CORRECTION: In this column on the state of sexuality in America, I mistakenly quoted Nicole Queathem as the author of a mock thesis rating the sexual performance of student athletes. The real author was Karen Owen, while Nicole was only quoted by the New York Times commenting on the thesis. I not only apologize here for the error but have personally contacted Nicole to apologize as well.
College sex scandals are dominating the news. There is the particularly tragic story of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi whose roommate, Dharun Ravi, filmed his sexual tryst with a man and broadcast it live on the internet, leading him to jump to his death.
Then there is the embarrassing tale of Karen Owen, a 22-year-old Duke graduate, who wrote a mock thesis rating her real sexual liaisons with thirteen student-athletes that included pictures of the men and a graph ranking their performance, which made its way all over the internet.
In both cases the discussion that ensued was about the borderless internet and the need to teach young people privacy. Go ahead and screw the living daylights out of each other; but keep it off the internet. Sure, privacy is an essential conversation and the actions of Ravi in particular are repulsive and he should definitely be prosecuted. But amazingly there has been no discussion whatsoever about how central anonymous sex with complete strangers has become to campus life and the consequences of casual sex for young people. Even the hit film The Social Network portrays Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow geeks at Harvard as having created Facebook simply to have sex with women who were otherwise outside their reach.
But it isn't just confined to the young. The just-published National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior said that while about half of all adolescents are sexually active, a quarter of all men over fifty are having sex with 'friends' and 'acquaintances' as opposed to a romantic partner. Among women in the same age group the number was a sizable 13 percent. It turns out that 'friends with benefits' isn't just for young people.
Now, why should I care? Having written Kosher Sex, The Kosher Sutra, and Kosher Adultery, I am anything but a prude. But casual sex -- its instant availability and its demystification in a culture that promotes it recreationally and as a commodity by which to sell products -- is leading to the death of sex in our time.
Ever ask yourself why all the sex jokes are told about priests and nuns, people who don't even have sex? Ever ponder why Anne Boleyn, arguably the only woman in Britain who refused to sleep with Henry VIII, became the one woman he lusted after most, and why, after she finally capitulated completely and utterly, he developed contempt? Or why it is that when you visit a beach, where all the women are in bikinis, the environment is sexy but not erotic (most men fall asleep at the beach), but if you accidentally peer into a woman's bedroom, where she is wearing the same amount of clothing but this time it's her undergarments, the last thing on your mind is throwing a Frisbee? The answer, of course, is that sexual lust exists in environments of frustrated desire, sexual unavailability, carnal sinfulness, and erotic forbiddenness (which explains why the Bible makes a wife off-limits sexually to her husband for a few days every month).
But living in the abysmal erotic ignorance of believing that sex on-tap will increase our desire, we are experiencing a sexual famine in America, with one out of every three couples being entirely platonic and the other two-out-of-three having sex, on average, once a week for seven minutes at a time. When you rob sex of its intimacy, when you reduce it to the venting of a hormonal urge, then masturbation is not just an acceptable but even a preferable alternative. Both men and women report stronger orgasms when they pleasure themselves. And who can blame them. The women in porn look younger than your wife and there are more of them. The fantasy you have of that male stranger who actually talked to you on the plane is more seductive than the husband who barely looks at you when you take your clothes off at night. Besides, you know your body and what pleasures you a lot better than a disinterested spouse or the drunken stranger you met at a party.
The argument against casual sex is no longer a religious one confined to repressed, self-righteous curmudgeons who want to turn off the lights at the orgy, whether out of envy or genuine moral outrage. Rather, it's a conversation about whether young people, whose first taste of sex is awkward, fumbling, bereft of emotion, and deeply self-conscious, are ever going to grow out of the negative vibes of that experience and learn how to make love with wild abandon, free of any psychological scarring and emotional limitation.
Sex is the most pleasurable human experience because it's the most liberating. It's where you suspend your higher cognitive processes and submit entirely to instinct, allowing the beast within to roam free. Speak to any wife and she will tell you that this kind of rough, utterly passionate, raw sex with a man is what she most craves but what she least receives. Women want men to want them so badly that they surrender all control. But how could that possibly happen in a culture where men are trained to intellectually examine a woman's breasts, legs, hips, and rear to determine levels of attraction, rather than responding viscerally based on sheer animal instinct?
I am currently writing a book called Kosher Climax: Finding Wholeness in the Ecstatic Sexual Moment (I told you I wasn't a prude, and yes, interested publishers should know how to reach me, and I confess, this is a brazen ad). I have been astonished at the deep interest on the part of women to the idea of the spiritual orgasm as I have presented it at lectures. They tell me how seldom they climax with men (in marital sex, male to female orgasm is, on average, eight to one) and how, even if they do, it is deeply unsatisfying, failing to carry them to emotional places never visited, or to make them feel orchestrated as one with the man they're with. Even during carnal union, women sense an empty space in the most intimate parts of their emotional and psychological anatomy, but they are at a loss to explain its cause. But the answers are all around, in a culture that debases and de-eroticizes sex by using a woman's body as a billboard to sell beer and gives us beauty pageants where men sit with scorecards to cerebrally rate a woman in a swimsuit. Why be surprised when your husband, during sex, needs to retreat into a mental 'Miss Universe' where he can fantasize about something even more comely than you and your stretch marks (which explains why, as studies show, ninety percent of couples make love with their eyes closed, effectively tuning each other out).
I recently met an engaging and attractive teenager, carrying around a robot-baby as part of a High School project, which she had to 'feed' and whose diapers she had to change every few hours -- all electronically monitored -- to show her the utter burden of having a baby and thereby practice safe sex. How absurd that rather than teach teens that sex is electrifying and loving but boring and degrading when practiced recreationally, we instead teach young people to avoid having sex because children, at any age, are the ultimate nuisance.
High Schools and Colleges might know a lot about physics and football. But they should leave Sex-Ed to those who believe that love is something intimate and uniquely human rather than a hormonal urge that ought to be indulged in with a condom.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an internationally recognized relationships expert, hosted 'The Shmuley Show' on Oprah and Friends and 'Shalom in the Home' on TLC. The best-selling author of 23 books, he has just published 'Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life' (Basic Books). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.