a letter to the new york times (in response to an article that mentioned that Jewish women were expected to dress modestly) stating that Jewish men are expected to dress modestly, too. I was once told that I was not allowed to wear shorts to daily minyan (prayer service), a policy that seems to have fallen by the wayside in more recent days (although you'll never catch me there half-panted again).

Tefillin date - Not that I would know (cough, cough) but I think it's more likely that such fellows (and gals) were perhaps lax in that area of observance but went on to be married (to someone, somewhere) and lead fulfilling observant lives. Not to excuse the behavior, just to describe the reality.

Daughters vs. Sons - I have only daughters, so that's what I wrote about. But it's also because I know what even nice Jewish boys (like I was) are like. It was a curse to be so handsome and charming. A curse, I tell you. But in honesty if there were a shameless hussy toying my theoretical son's emotions, I'd take care of her, as well. Or more likely I'd dispatch my wife.

Jack - I grew up in the Reform movement. Believe me when I tell you there was no sexual ethic, save for the possible exception of not fooling around with someone who "likes" you if you don't really "like" them back. We had plenty of lectures on sexuality, too - the point was usually not to be afraid of sex and the like. Needless to say these were our favorite kind of lectures. Made it that much more okay to fool around - and that much easier to broach the topic with the ladies in the first place.

Wager: In 10 years, Irina will be living in Mea Shearim, shaved head covered by a kerchief, procreating through a hole in a sheet, with at least 20 kids in tow by then.

(For the record, the hole-in-the-sheet thing is a myth.)

(They use down comforters.)

Times change and so do people.

I daven in shorts and do so without hesitation, shame or any sense of impropriety.

I don't do it all the time and I select the places, but I have real issues with people telling me that my tefillot are not going to be accepted because I have a pair of shorts on.

Kavanah is important, but that is a different discussion.
daven - pray
kavanah - intent, concentration (usually in regard to prayer)
Ralphie... 20 maybe an exaggeration, but I'd bet three or more ($$$ permitting) - and some business attire in the summer is worse than the shroud - or down comforter, so you may be on to something! ; )
shroud = shroud ; )
Dr. Bean:
Women crave infinite intimacy with one man. … That's why we are more protective of daughters. … a brief emotionless sexual encounter is exactly what a man wants, and is very hurtful to a woman.

I agree with your comments on modesty, and why the issue is asymetrical. But I disagree with the remarks quoted above.

The problem is, women's sexuality has been socially proscribed for goodness knows how many generations. Now that the lid has been lifted, women have an opportunity to figure out what they want. (Because I don't think they automatically know; figuring it out is an experimental process.) Some women (by no means all) seem to want sex with no strings attached, contrary to the stereotype.

• Psychotoddler / Ralphie / Dr. Bean:
It's true that parenting takes place in a social context, and the social context has changed over recent generations. I think this is an important point, but I would draw a different conclusion from it.

There was a time when young men and young women were not allowed to socialize without parental supervision. If society was still structured that way, young men and women would succeed in remaining celibate 'til marriage.

Society has changed, but conservatives want to keep the expectations of teenagers the same. Some of you have admitted that you engaged in a fair bit of sexual experimentation, even if it stopped short of penetration. In other words, you're asking your teenagers to succeed where you failed.

The problem with that strategy is, it forces kids to go underground with the behaviour. They don't feel comfortable talking to you about activities that are contrary to your expectations of them. And thus they are more likely to take foolish risks and get into difficulties of one sort or another.

Better, in my opinion, to recognize that if society affords the opportunity for young men and women to mix, unsupervised, they're going to get up to some experimentation. Better to instruct them accordingly, instead of telling them, "Just say no."

Yes, a few will have the self-control to save their virginity for marriage, but not many! You're taking a big risk to assume that your kids will be the exception to the general rule.
Jack -

I think the shorts thing has more to do with respect for the shul. But you're not completely off the hook! Even when davening alone, one should wear what one would wear if one were expecting a respected guest (or something like that). Or let's make it simpler - one should wear shoes.

The idea of your prayers being accepted or not is a bit of a straw man, I fear (no, I'm not going to put up any icons or anything), even outside of the idea of respect for the shul. Certainly, there are things to learn from such a rule - maybe that if you'd dress a certain way when greeting a human, then all the more so when you're greeting the creator of all humans. Or maybe that since it is so hard for us flash-and-blood humans to relate to God, who is so unknowable, we need to do concrete things such as dress respectfully to help us along. But if one doesn't follow the rules, it doesn't necessarily mean that prayers are accepted (what that means itself is yet another discussion, maybe to complement the one to be had on kavannah).

