Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Teenage yeshiva students and sexual shame

I know most of you have already seen the article "Orthodox, gay, and the rest is private" by Mordechai Levovitz. But one sentence, early in the article, caught my eye, and deserves a discussion of its own on the greater issue of sexual shame and guilt in Yeshiva high schools. Here's the line:

"Every Friday my Rebbe would give a mussar shmooze (life lecture) about the ethical importance of resisting the sexual temptation of girls. Although the Rebbe took a hard line on these issues, my classmates actually really enjoyed the Friday shmoozes because it seemed to validate the normalcy of their adolescent hormonal experiences."

In a way, I wish my yeshiva had had something like this. As it was I suffered alone, sure that I was a deviant for not being able to stop fantasizing about girls. I was sure that all the boys around me were tzadikim.

All teenage boys fantasize. And with hormones coursing through their systems, it's almost impossible to refrain from masturbation. Yet in yeshiva they are told that abstaining from such behaviour, and even from thinking about girls at all, isn't just a lofty ideal, but is as neccesary and important as putting on tefillin in the mornings. Or as keeping shabbos. The message is that if you masturbate, you are a rasha. So teenage yeshiva boys, who are extremely unlikely to be able to abstain, are made to feel like freaks and perverts. They are sure that God is angry with them all the time. They are sure that they are weak-willed and worthless. Not to mention the warped ideas about sexuality that they absorb.

If yeshivas really feel it neccesary to teach this version of sexual morality, they should do it in a kinder way. They should stress that this is an ideal, and something to strive for, but that no one should feel bad for not living up to it. That it's normal and no one should feel like they're different than anyone else.


  1. The best description I've ever read of the sexual, and masturbation, angst yeshiva bochurim live with was in the opening paragraphs of I Am Forbidden, by Anouk Markovitz.

    1. Thanks. Found it in the "look inside" link: http://www.amazon.com/I-Am-Forbidden-A-Novel/dp/0307984745