While religious society sees men as untamed, lecherous monsters that need the soft touch of a woman, I see men as capable of having healthy relationships.
“Wait,” you may be saying. “That’s a completely unfair representation of the views of the religious. You’re just poisoning the well, Jeff.”
And you’d be correct. Of course, I’m just taking the approach Rabbi Shmuley Boteach took in his recent article on the Huffington Post:
With this as the lead in, Rabbi Boteach explains why we shouldn’t listen to secular society’s demanding that we be the rabid sex-fiends it clearly wants us to be: casual sex is less pleasurable for women.
Yup, Rabbi Boteach is just looking out for the ladies. Here’s the problem, Rabbi Boteach’s framing of the problem and solution are mostly blind to the research he cites (or, more accurately the New York Times article he cites). Instead, he builds up a boogieman so that he can justify his crappy cure.
Rabbi Boteach sets the stage with a quote and a quip: “‘Women are less likely to have orgasms during uncommitted sexual encounters than in serious relationships.’ Hmm… And the pope is Catholic. And, oh yes, the world is round.”
You see, it should come as no surprise that women are less likely to orgasm during casual encounters. Why should this come as no surprise? “Men get to use women to achieve sexual satisfaction but, when they don’t care for the women in question, they don’t care whether they enjoy the experience either.”
According to Rabbi Boteach, he’s been on top of this for a long time: “For years I have made the case that the strongest argument against casual sex, pornography, and womanizing is that it leads to the most boring sex.”
Don’t believe him? Well, the NYT article shares the story of Natasha Gadinsky, a 23-year-old health care case manager who hooked up with a guy a couple times in college, and the experience was boring and unsatisfying for her. Case closed.
The astute reader may have already noted a problem. You see, the New York Times article discusses two studies of college students. The first “found that women were twice as likely to reach orgasm from intercourse or oral sex in serious relationships as in hookups.” The second “found that about 40 percent of women had an orgasm during their last hookup involving intercourse, while 80 percent of men did.” For the non-astute reader, these studies have nothing to do with pornography or womanizing. It seams that Rabbi Boteach may be misusing scientific research to justify a broad, cultural critique. But let’s not jump to conclusions. Let us continue.
Rabbi Boteach sets the scene: “A woman agrees to go to bed with a man, a stranger, hooking up after a party, or some other casual encounter. She takes off all her clothes for him, is looking forward to a passionate, exciting night. And he can’t even be bothered to pleasure her. Talk about selfish.”
That’s odd. The woman removes her clothes “for him”? Well, let’s be generous; having sex with a clothed woman means the man has to be concerned with not damaging her clothes. So, in a way, the woman may be removing the clothes for the man.
Wait, wait. This is about casual sex, right? So, the Rabbi must be saying that sex is better in marriage. Nope: “Now, none of this means that marital sex is more exciting.”
Then, what is going on here? Please, Rabbi Boteach, why are these poor women having to suffer such unsatisfying casual sex? “But while acknowledging that the physical state of men and women may veer toward a craving for exciting and new sexual experiences, humans are also possessed of a soul which seeks precisely the opposite, namely an intimate sexual connection based on primacy and exclusivity.”
Primacy and exclusivity? What does that mean, Rabbi Boteach? “…I argued that the principal desire of a woman is not to be loved, because if so she would remain in her parent’s home her entire life. Parents, whose love is unconditional, won’t divorce her or cheat on her. Rather, a woman’s desire is to be chosen. To be made into the one and only. To have primacy and exclusivity conferred upon her by a man who places her at the center of his universe.”
It is a common misconception that a vomitorium is a place where Romans would go to vomit. If nonsense of the sort Rabbi Boteach just wrote keeps appearing on forums accessible by the public, we may want to construct such a place.
Truth be told, I always thought women left their parents’ houses to have babies and watch R-rated television at whatever volume they wanted. Apparently I was wrong. They leave the home to be chosen by a man. To feel the non-dehumanizing, non-suffocating joy of being the center of a man’s universe.