It reminds me of a guy I know who was, admittedly, doing a certain ritual incorrectly. He said, "God still loves me." I said, "That's true, but you're doing it wrong."

(I didn't say that until about three days later, and to no one in particular, but you get my point.)

A lot of this is not halachically based and is more minhag then anything else. I can agree that there is an issue of respect involved and I wouldn't want to do anything to create an unnecessary spectacle, but I don't buy into arguments that are solely based upon this is the way it was always done.

I have always enjoyed this story about the Besht.

In a small town in Poland, there was an orphan shepherd boy who grew up knowing very little about being Jewish. One day, shortly before Yom Kippur, he met a group of people who were traveling to Mezibush to spend the holiday with the Baal Shem Tov. The boy decided to join them and soon, he was standing with the many people in the Baal Shem Tov's shul.

But the boy did not know how to daven - he couldn't even read the Aleph-Beis. He saw all the people davening earnestly from the depths of their hearts, and he also wanted to say something to HaShem that came from deep inside. So he drew a deep breath and let out the shrill whistle that he would sound every evening when he gathered the sheep from the fields. Right in the middle of davening on Yom Kippur, the shepherd boy whistled as loud as he could.

The people in the shul were shocked, but the Baal Shem Tov calmed them and said, "A terrible decree was hanging over us. The shepherd boy's whistle pierced the heavens and erased the decree. His whistle saved us, because it was sincere and came from the very bottom of his heart, where he feels love for HaShem even though he doesn't know or understand why."

"The problem is, women's sexuality has been socially proscribed for goodness knows how many generations. Now that the lid has been lifted, women have an opportunity to figure out what they want. (Because I don't think they automatically know; figuring it out is an experimental process.) Some women (by no means all) seem to want sex with no strings attached, contrary to the stereotype."

Yes, but now we're going to the other extreme. Who's to say women aren't pressured into having sex, and not just by men, but by other women as well, especially teenage girls? I've been a witness of numerous incidents when girls made fun of other girls ruthlessly for being virgins, as did boys! Moreover, advertising and other aspects of our culture promote a highly sexualized image of a woman: "If you want to be attractive, you have to look a certain way. And looking a certain way is cool. All the hot women look that way. And guess what else they do?..." So it's a double-edged sword.
Dr. Bean: A sincere thank you for the glossary. Without it I feel like I'm listening to an orchestra, but while I can see the bowstrings moving, all I hear are the woodwinds and brass. Leaves one with a sense of incompletion.

I agree that men are more visual than women, who tend to be more tactile. And while I feel that men should be responsible for their own responses, I agree that provocative dress will pack far more of a wallop to the males than the females of the species. I further agree that men in suits work for me! (Though nice legs in shorts are good, too, along with eye-crinkles and some gray at the temples. But I digress...)

Your comment that women desire "infinite intimacy with one man" is interesting. It's true that women tend to desire more intimacy than men. However, I don't see the drive for intimacy as precluding sexual curiosity and experimentation.

I'm in my forties. I've been married, divorced, and now I am very happily remarried.

There are many women out there who have followed this pattern, and I feel perfectly confident in saying that many, many women in that situation - adults, sexually experienced and mature, independent - want at least a period of autonomy, which includes sexual autonomy. These women are perfectly capable of enjoying, even seeking, "no strings attached" sex, something I termed "happy friendly sex".

Not as a permanent way of life, perhaps, but for a season of reclaiming their selves, their independence, of asserting their control over their own lives, including their sexuality.

Looking back on my life, I think I would have made a much better choice of husband had I had such a period of freedom and exploration before my first marriage. The issue of the connection between emotions and sexuality is a valid one: my perspective on this is that it is far too easy for an inexperienced young person to mistake lust for love and make an important life choice based on nothing more than a hormonal surge.

I have high intimacy requirements (by this I'm not referring solely or even primarily to sexual intimacy), and happily, this time round I've found a man who is pleased to, and capable of, meeting them. There is nowhere else I'd rather be than with this man, but I do not for a minute regret that period of happy-friendly exploration in my life.
Wow! Bean posts a sex topic and the coffeehouse is in an uproar. Everybody has something to say, only he or she can't say it without dusting off the Dictionary of Obscure Terms, Code Words, and Euphamisms.

