In keeping with his flamboyant style, Rabbi Shmuely Boteach attempts to reframe the concept of voyeurism in a sex-positive light: If it is “kosher,” meaning consensual, and with your marital partner at the right time of the month, then “anything goes.” If you like to watch, then let your wife be your “Web cam girl.” Some may find that objectifying to women, but Boteach is essentially correct. If it really is consensual, being sex-positive, which according to him is a Jewish value, means not judging the sexual choices of others.
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Boteach is also correct that atypical sexual practices, known as paraphilia, can be “kosher” if they are practiced in an appropriate way, similarly to cheating on your wife with your wife, as suggested in his book “Kosher Adultery.” Unfortunately, for some people, kosher paraphilia won’t solve their need for gratification.
In fact, the entire concept of paraphilia, once considered “perverted” or “abnormal” sexual tendencies has been reframed in the new, fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is the manual of mental health disorders used by mental health professionals. The new DSM distinguishes between paraphilia and paraphilic disorders. The former refer to atypical sexual practices, such as BDSM (aka “sadomasochism”) and cross-dressing, and as long as they are not a source of distress then there is no psychological pathology or problem associated with them.
Paraphilic disorders, on the other hand, cause distress or impairment in functioning, primarily because they involve individuals who are non-consenting and who have been used to gratify the paraphilia in real life, not just in fantasy.
While expressing shock and pain for Rabbi Barry Freundel’s alleged harmful actions, Boteach says he is “filled with pity” toward Freundel. “Instead of making husbands feel that their erotic needs are aberrational,” writes Boteach, “let’s always encourage them to direct it toward their wives.” Men who fail to contain their passion and lust within their own marriage will, instead, he says, find it “in new flesh.”
It is unclear if in Boteach’s assessment men who fulfill sexual needs with their wives could avoid behaviors like those Freundel has been accused of, but, if so, Boteach misses a crucial point: the alleged objects of Freundel’s gratification were women who did not consent. In fact, voyeurism is not so much about finding “new flesh,” but about autonomy and control. The “object” of a voyeur’s gratification has no autonomy, for she is unaware that she is being observed. This lack of awareness serves to increase voyeurs’ sense of power and control. The man who “makes his wife his Web cam girl” without her consent would be just as guilty.
Moreover, while the offense is considered a “sex crime,” it is not necessarily about sexual desire or pleasure as is understood in the conventional sense. The adrenaline rush is often provided by the violation of rules, social norms and laws, rather than sexual stimulation per se. While each case is different, individuals who engage in voyeurism may seek the gratification involved in violating those norms, or they may be acting out their feelings of gender or sexual inadequacy, seeking, again, to feel power and control. Therefore, putting non-consensual voyeurism on the same but other side of the spectrum as naughty sexual pleasures with one’s wife is erroneous.
There are various psychological explanations for the causes of non-consensual sexual behavior. Often they reflect social skills or empathy deficits, or feelings of inadequacy. Some non-consensual sexual behaviors result from obsessions and compulsions.
Like Boteach, as well as the many bloggers and social networking posters trying to make sense of this tragedy, we may seek an explanation for the motivations behind Freundel’s alleged actions. Was it power seeking? Sexually based? Or perhaps steeped in mental pathology? This endeavor may be our coping mechanism to attempt to rationalize and understand the incomprehensible.
However, as we search for an answer, we must clearly distinguish between sexual desires, fetishes and paraphilia on the one hand and non-consensual voyeurism, which is a crime that has victims, on the other. Under no circumstances should we consider non-consensual voyeurism on a spectrum of normative sexual behavior gone awry.
Talli Rosenbaum, MSc., is an individual and couples therapist and a certified sex therapist. She lectures in both the Bar-Ilan and Tel Aviv University sex therapy programs and is the academic advisor for Yahel. She is an associate editor of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.