Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sex is For You- And No One Else

A friend of mine sent me this article to read. As I was reading it, the question that occurred to me was something as simple as- why do I care?

Tell me, why do I care what someone's damned opinion about sex is- whether one should be abstinent or live it up with several different men every night? When did this topic become one that entered the local newspapers, a choice that women had to defend, one which they had to actually speak about? What happened to privacy? What happened to your life being yours and my life being mine? Why is it that the concept of privacy is utterly foreign to those who frequent the United States of America, so that everything, even and especially one's sexual life, is now on display?

This is your choice. Whether or not one chooses to engage in premarital sex is one's own choice, and not something about which one ought to be taking militant stances. Either one does or one doesn't- why do you need to defend what you do with your body to someone else? Where do they get off judging your right to engage or not to engage in this activity? Let's leave aside the religious portion of this discussion for now. Especially within the context of a secular college and a secular university, why is it that no one has any shame? Why do we flagrantly display the most private, the most secret parts of ourselves- discuss our relationships, sex lives and breakups- with other people? This is ours! If there's anything we ought to be reclaiming, dear beloved people, it is our self-respect and therefore our own penchant for privacy.

There are certain things that ought to be kept private. One of them is what one decides to do with one's body, and with whom, and how frequently. Those who write about their sex lives to me sound desperate- or sound as though there is something they are desperately wishing to prove. Why does one join such a society- whether it is for Abstinence, or writing as a columnist mocking the movement? The idea that immediately appears to me is simply because the person is insecure- because he either must mock ideals that frighten him, or must attack those that bother him- because he's not strong enough to stand alone. And isn't it sad when something as personal, as intimate as whether or not someone has sex- becomes a matter of discussion in the New York Times?

What has happened to our privacy? What about our sense of shame? Must we truly bare all, take it all off- so that we are not only showing skin, but our souls? Must we defend, rationalize and explain our choices to grinning onlookers who exist simply to lampoon others, who desire only to mock and hurt? What happened to respecting people for who they are? You don't harm anybody if you engage in premarital consensual sex. And I don't harm anyone if I don't. These are two adult choices, and they are only for us; they only affect us and there is no way in which they are anyone else's business- unless we choose to make them someone else's business. And frankly, I don't see why anyone would choose to do this.

Our society is sick. Part of that sickness is the urge and desire to be coddled and loved, to have everyone's good opinion. You're not going to get everyone to agree that abstinence is a smart woman's choice, no matter the spin, twist or apologetic tone you take to it. You can glorify it with whatever terms you'd like; you can say that "virginity is extremely alluring" and someone will always come along to argue with you or call you a crackpot. And there will be those who engage in this ridiculous debate, claiming that you are not a liberated woman if you don't sleep around. Wonderful! And so this stupidity continues. And we read about it. And we want more. And we treat it as a legitimate subject matter, something which ought to actually concern us. Because we've forgotten the line between what's private and what's public, and we've decided that personal choices are truly our domain- and they ought to be what concerns us.

Nor do I understand the need to justify one's personal choice through "reason" and determining what is rational. All this foolishness about safe sex not actually being safe, while the other side argues that it is perfectly good and well- this is ridiculous. One makes a choice. The criteria for the choice one makes is up to the decision maker, and no one else, so long as the decision harms no one. Perhaps one's criteria isn't even rational; perhaps one makes decisions based on intuition or emotion. And not everyone will agree with your standards or criteria, and some will consider you foolish for doing this. But it's not their bloody business! It's your business, your choice and your life. Sex is for you- and no one else. I don't care about your sex life. I don't want to know.

And I don't understand why we have usurped the realm of the personal and made it a matter of national importance- something the entire American people need to read about- and think about. I don't understand how people can get up there and join clubs and organizations and fight about what they think other people should be doing with their bodies and their lives. To me it suggests a desire to prove oneself- that one isn't able to make a decision and live with it unless others know about it, and applaud it. That one isn't at all self-sufficient- that one's entire life is merely a cry, a plea for attention and approbation. And it's very sad if what we are teaching our college campus students is that their decisions don't count unless they are able to find others who agree with them- and who will stand alongside them while making them. One is no longer able to make a decision and stand by it simply because it is your decision and your choice. No, nowadays one must use logic and reason to defend their every action- even those that are wholly personal.

