Ten years ago when I published Kosher Sex I realized that it was a book that had no natural constituency. Secular people would think they had nothing to learn from a religious person about sex, and religious people would find it inappropriate for a Rabbi to write a book on the subject. And yet, I was not entirely surprised when, after finally finding a publisher, the book became an international best-seller. From counseling couples I knew that sex was no longer making husbands and wives feel close, and a book that described how physical passion can foster emotional intimacy was bound to make an impact.
Fast forward ten years and sex in America has deteriorated to its lowest point ever. A third of all married couples are completely platonic. Those who do still have sex average once a week for about seven minutes at a time (and that includes the time he spends begging). The glut of sex in the culture seems to have had the curious effect of killing off our libidos. It's gotten so bad that in a study sponsored by Intel this past December nearly one out of two women said they would rather give up sex for two weeks than go without the internet. What is perhaps even more shocking is that one in three men agreed that they too prefer the internet to sex.
My new book The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life directly addresses this astonishing loss of sexual desire and its devastating consequences for marital bliss. Erotic desire is the single most important ingredient in a male-female relationship. When a man wants a woman, his desire finds expression in romantic and loving gestures that make her feel special and cherished. When he begins to tire of her, however, his weariness finds expression in his callousness. The same is true in reverse. When a wife's feelings for her husband wane, her willingness to be accommodating and responsive diminished accordingly. He becomes a burden.
All relationship experts agree that building desire is fundamental, but many make the mistake of believing that becoming more physically attractive is the key to becoming more sexually desirable to each other. They therefore counsel couples to go on a diet, get to the gym, and dress more seductively. While this definitely helps, it mistakenly identifies the locus of our sexuality as being in the body rather than the mind.
In truth, erotic desire springs from eight mental principles, which form the soul of my new book. To prove my point, consider the following scenario. A man goes to the beach and sees women walking around in skimpy bikinis. Is it sexy? Yes. Erotic? Definitely not. Don't believe me? Then why is that most men either throw a Frisbee around at the beach or fall asleep. Is the beach so erotic that it makes them feel tired?
But now imagine the same man walking home at night and looking into the bedroom of a woman who accidentally leaves the blinds open and is walking around in her undergarments. Now, is the first that enters his mind, 'Hey, anyone got a Frisbee?'
But why is the bedroom scene so much more erotic? The man is seeing the same amount of exposed flesh which he did at the beach, with the same amount of clothing. The difference, of course, is that here she is wearing intimate apparel. He is peering into her forbidden inner sanctum. He is seeing something he's not supposed to see. It's sinful and the verboten is deeply erotic.
Which immediately poses a major problem for marriage which is all too legal. Sex with your wife? Not only are you allowed to, heck, you're obligated to. It doesn't push the boundaries, it doesn't break any rules. And since the passion is so limited and contained, it undermines the second mental principle of erotic desire, namely, reckless abandon. That's where you experience something so thrilling, so electrifying, and so overpowering that you cannot help but submit to it completely. But the daily grind and responsibilities of marriage scarcely allows for the loss of any control.
The same is true of the third erotic principle, unquenchable yearning. Plato rightly pointed out that only the frustration of desire guarantees that it will be prolonged. That's why he argued for unconsummated, Platonic relationships. But how can marriage, with its near-constant sexual availability, enhance rather than undermine desire?
What we're really saying is this. What destroyed Western sexuality is it's utter lack of mystery and its goal-orientation. Real attraction is all about building tension and stoking the fires of lust. It's where the object of one's desire is cordoned off by erotic obstacles that need to be surmounted. But how can thrive in a culture which is designed for instant gratification that leaves no urge unsatisfied. Hungry? Pick up the phone and a pizza is delivered in thirty minutes. Feeling nervous or anxious? Pop a valium and you're inner calm is restored. Our culture is designed to quash every pang and scratch every itch.
But nowhere is this truer than with sexual lust which Western culture treats as a biological urge that requires instant satiation. We get rid of the urge by indulging the craving. This explains the popularity of porn which promises thousands of willing women at all hours of the day and night to cater to a man's every desire. Little do these men who indulge the urge understand, however, that they have no pent-up erotic energy left to shower on their wives, dissipated as it has become in their pathetic porn pursuits.
In a strange sort of way, Americans have sex in order not to want to have sex. It's not radically different to dinner. We eat in order to stop feeling hungry. Likewise, we use sex to anesthetize its craving.
As a solution, The Kosher Sutra offers an Eastern, Tantra and kabbalistically-inspired, means-oriented sexuality which designed to increase rather than dissipate desire. Notice how many of the Jewish laws of marriage serve precisely to frustrate, rather than cater to, instant sexual gratification. A woman is sexually forbidden to her husband for a period of days each month thereby rendering her forbidden and sexual relations with her sinful. Modest dress, even in the bedroom, forces husbands to become peeping toms reminiscent of the scenario I described above. And the obligation for a husband to sexually satisfy his wife before himself creates an erotic encounter whose purpose it is not to afford him personal climax but to fan the flames of lust precisely by not granting him release. Sex without climax. It's a radical idea, especially when it's practiced over a period of days. But man, when you master its discipline, it's 'damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead.'
The Jewish people are known as Israel which translates literally as he who wrestles with G-d. Friction, tension, and struggle are at the very heart of the Jewish experience, which is the principal reason for Jewish creativity and resilience and accounts for why Judaism, alone among the religions of the world, deeply endorses the passionate sexual interaction between man and woman. For what is lust other than the unresolved tension resulting from the constant friction of the masculine and feminine, leaving both feeling electrified and alive.
The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life will be published by HarperOne on January 6th. Find out more at www.shmuley.com
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