Beliefnet
About two years ago I agreed to debate the first openly Jewish Playboy playmate, Lindsey Vuolo, in New York City. My purpose was simple: to uphold the dignity of Jewish women, which is not consistent with taking their clothes off for money. From the beginning, however, it was clear that I had lost the debate. The room was filled with mostly leering men who came armed with the November issue of Playboy, asking for Lindsey's autograph. But what really disappointed me was all the women who came to cheer Lindsey's courage in not being ashamed of her body. What sane woman, who isn't motivated by financial profit, would support the portrayal of women as sport to entertain lecherous men?

Moreover, what wife is misguided enough to allow her husband to read Playboy?

Recently, we've seen the Kobe Bryant sex scandal and the publication of Hillary Clinton's memoir, which regurgitated the Monica Lewinsky story. I believe that these and other incidents are warnings to wives not to be naïve about the dangerous effects pornography-and opportunities for adultery-can have on a marriage. And they must do something about it. While Hillary bore her husband's betrayal with dignity, there is the legitimate question of whether she should have been keeping a far more watchful eye on her husband whose roving ways were well known, especially when he told her that he was spending time with an intern for the purpose of "guiding her life." Shouldn't an alarm have gone off in her head?

The idea of wives "policing" their husbands, of calling men to account for their behavior, might sound antiquated or petty, but I believe it is valid and, indeed, essential. When I've asked wives how they feel about their husbands looking at pornographic material, I've heard an astonishing range of answers. There are those who are quick to assert how "cool" they are with it and even claim to join in the viewing; and there are those who are utterly horrified but feel they have no right to object to their husband's adult behavior. But women must wake up to the fact that they do have a right to nip this behavior in the bud.

Pornography is destructive not only because it is insulting to one's wife, but because it takes one's erotic focus away from one's spouse. In this respect, the principal harm it inflicts is not radically different from adultery. When infidelity occurs, it destroys the marriage not only by causing hurt and humiliation, but by starving the marriage of attention, affection, and effort. The hurt that a husband causes his wife by being unfaithful is not, in itself, the deal-breaker in their marriage. The wives whom I have counseled through a husband's infidelity are prepared to forgive him if they love him. The real deal-breaker is the fact that the wife is no longer the focal point of his sexual and romantic energies. When husbands and wives are not wholly focused on one another as the means of finding erotic excitement, they begin to drift apart. Initially, men believe that a little peek at another woman's nudity is a harmless means of generating some excitement and certainly nothing as significant as an actual act of infidelity. But these "harmless" leers are the first symptoms of neglect.

There are so many ways in which pornography undermines healthy relationships. Excessive exposure to a variety of nude, female bodies contributes to the penchant for men to think about other women while making love to their wives. Indeed, 84 percent of men admit to doing just that (and they're dumb enough to believe that their wives don't notice). We can even go so far as to say that once you bring another woman into your bed, even if only mentally, you are practicing a form of mental infidelity and merely using your wife's body for friction. I call it mental decapitation. The Torah, which is very concerned with fostering the mental and emotional intimacy that physical intimacy is meant to promote, actually calls men to task by deeming it a prohibition for a man to fantasize about other women while in bed with his wife.

Unfortunately, as I discovered at the debate, women today are so brainwashed into being manly and tough that few will admit to being pained at the notion that their significant other would be dreaming of another woman during their intimate moments. But fantasizing about another woman is a degrading act. It indicates that one's wife is not worthy or thrilling enough on her own. Most men tell me that it is unrealistic not to sometimes think about other women during sex with one's wife. Perhaps that is so. But there is no excuse not to resist it.

Furthermore, pornography desensitizes men to the female body. Instead of being automatically drawn to a woman as he should be, today's man has seen too much to ever lose himself completely upon being exposed to a woman's nakedness. The nature of erotic attraction, which should bring men and women together, has been utterly compromised, and neither sex is above evaluating the other according to the most stringent criteria. This impairs our ability to build deep relationships. Sexual intimacy is meant to bring a couple together on emotional and mental levels. Once a man feels removed enough to judge his wife by comparing her with other women, he loses some of his excitement for her and mistakenly believes that a more perfectly formed woman would provide him with the physical titillation that he craves.

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