As a society, we have no shame. We can no longer distinguish between personal and national news. But thank God, we have abstinence and sex committees, clubs, feuds and vendettas. Thank God that we have all lived to this age of unabashed voyeurism. Clearly it's what you, I and everyone else ought to be thinking about- all the time. How to defend our choices to others. Because we're no longer able to simply make them, keep quiet about them and humbly live out our lives, focusing upon ideas that really matter- and not upon trying to convert others to our cause.

33 comments:

arade89 said...

i have an inherent fascination with the practices and rituals of people who think and act differently from the way i do. i like to delve into their reasonings and try to understand what factors made me choose my way of living, and them to choose some other. it does indeed make me 'sick' at times; but a curiousity regarding what makes other people different from you, especially in the case of such a major decision like whether or not to engage in premarital sex, could ultimately lead to a better understanding of said people.

MS said...

I enjoyed the article, for the most part. It was gratifying to see the other side of the sex culture represented as a somewhat reasonable phenomenon. (Though at times I did, unfortunately, sense an underlying pulse of These people are crazy!) Personally, I admire Janie Fredell. From what I have heard, there is a significant amount of pressure on college campuses to be 'sexually active,' and it is important that an alternative (and a social group that upholds it) is available for those who would not otherwise be able to stand up for what they believe.

So while I understand your frustration, Chana, and I agree it would be better if there was no need to be concerned with what other people do behind closed doors, I don't see much alternative for those who wish to change things. The way I see it, if abstinence were a more popular and respected choice, there would be far less need to broadcast it--much as Janie Fredell did not feel the need to wear a chastity ring in her near-totally abstinent high school.

(I do wish the article had emphasized something Fredell mentioned briefly; that one of the chief benefits of abstinence in a relationship is that it allows you to connect to your partner as a whole person, not merely a body. Perhaps it didn't strike the author as interesting.)

MS

Mordy said...

I do find it interesting that the moment that Fredell joined the "abstinence movement" she "was immediately aware of a loss of privacy." It's ironic that she opened up consideration of her body to everyone when she made her decision to forbid it.

Anonymous said...

Only one who draws a line between premarital and postmarital sex, can can build a mountain on top of the faulty assumption that sex is inherently private.

Anonymous said...

“When did this topic become one that entered the local newspapers, a choice that women had to defend, one which they had to actually speak about?”

Im sure youre familiar with the old adage about how newspapers will more likely print the “man bites dog" story than the “dog bites man.”

For better of for worse people are curious about behaviors that are considered odd or bizarre. And like it or not, society views the practice of abstinence as bizarre. This is why newspapers print these type stories.

There is no need for you to defend this behavior, just as there is no need for someone with a weird sex fetish to defend their sexual preferences. But at the same time its unfair for you to ask society not to be intrigued by this type of behavior and not to view it as a social oddity.

jackie said...

I agree with you that the cultural circumstances that prompted True Love Revolution to get started are sick in their flaunting of what should be private. But I think that, considering the society with which Janie and co. are faced, their response is admirable.

I can't imagine what it would be like to face the cultural assault of a secular college in regard to its sexual mores. Although a very public abstinence movement may not be particularly tzniut either (and notice, the article didn't mention any frum members of the group, because there may not be any), it addresses and responds to the challenges that it faces better than silence and privacy would, imho.

Chana (not THE) said...

It's quite coincidental that you just wrote this article, especially since I'm right in the middle of reading a fascinating book by Wendy Shalit called Girls Gone Mild.It's all about how the new "sexual revolution" is about today's younger generation struggling to break out of the "bad girl" role that is forced upon them, allegedly in order to free them of the oppression of being forced to be the good girl. But now they feel that they HAVE to be the "bad girl" and now, it's rebellious to be the "good girl." It;s fascinating--I highly recommend it!!

