Sex & Love

“The Kosher Sutra”: Kosher Or Treyf?

I’m a sex educator with a very liberal view (and a day job editing a blog about porn), so it should come as no surprise to hear that, for me, reading Shmuley Boteach’s The Kosher Sutra was a bit like … Read More

By / November 15, 2008

I’m a sex educator with a very liberal view (and a day job editing a blog about porn), so it should come as no surprise to hear that, for me, reading Shmuley Boteach’s The Kosher Sutra was a bit like being an atheist in AA. The underlying message is solid, and he makes a great deal of good points—but whole thing is packaged in a way that just makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Repeatedly.

It’s all too easy to criticize Boteach (and believe me, I most certainly will); but to start out, I’d just like to hit on a few of the points that Shmuley wins on:

Go deeper. One of my favorite parts of the book is the way Boteach differentiates between “horizontal renewal” and “vertical renewal.” For many of us, the solution to boredom or problems is to make a superficial change: change jobs, change cities, change partners. Boteach argues that this method of “horizontal renewal” doesn’t really solve the fundamental problem; instead of simply jumping from lily pad to lily pad, he advocates for exploring the depths of your current situation, and bringing new value and meaning to where you already are (aka “vertical renewal.”).

Communication is key. Like all good advice manuals, Boteach strongly advises to communicate—and to communicate about everything. Sexual fantasies and desires should be freely discussed, and partners should be open and honest with one another about whatever it is they’re thinking. Nothing is off limits—well, except for a discussion of previous sex partners, apparently.

It’s not play without foreplay. Boteach borrows heavily from tantric sex practices (well, minus the pagan idolatry, of course), and recommends that couples engage in extensive foreplay. He also argues for moving the focus of sex away from the goal of orgasm, and towards the process of experiencing sensuality and intimacy. While his suggestion that couples engage in sex without orgasm for days at a time might seem a bit extreme, it’s nice to see some focus put on the journey rather than simply the destination.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s a bit of advice that I, personally, would like to give to dear old Shmuley:

Don’t put the pussy on a pedestal, man. Orthodox Judaism is well known for its celebration of female “superiority”—which, as far as I’m concerned, more or less amounts to a patronizing, and limiting, attitude towards the female sex. Boteach is no different: over and over he discusses the complexity of female sexuality, emphasizing the fact that women are vastly more complicated creatures than men, and that men must explore their partners, peeling back layer after layer of mystery and erotic intrigue. It’s not so much that I object to the recognition that women are complicated beings; it’s this idea that women are objects to be pursued and unraveled by men—and, furthermore, the idea that men are fundamentally simple creatures, nowhere near as complicated as women. Sexuality is complicated, period, no matter what parts you have in your pants.

Porn viewing does not mean porn addiction. I can’t really say that I’m surprised to learn that Boteach isn’t on board with the world of porn, but it does bother me to see that he seems to equate use of porn with porn “addiction.” There’s a very big difference between occasional, or even moderate, use of something and addiction—and using such a broad brush to describe an issue as intricate and complicated as porn use just doesn’t help anyone (and don’t even get me started on this idea that people get addicted to porn, either).

Chemistry does not necessitate mystery. Not surprisingly, Boteach is an advocate of modesty. But he wants you to know that covering up isn’t about discouraging lust; it’s about creating mystery and inciting lust. If you never see your partner naked, then it’ll just be that much more exciting when you’re in bed together. I’d be willing to go with that point (sort of) were it not for the fact that Boteach extends it to include a ban on things like peeing in front of your partner and—worst of all—showering together. If a healthy marriage means a ban on fun in the shower, well, I guess I just don’t want a healthy marriage that badly.

So is The Kosher Sutra a must-read or a pick you can pass on? Well, if you have an odd sense of humor, or the ability to take sex advice with a very, very large grain of salt, than The Kosher Sutra might just be right up your alley. But given that there are very, very many sex books that offer comparable (or better) sex advice minus the cringe inducing aspects—well, I’d say pass on The Kosher Sutra and pick up The Joy of Sex. True, it’s not written by a rabbi—but maybe that’s a good thing.