Gellman: Valentine’s Day and Porn

Valentine's Day is not about chocolate or flowers. Valentine's Day is about porn.
In my spiritual universe, Valentine's Day is not just sweetly insipid but deeply revolutionary. Every year I hope and pray that this Valentine's Day will be the Valentine's Day when all sexually active people of America will say something life-affirming and love-affirming—and anti-porn-affirming. What I want them to say is simple and it is this: "I will have sex only with someone I love." If people would say this and do this, porn would die. Porn must die if men and women are to begin to remember how sex and love go together.

Porn is anything that separates sex and love. Porn is protected, and should be protected, by the First Amendment, but porn is built on the view that sex is just a physical need—like eating, defecating or burping—and this view is not just spiritually corrosive, it is a lie. It may well be true that for other animals sex is just a physical urge. I believe that the human capacity to connect love and sex is our most distinctive human trait—more important by far than our opposable thumbs or our upright posture. It helps us to build families and monogamy and fidelity and loyalty and happiness and courage and most every other human virtue. Although the mechanics of sex are completely describable in physiological terms, its emotional significance is not amenable to such biological reductionism. Sex is not just the way our brain releases endorphins, it is one of the ways we show our love. Through sex we "become one flesh," in the words of Genesis, in fact and in spirit.

There are many people, many of my hip friends and the hip children of my hip friends, who think of porn as a harmless and meaningless diversion. They instinctively recoil at any antiporn rant, labeling it the bigoted excess of a religious fanatic, or as a thinly veiled appeal for censorship, or as a prudish and repressed assault on an innocuous pastime. Because we are taught never to listen to anyone on the other side of an issue in the culture wars, we never have a chance to consider that we may have gotten this one wrong. And our mass culture has definitely gotten this one wrong.

The antiporn campaign has now taken root in the writings of feminists like Naomi Wolf, who has bravely written about porn addiction. She and others who call themselves social progressives are beginning to see what the decoupling of sex and love has done to women who are dating men made impotent by porn addictions or made predatory by sexual aggressiveness. Because I am a rabbi and a counselor, I regularly see marriages wrecked by husbands whose porn addiction finally surfaces in the discovery of overdrawn credit cards and illicit liaisons. I have seen teenage girls and boys talk about "hooking up" and about their "friends with benefits." In other words, they are getting used to having sex with people who don't love them and often don't even like them that much. It is way too late for me to join the naifs in their foolish claim that porn is just a harmless diversion and not a cultural cancer.

A day must come when the cultural hipsters can concede that sex is much, much more than just scratching an itch. That day could be this Valentine's Day. Why not? On Valentine's Day we could begin by agreeing to have sex only with people we love.

I know there are those who want to ask for more of the hookedupitarians. They want to ask them to have sex only with someone you love who is also your spouse. In principle I agree—but if that is too big a jump for some in our sex-obsessed culture, I understand. If we could start by eliminating loveless sex in our culture, I would be a very happy man. I would also be the very happy grandfather of a beautiful little 2-year-old girl named Daisy, who I desperately want to be able to grow up in a world where some man will want to try to love my little Daisy and not just try to sleep with her.

If sexually active people would have sex only with people they really and truly love, we would be on the right road to the right place. This decision to recouple sex and love would force them to consider what it means to love somebody. This might lead them to think not just about who is hot but who is kind. This might lead them to go on real, romantic dates whose purpose is to listen to and learn about a stranger—not just to get to the mandatory third-date shtup. Because I am an incurable romantic, I believe that all this might even lead to massive outbreaks of slow dancing, and love letters, and flowers, and chocolates, and a Valentine's Day that could change everything.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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