At a South Florida Chabad synagogue during Shabbat Kiddush, I find myself sitting across from a couple, Beny Schonfeld and his wife. Casually, in conversation, I was surprised to learn that Beny was a recovering porn addict who recently spoke at the synagogue about his experiences.
We don’t know how common porn addiction is in the Jewish community because it’s a taboo subject that’s rarely, if ever, talked about. However, the Journal of Psychosexual Health says that porn is pretty common in society as a whole:
[The] Study reports that 58% of men view pornography weekly and 87% at least monthly; while the prevalence of pornography addiction ranges from 4.5% to 9.8%.
Honestly, I had heard of smoking, alcohol, and drug addictions in the Jewish community. I would even imagine that there is a fair amount of work, social media, and gaming addiction nowadays. However, until Beny, I had never heard of anyone being so open about their personal experiences with an addiction like pornography.
In terms of the impact of pornography, the American Psychological Association presents two sides to consider:
Opponents argue that it can ruin marriages, lead to sexual addiction or other unhealthy behaviors, and encourage sexual aggression. Proponents claim that erotica can enhance sex lives, provide a safe recreational outlet and perhaps even reduce the incidence of sexual assault.
Let’s face it, even for those in society who are proponents of pornography, not everyone would admit it if they had an addiction like that. A porn addiction invokes all sorts of social fears and anxieties about “perverts, rapists, and sexual offenders.” In fact, in a Youtube video, The Blessing of Porn Addiction, featuring Beny Schonfeld, as he walks into a recovery meeting, he describes fearing the other people he will meet there and asks, “Is that who I am?”
However, just viewing pornography does not mean that people will act out as dangerous deviants, perverts, or sexual predators. According to The Recovery Village, there are three levels of porn viewing in order of severity:
- Recreational Viewers: 75% of viewers include many women or those in relationships and who watch for about 24 minutes a week as entertainment or to enhance their sexual relationships.
- Highly Distressed, Non-Compulsive Viewers: 13% of viewers tend to be single and who watch about 17 minutes a week for self-soothing or because of a lack of fulfilling relationships.
- Compulsive Viewers: 12% of viewers are mostly men (but also women) who watch on average 110 minutes a week, and can interfere with relationships and life functioning.
In My Jewish Learning, it is stressed that, from a traditional Jewish perspective, all forms of pornography are forbidden. Halacha (Jewish law), which emphasizes modesty and privacy, strictly forbids pornography and the impure thoughts and actions (such as sex offenses) that it can lead to. Moreover, biblically, the mitzvah of tzitzit fringes (Numbers 15:3) is seen as a physical and spiritual reminder not to follow the lusting of your heart and eyes, as personified by the depiction of sexually explicit display, behavior, or material.
In Beny’s case, he witnessed a sexual assault at the very tender age of eight, following which a friend showed him an explicit movie a few years later. These traumatic and incomprehensible experiences for a young child were compounded by his parents’ divorce at home. For whatever reason, porn became his way of coping. With the advent of online 24×7 on-demand pornography, his problems worsened.
Eventually Beny found someone he cared about, and when he got married at a young age, he thought that this would also “fix” the problem. However, this was not the case. Fortunately, when Beny ultimately reached out for help, he was able to safely face his trauma and work through it. Of course, Beny acknowledges that it is a lifelong journey to wellness.
More than that, despite the hardship that addiction has brought him, Beny feels uniquely blessed to have the insight as well as the commitment to help others. He is particularly concerned that young people have too easy access to adult material and that real safeguards for their protection are needed.
Many people would not have the courage of this person to come forward, speak up, and to sacrifice his own time and image to try to help others confront this important issue and its relationship to healthy sexuality and emotional and spiritual well-being.
People in our communities are going through all sorts of problems and addictions. Beny’s message is not to suffer in silence: “If you feel ashamed about what you’re doing, speak up and ask for help.”