“The Joy of Text” Discusses Pornography from an Orthodox Perspective (and More)
In last month’s recent podcast of “The Joy of Text”, the featured discussion was about pornography (“The Pornography Episode”), which provided the most dynamic interaction between the two hosts of the show, Rabbi Dov Linzer and Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus, thus far in the series. As to discussing pornography, Rabbi Dov Linzer articulated the primary halakhic issue:
Halakhah speaks a great deal about men looking at naked parts of a woman’s body, even non-naked parts of a woman’s body, with a desire to drive sexual pleasure from it, even not a woman’s body at all, things that lead to sexual stimulation, so that’s a real area that the Gemara and halakhah is very concerned about. And it’s possible, based on the different verses and the different ways that it’s articulated, to identify a number of concerns that halakhah has. One is, perhaps, the one that we hear about all the time, which is masturbation, whether it’s done manually or whether somebody has a seminal emission at night, but the concern of the Gemara about it leads to the spilling of seed, and that’s one whole area of concern, which is something that we’ll have to develop more at another time, why that is such a focus in the Gemara.
He then brings this connection together by saying, “I think, clearly, a major way in which pornography is used that is by men as a means of masturbation, as a means of sexual stimulation, as a tool towards masturbation, so it’s not at all incorrect that that’s a major part of the phenomenon of pornography.”
He then continues onto another issue: “The other concern is that it could lead to acting on what people see, which is some of the issues that I was raising before, that if a man is looking at women, not his wife, in a sexual way, will it lead to him actually committing adultery. And I think that that’s an issue that’s related to pornography.”
On the other hand, it was clear that Dr. Marcus has studied pornography and studies thereon, bringing to the discussion a lot of real-world knowledge about it and how it plays out in the world. One point she had to make about the reality, especially in direct response to the second issue that Rabbi Linzer brought up:
I think that what’s hard for us to acknowledge is that pornoography is often an outlet for problems much more than it is a fuel-feeding of those problems. And I think that’s hard for us to acknowledge, but I think that it’s important, because if somebody has a weird sexual fetish that they want, then porn might be a way for them to deal with it rather than having to deal with it in real life. I don’t think the concern is that they’re going to go out and do it.
Despite their disagreements, Dr. Marcus states that, “I think that what we can agree on is that watching a lot of porn, or maybe watching things that are more and more and more complicated and a high level of stimulation in porn can be damaging to a relationship.”
This was certainly an interesting back-and-forth, perhaps the most exciting of the series thus far. It’s definitely fascinating to hear.
The guest on the show was Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, principal of Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy high school. The hosts asked Rabbi Harcsztark about how he and his school teach about relationships and sex (yes, Sex Ed.) and, from his answers, it seems like he and his school are able to discuss and deal with sexuality in a very healthy way. One gem of his:
I think that the idea of a one special person is something that students identify with. I think that making the connection between their sexual lives and that idea is still a challenge. I don’t find students struggling with the beauty of “this is the person whom I am deeply committed” and the fact that they don’t struggle with that says to me that, outside of the context of the sexual struggle, they do identify with that value. But, in the context of the sexual struggle, it’s much harder to be able to: they push back and say “Do I really have to?”
For the second podcast in a row, “The Joy of Text” only dealt with one question, instead of the two question format they had utilized in the earlier podcasts. The question for this podcast came from a single lady who has a “complicated sexual past”, including “receiving payment for sex” on a few occasions and her question was, now that she is in a serious relationship, if she should tell him?
One key response by Dr. Marcus was that, “I just feel like things that are not really that big of a deal become huge deals when they’re growing underground in all kinds of ways, both psychologically for the person, themselves, and when it comes to the light of day, which it, invariably, always does.” Rabbi Linzer said that he agreed with Dr. Marcus and that there is a concrete halakhic issue for women who have had sex with gentiles that they cannot marry a kohen.