I won’t claim to know the opinion of every woman, but as a speaker who has traveled all over the world and raised this question to countless audiences, most of the females I encounter say that they feel hurt when their husband (or boyfriend) looks at a scantily clad woman – not just on the street, but in the TV shows and movies that now ubiquitously depict half-naked women. Feelings of jealousy, not measuring up to the perfect specimens on the screen, and insecurity of not being all that their guy needs are the common responses I hear when I ask why they are upset. My informal “research” seems to be backed by some real studies. A few years ago, Destin Stewart, a clinical psychology intern at the University of Florida decided to investigate the effect that men watching porn has on relationships after some of her female clients explained how it was negatively affecting them.
She had 308 college women, ages 18 to 29 years old, answer online questionnaires about their current partner’s porn use as well as their relationship quality, sexual satisfaction, and self-esteem. Women who reported that their boyfriends or husbands looked at more pornography were less likely to be happy in their relationships than women who said their partners didn’t look at pornography very often. Women who were bothered by their partner’s porn use tended to have lower self-esteem and be less satisfied with both their relationship and their sex life.
What’s even more troubling is that most of the women I’ve spoken with don’t attempt to verbalize their feelings to the man in their life. There seems to be a fear that if they express themselves they’ll be labeled as “insecure,” “prudish,” and/or “controlling.” Women are getting the message that if they don’t like when their man is turned on by another woman it is their problem, not a reason for the man in their life to reassess his practices or stretch himself to change.
Look but don’t touch is the argument that is used in the secular world to absolve a guy from doing anything hurtful when he has wandering eyes or watches explicit scenes in TV shows, movies, and porn. But the Torah disagrees with this approach. According to Jewish law, looking at the private parts of a woman to whom a man is not married, known as ervah (this includes the upper arms, upper legs, chest and everything in between) is problematic. The Talmud even has a term for it: “zanu anayim” – “adulterating of the eyes” or “the eyes partaking in illicit sexual acts.” As a woman, I find this part of Jewish law to be so feminist and protective of my happiness, because it recognizes and validates a woman’s feeling of hurt when her husband looks at another woman in a sexual way – when she might not feel confident enough to stand up for herself on her own.
Not only is a man forbidden to look at these parts (this mitzvah is called shmiras anayim), the Talmud tells of a story of a man who becomes aroused by a woman who is not his wife (after he sees her upper arms exposed) and goes home to his wife and has sex with her. When his wife learns that another woman was the cause of her husband’s arousal, she is furious, finds the other woman, and tells her to leave town! It is pretty remarkable that a fifteen hundred year old document is cognizant of how a woman feels when her husband looks at and is turned on by another woman – even if he comes back to his wife! It forbids men from doing this, while our secular, “progressive” society gives men a free pass. The Torah’s ideal is that he should only have eyes for her. That she should be his one and only, even if he is driven to look at others. By pushing himself to make his best effort to guard his eyes, a man has the ability to make his wife feel deeply loved and cherished.
This is the reason we don’t watch shows like Game of Thrones and other TV shows and movies like it – even though everyone else seems to be. Not watching what everybody else is watching is not the easiest way to go, but women should feel confident to let their husbands (or boyfriends) know how they feel and men should work to be sensitive to listen and change, if necessary. If only that was a trend we could popularize…