And now we understand why Rabbi Boteach would bring up pornography and womanizing when commenting on two research studies that have nothing to do with pornography and womanizing. You see, the reason casual sex is unsatisfying to women is because it is sex with some random guy who hasn’t chosen her, isn’t exclusive (read: is womanizing), and doesn’t care about her pleasure. If he had chosen her, he’d care enough to pleasure her.
There’s something very interesting about Rabbi Boteach’s commentary, however. All of the quotes Rabbi Boteach takes from the New York Times article appear in the first 5 paragraphs of the article. The article is 30 paragraphs long. What appears in those other 25 paragraphs? Well, in short, nothing that helps Rabbi Boteach’s argument.
In fact, it contradicts much of what Rabbi Boteach says.
For example, what about those uncaring guys: “Duvan Giraldo, 26, a software technician in Elmhurst, Queens, said that satisfying a partner “is always my mission,” but added, “I’m not going to try as hard as when I’m with someone I really care about.” And with women he’s just met, he said, it can be awkward to talk about specific needs in the bedroom.”
So, it is not that the guy doesn’t care. It’s that ensuring his partner has an orgasm isn’t as high on his priority list during a casual sexual encounter. To be fair, this isn’t an outright contradiction of Rabbi Boteach’s point, but it puts the lie to his devoid-of-feeling caricature of the guys taking part in casual sex.
But what about this “specific needs” talk? “Vanessa Martini, 23, from Marin County, Calif., learned early on that most men she slept with casually would not intuit her needs.
‘I haven’t hooked up with anybody who was so cavalier as to just, like, not even care,’ she said. ‘But I think most of them were somewhat baffled that it would require more than just them thrusting.'”
Wait, you mean college-aged guys are not very good at sex? Is the pope Catholic?
So, instead of the uncaring, ruined-by-porn womanizers of Rabbi Boteach’s imaginiation, young men participating in casual sexual encounters are inexperienced at sex and bring objectives that are not necessarily conducive to a woman achieving orgasm.
But still, these poor women must be so unsatisfied: “Some women, confronted with these roadblocks, are redefining casual sex and the physical pleasure that they expect from it. Sex without strings has carnal and emotional benefits that don’t depend on reaching orgasm, they say.”
Wait, what?: “‘Something we don’t talk about is why having an orgasm is the main goal or the only goal” of sex, Dr. Herbenick said. “Who are we to say women should be having orgasms?'”
This is getting cra, y’all:
For Kim Huynh, a 29-year-old filmmaker in San Francisco, sacrificing a reliable orgasm for sex without the burden of commitment was a conscious decision. After a couple of relationships in college, Ms. Huynh spent about five years without a serious boyfriend and many on-again, off-again flings.
“As far as my ability to climax consistently, that’s something I was able to have in my monogamous relationships that I never had” in less committed circumstances, she said.
Yet mediocre sex was a small price to pay “for the freedom to be able to enjoy it all.” The physical aspect of a tryst with a relative stranger was gratifying, she said, even if her chances of reaching orgasm were limited. When her partner’s performance was lackluster, she still took pride in her own sexual prowess.
“To sort of know yourself to be sort of skilled in a way or to be able to see someone else’s pleasure that was your own doing, I think there’s definitely something very empowering about that,” she said.
Oh, poor Ms. Huynh. It must be so difficult not being chosen by a man. Such a tragic and unsatisfying life you live. Poor, poor Ms. Huynh. Well, Ms. Huynh, you can sleep easy (preferably in your own bed, alone) knowing that Rabbi Boteach is out there trying to convince the rest of the world that you, too, should experience the sweet, satisfying relief of being chosen by a man.
One day, Ms. Huynh. One day.
