Shmuley Boteach

Billie Eilish is right about the dangers of pornography

A human need for erotic imagery seems innate, so cater to it in a 'kosher' way and protect yourselves from pernicious exploitative internet porn
Billie Eilish performing on MTV in 2019. (MTV International, via Wikipedia)
Billie Eilish performing on MTV in 2019. (MTV International, via Wikipedia)

Give Billie Eilish credit. It’s not easy for a woman at any age, let alone one as young as 19, to admit that pornography has “destroyed her brain.” But that’s exactly what the megastar told Howard Stern in a live interview on December 13. Eilish said that porn had three negative impacts on her.

The first is that, after watching violent porn, it gave her horrible dreams and night terrors.

The second is that once she started having sex, it made her think that she had to perform in the way she watched the porn stars on the screen.

And the third is that it exposed her to harmful images that did her mind harm.

Porn is ruining an entire generation of young men and women. Just as Eilish said, porn exposes us to false images of what women should look like, how sex should be experienced, and how monogamy just isn’t any fun. All the porn that men are watching slowly conditions them to see women as a means to their erotic ends, making it so much more difficult for men to respect women and for women to respect themselves.

Try as we might, we parents just don’t have the technical skills to shield our children from all terabytes of harmful pornographic images that are available at the click of a link. Our kids can run circles around us when it comes to programs that are supposed to limit content.

Worse, we don’t know how to speak to our kids about the effects of pornography because it’s such an inherently uncomfortable topic. So life goes on, with all these debilitating images, until someone decides to speak out.

I’ve written a lot about the harmful effects of porn, including an op-ed with Pamela Anderson in the Wall Street Journal that was later turned into an entire book, Lust for Love. Here I want to turn the table and address why we so enjoy looking at the garbage that is porn and how it can be made kosher in marriage.

There is a voyeuristic element to pornography that seems to cater to a deep-seated psychological and erotic need, namely to witness something that is sexually sinful, seeing something you’re not supposed to see. The Talmud says that “stolen waters are sweet.” Marriage is all about appropriate and legal carnal desire. But what about the more sinful variety? Does marriage cater to it at all? Or will we forever be leaning away from our sanitary marriages and peering at unsavory images?

The Torah well understood the human need for erotic sinfulness and therefore created the “sinful marriage.” Think about it. The laws of mikveh make a man’s wife forbidden to him for 12 days out of every month. He is not supposed to see her naked and they are not permitted to have sex.

Furthermore, the laws of modesty, which apply even in marriage, mean that a man will often have to steal peeks at his wife to see her nakedness, thereby catering the human voyeuristic need.

So why does porn retain such an incredibly powerful attraction for us, including in marriage? Because we go about marriage in the wrong way. We have made marriage all about total openness, and never about forbiddenness.

Marriage, we are told, is where a husband and wife prance around the bedroom entirely unclothed, spouses take care of sanitary needs in each other’s presence, and have regular sex on tap, even the quickie variety, where sex is used much more as hormonal release rather than erotic encounter. In many marriages, the five or six minutes of sex — the national average — is used far more as a sedative to help with sleep than as an aphrodisiac to stimulate desire.

No wonder so many husbands and wives are turning to cheap substitutes like porn to find anything that is erotically engaging.

Unkosher porn is where a husband uses images of other women to find stimulation. It’s where a wife uses images of other men to develop an erotic interest. But there is also kosher porn. It’s where a husband and wife use images of each other — both mental and literal — to stimulate erotic lust.

I know of wives who have taken erotic pictures of themselves and given them to their husbands, just as I know of couples who have made erotic videos of their intimate moments — to be shared only with each other.

Not only are such images not unkosher, they can often be used to wean a couple off the unhealthy and unkosher addiction of internet porn.

We should never denigrate the human need for erotic imagery. Rather, we should make it about our spouse.

As marriage becomes more and more about two people being best friends rather than lovers, and as the institution of marriage fosters greater emphasis on being partners rather than soul-mates, I fear that more and more couples are sanitizing their marriages to be purged of unseemly lust, thereby giving one partner the (utterly unacceptable) excuse to look to affairs and porn as a way of catering to lost erotic desire.

We can do better.

In the Torah, the first woman, Eve, is described as being possessed of unrequited desire, which led to the fall of the first couple. The desire was not the issue. That’s healthy. Rather, it was its satiation with the forbidden fruit that made it unhealthy.

Wives should feel comfortable sharing erotic fantasies with their husbands. The more their men hear about their desire, the more they will be drawn to their wives’ erotic nature. Marriages where people pretend that they have no interest in outsiders — even as both husband and wife acknowledge the utter devastation which comes from acting out on those desires — are charades that become sexually dull and unfulfilling.

Judaism is unique among the world’s religion’s in seeing sex as being not for procreation but intimacy, and Eros as being not sinful but essential. We have never taught our men to suppress their sexuality and move into monasteries, but rather to channel it toward one person, their wives, and cater to all their sexual and erotic needs. We have never taught our women to bury their sensuality, but rather to cultivate it through the natural art of erotic modesty. Not only do we acknowledge the power of a woman’s sexual needs, but we even publicly proclaim its needs for satiation at the wedding ceremony in the Ketubah where a husband promises to cater to his wife’s rhythms. And so too, we do not demonize sin, but rather afford it channels of kosher expression.

The Talmud says that Joseph lusted after Potiphar’s wife as much as she did him. But because he suppressed his unkosher lust, God gave it back to him in a kosher manner when he married her daughter.

For two weeks of each month, we religious Jewish couples lust after each other while we are forbidden from so much as laying a pinkie on each other. We have to steal glances of each other’s forbidden bodies. Kosher Lust springs back into an otherwise moribund marriage. Images of Kosher Porn come to play in erotic excitement.

And a husband and wife who would otherwise simply be father and mother are once again transformed into a man and woman who yearn and pine for each other, and not for the exploitative images of strangers on the internet.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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