Is Porn Ruining Your Sex Life?

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Try Orthodox Judaism!

A recent article in New York magazine repeats a concept I’ve seen a number of times before. Namely, that watching porn has made sex worse for everyone. Men have unrealistic expectations of women because of all the porn they’re watching, and women lose confidence in themselves and feel pressured to like things they don’t like because the men in their lives are always watching porn.
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But the New York article, by Naomi Wolf, after making a somewhat old-hat feminist point suddenly gets religious:

I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend who had become an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. When I saw her again, she had abandoned her jeans and T-shirts for long skirts and a head scarf. I could not get over it. Ilana has waist-length, wild and curly golden-blonde hair. “Can’t I even see your hair?” I asked, trying to find my old friend in there. “No,” she demurred quietly. “Only my husband,” she said with a calm sexual confidence, “ever gets to see my hair.”

When she showed me her little house in a settlement on a hill, and I saw the bedroom, draped in Middle Eastern embroideries, that she shares only with her husband—the kids are not allowed—the sexual intensity in the air was archaic, overwhelming. It was private. It was a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West. And I thought: Our husbands see naked women all day—in Times Square if not on the Net. Her husband never even sees another woman’s hair.

She must feel, I thought, so hot.

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Um, okay…

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Ilana’s husband probably sees other women’s hair every day. He sees single women who don’t cover their hair. And of course not every married woman in Israel covers her hair, and many who do cover their hair don’t cover it completely. Regardless, Ilana’s husband almost certainly sees women’s hair in advertising every day. In the weird universe that Wolf has set up, that may be equivalent to all the porn that young men see these days. In any case, that penultimate sentence is complete and total crap. The last sentence is probably true literally and figureatively. Covering your hair can be incredibly hot, temperature wise, as well as, for some, sexually.

Here’s the thing: I agree with the point Wolf is making about porn in this article, and I guess the Jewish thing helps that out, but it also sets up a completely unhelpful dichotomy. Either you watch porn and everything is ruined for you, or you’re an Orthodox Jewish woman who covers her hair and you’re innately sexy. I can’t believe I even have to say this, but there is a middle ground for people who don’t watch porn, or even who don’t watch much porn. Also, people who are observant Jews but don’t cover their hair can be innately sexy, too. So can, you know, Muslims and Christians and Gypsies and Satan worshippers.

There is something to be said for not holding up porn as the standard for relationships and sex. I have been saying that for quite some time. But I think it’s a mistake to hold up Orthodoxy as somehow the answer to the problem. Orthodoxy is more nuanced than that, of course. Plus, there are plenty of Orthodox men and women who are avid consumers of pornography. And most importantly, for those of us who don’t want to end up living on settlements in Israel and wearing head scarves, there has to be an acceptable middle ground. And there IS.

Watching porn is bad for your sex life. You don’t have to go to minyan to figure that out, is all I’m saying.

Posted on January 5, 2010

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