Why We Don’t Watch “Game Of Thrones” (And Other Shows Like It)

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…

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  • Avatar photo MarcH says on July 27, 2017

    That’s a fair and good admonishment for men. But, would you agree that there can also be things that woman do to make their men feel that they are “not measuring up to the perfect specimens …”? If so, please link to the articles you have written about that topic. Thank you.

  • Avatar photo Rebecca Klempner says on July 27, 2017

    I agree that just because other people watch it, that doesn’t mean we need to. But why single out Game of Thrones? We hardly watch any movies or television our home because the problem of nudity and partial nudity and foul language and violence is pervasive. Even old-school Baywatch can have the effect you describe on men. And frankly, on women, who then feel like they should look like Pamela Anderson in a swimsuit.

    I also don’t understand why the article focuses more on the sexuality than the nudity. I have never seen Game of Thrones, nor read the books (because of their reputation), but what I’ve been told is not just that there is sex or nudity, but there are rapes and sexual violence on screen. That is far, far more troubling than the sex part, frankly.

    I think most popular TV is bad. Game of Thrones’ badness is of a whole higher level – we shouldn’t be watching rapes for entertainment purposes. But is that level of badness really where we want our limit to be?

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 27, 2017

      Thanks for your comment, Rebecca. I could have substituted any of the myriad TV-MA shows in for this one. I just spoke about this because it’s back in the news with the premiere so it gave me a jumping point. I haven’t studied one show vs. the next in terms of how much rape or orgies each one shows. Baywatch falls into this category as well. Women’s bodies in TV shows for the point of titillating. My purpose of writing this was to express how the Torah’s approach is very protective of women and very progressive.

  • Avatar photo sheldan says on July 28, 2017

    That is a real tough one. I suppose that we men are attracted to the opposite gender, but that doesn’t mean we must ogle. If the staring at the “half-naked” woman is beyond a certain point, no wonder the girlfriends/wives are hurt and offended.

    It’s up to us to control our reactions, even if some would defend them as “natural.” If it hurts the ones we love, we can’t defend this behavior…

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 28, 2017

      Thank you for your comment, Sheldan. Yes, men are wired to be pulled toward the visual and to enjoy many different examples of it. And women seem to be wired to feel hurt and diminished by this. So as a society, we can do one of two things – tell the men to work harder to not do hurtful things or tell the women “just get over it.” That our “progressive” “feminist” society tells women the latter is so disappointing to me.

  • Avatar photo AJ says on July 28, 2017

    If this is such an important concept, why isn’t it forbidden for non-Jews to watch porn or shows with images of immodest women? Does Hashem want non-Jews to have unhappy or less happy marriages?

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 28, 2017

      Thanks for your comment, AJ. I would argue that shabbos and mikvah also have the potential to enhance marriage and family life in big ways and non-Jews are not commanded to keep these commandments either. Why not? The purpose of Noahide laws are intended to guide humanity to have a baseline morality where there is order of law and people are not acting like savages to each other. Anyone who wants to have the enhancement that Judaism offers is free to convert. But living with these standards takes work. I believe the pay back is worth it – shabbos, mikvah, modesty, guarding ones eyes. But these are not things that come naturally to a person.

  • Avatar photo AJ says on July 29, 2017

    There are movies and TV shows that feature a lot of violence but no sexual content. (From what I’ve heard, Game of Thrones features a lot of both.) Is there any prohibition or Jewish concept against not watching violent content?

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 30, 2017

      I asked Rabbi Abramowitz – he said what I thought. There is no explicit prohibition in watching violence per se other than becoming desensitized. So it’s one of those things where it’s not spelled out explicitly but we’re supposed to be merciful people. And if partaking in a behavior got in the way of that it would be a problem.

  • Avatar photo Billie Eilish Wears Baggy Clothes To Keep Parts of Herself Private - Jew in the City says on May 14, 2019

    […] Jewish approach of women dressing modestly (tnzius) and men being careful with what they look at (shmiras anayim). These ideas are often thought of as old-fashion and outdated, but I believe they […]


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