MS said...

In regards to whether this movement should not have developed due to privacy, I absolutely agree with Jackie. It is deeply unfortunate that there must be a certain immodesty regarding issues of modesty (in fact, Wendy Shalit called her first book "A Return to Modesty," an "immodest book about modesty") but it seems inevitable. The real point of the public nature of the True Love Revolution, in my opinion, is to enable and empower those who would otherwise be overwhelmed by pressure. If public figures like Janie Fredell sacrifice their own privacy to give others the strength not to conform to behaviors they disagree with, I can only applaud their efforts. I can't say with certainty that I would be as strong.

Anonymous said...

Ironic Chana, that you suddenly seem so private about sex, when you previously expressed disapproval at the girls at Stern who were not comfortable discussing sexually explicit poetry in a public forum. This is the exact opposite, where people have no shame in the slightest, and debating about sex is no different than debating about politics. And yet you disapprove of this as well? Chana, don't you think that if you believe sex should remain private, you could forgive the girls at Stern who wished for the same.

Chana said...

Chana (Not The),

I read most of Wendy Shalit's book at the Raggedys'. I was not particularly impressed; it is sensationalist in nature, and I get the feeling that she carefully chose bits and pieces of information to stress while leaving out others. For example, I highly doubt Cuddle Parties are a major part of our society. I would need the book in front of me to give an actual critique...but it seemed like a mix of telling me what I already know and stressing other facts in disproportion to what they actually are.

Anonymous 2:18,

I was waiting for you to bring up that point. Yes, I note a divide between discussing the choices of characters in literature/ love poetry and actually wandering about the streets with the equivalent of a cardboard sign reading "I AM A VIRGIN" plastered to one's forehead. I have no problem discussing the way in which Madame Bovary's desire for a lover, or Anna Karenina's affair with Vronsky lead to their doom- or for that matter, the love poetry of Donne. These choices and decisions affect characters, not human beings, and these characters exist to inform us about ourselves.

One's personal decision, on the other hand, ought to be no one's business but their own. Hence my refraining from wearing cardboard signs on my forehead announcing what food I have eaten for lunch, or what ice cream flavor I most prefer, even though these may be important elements for characterization within the context of a novel.

Holy Hyrax said...

>But now they feel that they HAVE to be the "bad girl" and now, it's rebellious to be the "good girl." It;s fascinating--I highly recommend it!!

Rhianna's new album: Good Girl Gone Bad

Anonymous said...

“I have no problem discussing the way in which Madame Bovary's desire for a lover, or Anna Karenina's affair with Vronsky lead to their doom- or for that matter, the love poetry of Donne.”

The distinction you set up couldn’t be more arbitrary, and in fact can go the exact other way.

Average college girls that are more comfortable than you discussing their private sex life because they are used to doing so is no different than you being more comfortable discussing sex in literature because you are more have been more exposed to it than those “stern girls.”

The topic of sex is so pervasive in normal college life that no one would even have the notion that the topic should remain private.

Its unfair for you to use general social norms when judging stern girls, but revert back frum norms when comparing yourself to regular college girls.

Moshe Y. Gluck said...

Hear, hear.

Irina Tsukerman said...

I totally agree with your point. The only explanation I have to offer is that people who discuss their personal choices so freely in public are very desensitized both to it and to the issue of privacy, and feel that since they are the ones offering it up to the public of their own free will their privacy is not being violated. It's a bit of a double standard, but I can sort of understand it.

NoFreeLunch said...

I recommend taking another look at Girls Gone Mild. She doesn't claim that the people she interviews are a random sample, or that everyone attends cuddle parties. You're fortunate to come from a frum background, but for many other people out there, the idea that you can resist pressure to be publicly sexual really is new information.

Also worth looking at is this clip of Shalit on youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6CVHIuQY0o

Shira Salamone said...

Thank you for talking about this. I just had to link.

