This month I was reminded that for many people the sex lives of religious Jews are completely unsexy…or worse, even a bit grotesque. It seems, for these people, the idea of an Orthodox Jewish couple having sex has the same the ‘ewww’ factor as thoughts about their parents getting it on.
You may not be aware that earlier this month my stories (and me, to an extent) were the subject of an article on the online magazine, Jewniverse . Zachary Solomon, one of my recent Twitter connections, wrote a short piece about me and my stories which was great, and I was thrilled. However, my delight was a little tempered by the title: ‘Erotica that only a Jewish mother can love’. Ouch!
It got worse when My Jewish Learning (a great resource, by the way) tweeted the article as: ‘Erotica that only your rabbi would love’. I made a somewhat veiled plea on Twitter for both publications to consider other ways of promoting this story and eventually Jewniverse changed the article’s title to ‘Erotica for the kosher set’. Baruch Hashem!
I’ve had discussions with various people of late about what lies at the root of the perception that sex involving religious Jews is just not sexy. And I’ve come up with a few observations:
1. All religious people, regardless of ethnicity or spiritual system, seem to be painted with the same brush: if G-d or an observance to the laws of G-d plays some sort of reasonable place in your life, then there seems to be a perception that sex, sensuality or any form of erotic pleasure should not. In fact, I have known secular Jews to make comments suggesting that observant Jews who get into exploring their sexuality – or even frum people who make risque jokes about sex – are somehow hypocritical. This is not a Jewish idea. There is nothing inside Judaism that says you can’t love G-d or be an observant Jew and not be into – or comfortable talking about – sex.
2. The laws of family purity (taharat hamishpachah) might put limitations on the things that Jews can do sexually, but many would argue that over time these can add to a sexual dynamic (I accept this is arguable). As for all the chumras and minhagim that can be imposed on intimate relationships between couples, they are not halacha – they are not Jewish law. If people choose to take on more, it is their choice.
3. Surely the children are the proof that religious Jews are doing it a lot. My husband and I have been known to joke about certain frum couples who, from the way they look at each other, the way they talk about each other, are clearly at it like rabbits. These are couples who have been married for years, who have numerous children, but whose sexual dynamic is alive and vibrant. It is a joy to see .
One of the lessons I have learnt in the short time I have been Shosha Pearl is that when it comes to basic human drives and emotions people are pretty much the same. I have had strangers write to me from the frumest environments who have told me how my stories have resonated them (which is wonderful to hear).
But at the core of the Shosha Pearl project is an acknowledgement that we are a tribal species. Shosha Pearl writes erotic stories about frum people for frum people (although others are very welcome to read them if they are interested) because readers often feel more able to connect with stories – especially intimate life stories – which contain people like them. Hence, we are seeing a rise of erotic fiction that is ethnically or religiously based. By extension, therefore, this principle may also explain why people who are not observant Jews don’t like to think about the idea of frum Jews in a sexual context.