In the traditional Jewish world, a man and woman not married to each other are forbidden to be alone together. The Jewish laws covering this issue, collectively known as the laws of Yichud, are intended to counter the inherently stronger natural laws of sexual attraction. As strange as such laws might seem to us in the 21st century, their rationale is clear.
They involve a pre-commitment to avoid potential trouble, something quite consistent with modern writing on how to cope with irrationality in decision-making. As the popular children’s book says, “If you give a moose a muffin, he’ll want some jam to go with it” (Laura Numeroff: If You Give a Moose a Muffin, HarperCollins 1991). Given how fond we moose are of our sexual muffins, it may be best not to let us enter a house where muffins are baking.
Recently some in the religious Jewish community have suggested that a man should not be permitted to be alone together with his computer.
How you feel about the general issue of erotica or pornography online will reflect your own psychology and cultural values. But the internet is flooded with it. And for certain men, this can become a big problem.
In a previous post on the nature of sexual arousal (“Some open secrets about sexual arousal”), I discussed how sexual arousal by its very nature seems intended to loosen our sense of responsibility. When we’re really sexually aroused, we don’t want to be bothered with much else besides sex. If sexual excitement doesn’t make you feel at least a little irresponsible, then you’re probably not very aroused. To enter into a more primitive state of mind during sexual arousal is entirely normal, and in the bedroom can make for great sex.
In the situation of a man sitting alone with his computer, though, it can cause problems. The producers of commercial internet sex sites are fully aware of the laws of sexual arousal. They know that the more aroused their viewers become, the less these viewers will care about the work they’re supposed to be doing that day. And the longer they stay aroused, the longer they’ll stay on the site — the more pages they’ll click — and ultimately the more purchases some of them will make.
Sex is powerfully Pavlovian. If a man gets aroused online, over time his sexual body and mind will learn to associate his computer with sexual arousal. I’ve known men to become sexually aroused by the look and feel of their keyboard. An important element of sex therapy in such situations is to alter the Pavlovian conditions –- so he again develops more positive sexual associations to his partner, and less to his computer.
Given the ubiquity of online sex sites — and the natural laws of sexual arousal — I have a feeling that the best help for this problem will eventually come from technology itself. Some of my patients have found so-called parental control software quite useful. Not only the part of the software that blocks sex sites. But more the part that notifies some trusted other person when the user has entered a sex site.
The principle is the same as that of the traditional Jewish laws of Yichud –- that there always be another set of eyes, so that the man and his computer are never entirely alone together.
© Stephen Snyder, MD 2010
New York City