The whole notion of differenting between what's appropriate in public and what's appropriate in private seems to have been lost. People hold 10-minute private conversations on cell phones in the bus, subway, train, or plane, or in the ladies' or men's room. Men wear speedo bathing trunks to the beach and leave their shirts unbuttoned half-way down their chests, and women wear low-cut shirts and hit-cut skirts. Entertainers prance around the stage in their underwear. Whatever happened to keeping what belongs in the bedroom in the bedroom?

Shira Salamone said...

Make that "differentiating."

Anonymous said...

“The whole notion of differenting between what's appropriate in public and what's appropriate in private seems to have been lost. People hold 10-minute private conversations on cell phones in the bus, subway, train, or plane, or in the ladies' or men's room. Men wear speedo bathing trunks to the beach and leave their shirts unbuttoned half-way down their chests, and women wear low-cut shirts and hit-cut skirts. Entertainers prance around the stage in their underwear. Whatever happened to keeping what belongs in the bedroom in the bedroom?”

Don’t worry, there are plenty of countries filled with people who share your views. Unfortunately, none of these countries are in the civilized world. Say hi to the Taliban for me when you reach Afghanistan.


No one is stopping you from keeping your backwards religion in the U.S., but please, don’t bother anyone else with it.

jackie said...

Hey anonymous,

A person can defend the government's protection of freedoms and rights to citizens while at the same time judge the values and choices of others to be misguided or incorrect. There's no contradiction with that.

Shira Salamone said...

I hate to burst your bubble, Anon., but atheists can also be modest and considerate. Religion doesn't necessarily have anything to do with this.

Anonymous said...

“A person can defend the government's protection of freedoms and rights to citizens while at the same time judge the values and choices of others to be misguided or incorrect. There's no contradiction with that.”


Of course. But they should also realize these values are backwards and antiquated.

MS said...

Wow. So much for modern tolerance.

ML said...

Anonymous,

Pray tell, what exactly makes a moral value backwards?

I'm guessing it's the fact that you don't share it. But that's just my guess.

Anonymous said...

“Pray tell, what exactly makes a moral value backwards?

I'm guessing it's the fact that you don't share it. But that's just my guess.”



Its not that I don’t share it. Its more that civilized society doesn’t share it, or rather, stopped sharing it some time ago. But I guess you can still use the old “im not crazy, everybody else is” line of defense.

All societies and cultures remaining today which still have very strict “modesty” standards (Amish, burqua wearing arabs, orthodox jews, etc.) use your same “that is your opinion” argument. But at the end of the day, civilized society is pointing and laughing behind your back (and occasionally to your face), and clever relativist arguments are not going to change this.

MS said...

Sure; after two thousand years of pogroms, blood libels, expulsions and a Holocaust, it's that public derision that really gets to us.

Anonymous said...

“Sure; after two thousand years of pogroms, blood libels, expulsions and a Holocaust, it's that public derision that really gets to us.”

Today, the issues concerning jews are more like their children not getting accepted to prep nursery school, or the nyt writing an unflattering article. The issues facing prior generation of jews bares no resemblance to todays American jews.


Whether or not derision gets to you, its just the way it is.

ML said...

"Its not that I don’t share it. Its more that civilized society doesn’t share it, or rather, stopped sharing it some time ago. But I guess you can still use the old “im not crazy, everybody else is” line of defense."

For me, this is an argument that kills itself philosophically. I can just about guarantee you that societal values will have changed drastically from their current state. In one or two hundred years, all the more so. So why do you bother having accepting any current societal values, knowing that they will soon be obsolete and backwards?

I'm not taking a relativistic stance (if anything, I would take more of a perspectivist point of view). Rather, I'm pointing out the opposite--how meaningless it is to me that widespread values in large parts of the Western world in the beginning of the 21st century conflict with mine.

In any event, Jews have generally faced derision for the last few millenia in addition to what else was mentioned. It is no melodrama that R' Yehuda HaLevi subtitled Sefer HaKuzari, "In Defense of the Despised Faith." Indeed, derision does not get me, as mass derision has nothing whatsoever to do with truth. Neither does popular vote, however much you deride even that fact.