Other Random Thoughts:
- My favorite part of Rabbi Boteach’s commentary is this:
“This past weekend I spoke at The City of Ideas Conference in Puebla, Mexico (Ciudad de Las Ideas)….”
Did he translate the name of the conference back into Spanish for the benefit of his Spanish-only readers?
- My second favorite part of Rabbi Boteach’s commentary immediately follows this:
“…where I debated noted atheist Michael Shermer on polygamy versus monogamy. Yes, modern evolutionary science is adamant that men are possessed of a polygamous nature and seek the widest possible distribution of their gene pool. They are not naturally programmed to be with one woman but to disseminate their genetic material to the greatest number of partners. Indeed, as I chronicle in Kosher Lust science is now headed in the same direction with women, claiming that many recent studies show that females are likewise non-monogamous by nature.”
First, if there is a God, he has a dark sense of humor allowing Michael Shermer to debate in favor of polygamy.
Second, “evolutionary science” isn’t adamant about anything. Considering the truth of evolution by natural selection, one possible explanation for why human beings do not strictly find one and only one sexual partner is because our ancestors may have benefited by “disseminat[ing] their genetic material to the greatest number of partners.”
- Going back to the image I posted near the top:
The article title relates to women, but the summary quote is about men. I suppose it should have been obvious from the beginning that Rabbi Boteach sees women’s satisfaction as a connection to men.
But, his quote, “…I see men as intimacy-seekers, searching out a woman who can nurture their hearts, cultivate their humanity, and with whom they can achieve a sense of oneness.”
In one sense, I am happy to grant a certain idealism to Rabbi Boteach’s sentiment. He is trying to undermine a vision of masculinity that sees men as having little to no emotional attachment to their sexual encounters and sexual partners. He wants to suggest that men desire strong, emotional, meaningful relationships with women. On this level, I completely agree.
But his wording reveals a lot. It is the woman who will nurture the man’s heart. The woman will cultivate his humanity. Why is this the woman’s role and responsibility? Also, I am always skeptical when someone brings up oneness in the context of a relationship. A relationship, by its nature, involves at least two parties. But a relationship between a man and a woman is supposed to create “oneness.” So, which party’s individuality is supposed to go away?
Maybe it’s supposed to be some equal blending of the two individuals? The woman nurtures the man’s heart, cultivates his humanity, and provides intimacy; and the man instills in the woman a sense of grit, gets her to be athletic, and makes her good at math? I don’t know.
But, in all seriousness, I suspect this very notion is at the root of the sexism that plagues our society. When we start from the idea that a woman is not whole until connected to a man, we eliminate the notion that a woman is a singular, complete entity. As a result, “healthy womanhood” requires connection to a man. The man, being complete in himself, takes primacy. The woman, needing the man, becomes secondary. She goes away so that the couple can become one. Fucked up shit, that is.
Oh, and claiming that men are also incomplete until connected with women doesn’t solve anything. It just makes it fucked up for everybody.
It seems to me, a healthy and satisfying relationship respects the autonomy of the parties involved while satisfying what those parties want out of the relationship. So, from a marriage, maybe a healthy relationship will provide intimacy and cultivate humanity. In a casual sexual encounter, perhaps the relationship provides exhilaration.
Apparently, the casual sexual encounter is not likely to bring orgasm for women. Noticing this, women have decided to seek something else from their casual sexual relationships. If you think of women has fully independent persons who should have control over their sexual lives, you see nothing wrong with this.
So, it says something about Rabbi Boteach that he has a problem with this. He doesn’t come right out say it, so I won’t insist this is what he means. But, if I had to guess, he just thinks it improper for women to spoil themselves by having sex with men who are not their husbands. My reading between the lines: he’s couching it as concern for the sexual satisfaction of women, but he’s really just talking about controlling the sexuality of women. I’m sorry, but I think Rabbi Boteach’s real concern is that women are out there having casual sexual encounters.
I know. I know. A religious leader wanting to control the sexuality of women? Unheard of.