Since I am very late on this topic, I'll try to be succinct and different. Keep your kids out of schools where bad kids go. They're going to do what their friends do. Next, teach them to be good people. Note that good is not the same as law-abiding, smart, successful, rich, or popular. Although all those things are important, emphasize good above all. As Jack's Shack said at the beginning, you have great influence over your kids. You do those two things and the details should work themselves out. That's my theory, anyway. I'll let you know how it plays out with my boys in twenty years. Oh, and if possible, have only boys. They're easier.

P.S. Just read that last post by Mary P. Forget what I said before. If men are more visual and women are more tactile, I'll teach my boys to seek out good-looking women and cop a feel.
I know your last remark was meant in jest, but I think it comes across as disrespectful of Mary P.

I'm sure she was referring to tactile experiences like kissing, or stroking the back of someone's arm. She was not thinking of something as crude as "copping a feel".

In fact, you confirm her point. You hear "tactile" and you think, "cop a feel". That is not the connotation of the word "tactile", and I doubt such a crude interpretation would enter the head of the average woman.
The issue of the connection between emotions and sexuality is a valid one: my perspective on this is that it is far too easy for an inexperienced young person to mistake lust for love and make an important life choice based on nothing more than a hormonal surge.

Good point. I have seen this over and over in the Orthodox branches as well as other religions where any kind of masturbation and/or premarital touching or any kind are prohibited (i.e. Mormonism).
Oven: You'll teach your boys to cop a feel??? I am furious, I would feel degraded if I were younger, and you? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Because I enjoy touching, some man may come along and maul me - invade my body - without my consent?!? Some teenage kid, no less?

And if men may "cop a feel" because women are tactile, why can't women expect men to go around naked, because they're visual?

I am owed an apology.
Mary P - I apologize. I don't know you well enough to joke around with you. Please give it no more thought. It's not worth getting furious.
Oven. Apology accepted. I don't know you well enough to know when you're joking. (If I did know you well, be sure you'd have been scolded for that one, though with less fury and more rolling of the eyes...)

I wonder, though: Do you understand the substance of my objection, the source of my anger?

Stacey: Thanks for your response. I appreciate it.
Oven: On second thought, never mind the question. Though I am genuinely interested in your response, it would become a distracting tangent to this thread; not appropriate to highjack the comment seciont! Thanks for the prompt apology.
Mary - men wouldn't want to go around nekked because we're ugly. Let's face it - clothes make the man. Of course, you get to the heart of why Oven's joke wasn't merely offensive but just not a good joke. If women are tactile, then it's they who should cop a feel (or feel a cop, if they're particularly daring).

Jack - there are many versions of that story by the Ba'al Shem Tov - sometimes the child plays the flute, sometimes he crows like a rooster, sometimes he just recites the Hebrew alphabet and lets God assemble the letters into prayers. And don't get me wrong - it's a great story, and its message of not letting the structure get in the way of meaning (and not embarrassing someone) is an important one.

But I don't think it necessarily fits into this conversation. Its meaning doesn't negate the rules of prayer. Surely the Ba'al Shem Tov did not encourage his followers to show up with flutes the next year. It is important to work on concentration and intent during prayer in the context of the rules of prayer, not in a vacuum.

You are most certainly right, it is more of a tangent than a direct result of this conversation. So I'll spin it to say that dress in shul can cause you to have sexual thoughts about someone and that these thoughts could lead to sex or dancing, as that other joke goes.
(Note to self: Posts about sex generate a lot of interest. Next time, consider adding pictures.)

I don't have much to add. I had considered a detailed, impassioned plea in support of jerkin' the gherkin, but I'd rather be associated with other topics in the minds of our readers – tax cuts, gun ownership, really anything else.
Before my orthodox days, I was at yom kippur in a mixed-seating congregation during college. One of the most beautiful women I've ever seen sat in the seat in front of me. The rest of the day was spent sinning, repenting, sinning, repenting...
Actually, it seems the only sexual activity that is currently unacceptable in the US is sex with minor children. Just possessing kiddie porn is severely punished.

Take heart, though. Society usually swings from one extreme to the other. Evenually, I think we will come back to some more balanced position. May not be in my lifetime, though.

Ralphie: did you get her phone number?
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