So we return to your original point-- "that we should realize that our values are backward and antiquated." Perhaps you now have changed that first part to read that are values are widely derided. And if by antiquated you simply mean that they date to antiquity, ok. I'll agree with both those assertions. I hold a lot of beliefs that are both very old and often derided by some elements of the modern world. What's your point?

ML said...

*Should read: I can just about guarantee you that in fifty years, societal values will have changed drastically from their current state

ML said...

And to more clearly answer your relativism point--

I made no appeal to relativism to defend truth of my argument. Quite the opposite, I believe in absolute values, and explained in my previous post a little bit of why I see no value in simply accepting the beliefs of the day.

However, there is a difference between judging a belief as backwards/valid and judging as true/false. Your judgement of my values as backwards strikes me as rooted mainly in the fact that you disagree with them. There are lots of opinions and values I can respect and think have valid arguments behind them, yet still believe are simply untrue and wrong. That's not relativism, it's intellectual honesty. You can think my beliefs are wrong, and I can disagree. For you to claim my beliefs are backwards, though, seems rather...well, backwards. It is to that extent that I wrote what I did, not in any appeal to relativism.

Anonymous said...

“For me, this is an argument that kills itself philosophically. I can just about guarantee you that societal values will have changed drastically from their current state. In one or two hundred years, all the more so. So why do you bother having accepting any current societal values, knowing that they will soon be obsolete and backwards?”

LOL. Let me guess, college sophomore? Heck, let me take it a step further- perhaps we’re all like not even real, and we’re totally like in somebody's dream.

You can have fun arguing that the concept of values being viewed as backwards “kills itself philosophically”. But if you would perhaps suspend your super-keen philosophical awareness for a moment and accept, for arguments sake, the fact that some views can be backwards, you would come to the realization that the amish, fanatical muslims and orthodox jews are backwards.

ML said...

That's cute. Let's deride not only Judaism, but also philosophical inquiry and open-minded pursuit of truth. (Of course that should be relegated to silly college students.)

Even upon granting your premise: no, I simply don't see it as backwards whatsoever despite its unpopularity. It's a perfectly valid perspective on sexuality and life.

To make a point from that very value system you mock:
Amongst the four sons of the seder night, we contrast the chacham and the rasha. So why are those opposites?
The chacham is not necessarily a tzadik, and is the rasha is not stupid. The chacham tries, though, to earnestly understand what has been presented to him, however much sense it makes at first.
The rasha, though, simply tries to mock and tear down without any thought towards understanding or building up. However smart he is, that's not called being a chacham.

Perhaps we could aim to talk like chachamim.

ML said...

In any event, you got me to agree to words that you put in my mouth. I did not say that you can never see a value or value system as backwards, but rather that a value's unpopularity is not grounds to do so. I, for example, see paganism as backwards for a whole host of reasons, none of which have to do with what modern society does.

I asked you, though, why you see tzniut as backwards. You simply deferred the question by responding that society sees it as backwards. So, please explain either a) why you see it as backwards, b) why society sees it so and you agree, or c) why you blindly follow the popular vote on these kinds of issues without thinking it through. Those are the only options I can see. So I don't really care if it's unpopular, as any value that checks human sexual impulses obviously will be. What then?

Anonymous said...

“Let's deride not only Judaism, but also philosophical inquiry and open-minded pursuit of truth. (Of course that should be relegated to silly college students.)”

Its not that philosophical inquiry should be relegated to college students, its that only a college student would feel self important enough to introduce these broad inquiries to the discussion at hand.

When I wrote that its backwards, it was more of an observation of social perceptions than it was my opinion. And it isn’t unique to Judaism, there are other non-western cultures that have similar values are perceived the same way.


“So I don't really care if it's unpopular, as any value that checks human sexual impulses obviously will be. What then?”


There is nothing wrong with having these values, and there nothing wrong with ignoring the “popular vote”, but if you don’t think that society views this as backwards and outdated then youre really kidding yourself.