The Sinful Marriage
Marriage and long-term relationships are on the decline throughout the world as is marital sex, which has been reduced, in the United States, to about once a week for seven minutes at a time (which includes the time he spends begging).
Why is marriage dying and why is sex evaporating? Because it is based today on the Christian concept of love rather than the Jewish concept of lust. The New Testament condemns lust: “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). Love, by contrast, was lofty.
St. Paul famously argued that “God is love” and that all marriages should be based on the comforts of compatibility, friendship, and shared experience. Judaism rejects this and believes that marriage must be built on deep desire and covetousness. The holiest book of the Bible, Song of Solomon, is an erotic lust poem that describes the burning yearning between a man and a woman: “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. (4:5)” “Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.” (7:7-9)
For us, lust is hot, sexy, and holy.
The tenth commandment is clear: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” which means, by direct implication, you ought to be coveting your own. About eighty percent of husbands who cheat on their wives claim to love their wives, but lust for another woman has trumped that love. Lust is, quite simply, much stronger than love. So why aren’t we using this powerful tool in our marital arsenal?
And this is true for women as well as men, as is exemplified by the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Why are liberated, educated women reading a book about a woman who voluntarily submits to being a ‘dominant’ billionaire’s ‘submissive?’ Because the essence of the novel is a man who lusts after a woman so mightily that he wants to have her above all else. Utterly smitten, he cannot live without her. And for most married women who feel loved but not desired, the novel became a form of wish fulfillment.
How do we recapture erotic lust? By focusing on its three laws, which I present here and which are the subject of my upcoming book Kosher Lust.
The first is frustrated desire and erotic obstacles. Lust is enhanced through an inability to attain the object of your longing, the failure to satiate human yearning. It’s the reason why Plato argued for unconsummated, ‘Platonic’ relationships, so that desire would never wane. And it’s the reason why the Torah makes a wife sexually unavailable to her husband for 12 days out of every month (laws of Niddah), so that sexual hunger may increase. But it’s also true of every other area of life. The fare in every fast-food restaurant always tastes bad. The reason: nobody made you wait for it. But in an upscale restaurant they purposely delay your food, even if you ordered the ready-made special of the day, because appetite is enhanced through denial.
The second law of lust is mystery. Lust is enhanced in darkness and shadows. Ironically, the more the body is covered the more one lusts after it. The most boring place on earth is a nudist colony (er… so my friends tell me) because it leaves nothing to the imagination. When a wife came to me once for advice as to how to entice her newly-wed husband into having more sex, I told her to undress in the bathroom rather than in in the bedroom. She accused me of prudishness. I responded, “Disregard my advice if you wish. But then you face the nightmare scenario: You and your husband are married for four years. You come into the bedroom. You take all your clothes off… And he continues to watch television.”
The third law of erotic lust is sinfulness. You’re walking along a beach. You see beautiful women in bikinis. Is that sexy? Perhaps. Is it erotic? Definitely not. What do most men do at a beach? Either fall asleep, or play Frisbee.
But now you’re walking home from the beach. A woman has accidentally left the blinds to her bedroom open and she’s walking around in her undergarments. Same amount of clothing as a beach exposing the same amount of flesh. Except this time it’s not a bathing suit, it’s her underwear. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Where’s my Frisbee?
Now why is the second scenario so much more erotic than the first? At the beach you are seeing something designed for public consumption. But peering into the privacy of a woman’s bedroom you are witnessing something you’re not supposed to see. It’s forbidden. It’s sinful. It’s erotic.
A cursory glance of world classics demonstrates that it is not the righteous, loyal wife who fires the literary imagination but the unfaithful, sinful wife, like Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Tess, and Lady Chatterley, which explains why some women intentionally use other men to make their husbands jealous. To be sure, adultery is the most painful transgression of marriage and men who target married women because of their attraction to the sinful aspect are pathetic, desperate failures incapable of sustaining erotic excitement in a committed relationship. Still, this debauched mindset reveals the enticing nature of sin. But now you know why the Torah made a wife sexually forbidden to her husband for a portion of every month, thereby injecting erotic sinfulness into a relationship. It’s specifically the person who is off limits to you that you lust after. That’s why Sir James Goldsmith famously said that when a man marries his mistress he leaves a vacancy.
The many who complain that religion creates sexual taboos in relationships forget that such taboos can often enhance lust, while a permissive society that makes sex so available turns it from chocolate to vanilla.
Unlike the ‘love marriage,’ which is based on closeness and constant intimacy, the ‘lust marriage’ is based on separation, renewal, and a measure of distance. When Abraham is descending into Egypt with Sarah, he says, “I now know that you are a woman of exquisite beauty.” I now know. Obviously, married to her for decades, he knew before. But not completely. Sarah always maintained some mystery, some barriers in their relationship.
When Rebecca meets Isaac for the first time, she “took the veil and covered herself.” Her first action was to create mystery and ensure she never become fully revealed to her husband.
Why don’t porn magazines save money by doing a package deal that would pay one centerfold for all twelve of the year rather than switching monthly? Because were it to do that noone would buy the magazine. Once a woman is overexposed men lose interest and require someone new.
The success of applying the Torah’s laws of lust to one’s marriage and intimate life leads to a relationship suffused with passion and excitement.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is one of the world’s most celebrated relationships experts and is the international best-selling author of 29 books. He was the host of ‘The Shmuley Show’ on the Oprah and Friends’ Radio Network and his national TV show, ‘Shalom in the Home,’ won the National Fatherhood Award. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.