I am a great believer in single-sex education and would not consider sending my children to a co-ed school. Children who are overexposed to one another from the earliest age become desensitized to the attraction of the opposite sex. That's why we see co-ed schools so focused, in their yearbooks and other arenas, on superlatives like, "Most popular," "Most likely to succeed." When I was graduating junior high school, I was amazed that our yearbook had so much of this elitist drivel (and yes, I was jealous that I had not made any of the lists). But after some thought it all made sense. Overexposure to the opposite sex made us all ordinary to each other. Because we had become so desensitized to the magic of the opposite sex, the only thing left was to be impressed with those who really stood out. It was the superlatives who were noticed: the most athletic, the best looking, the tallest, the most handsome. You see the same thing in virtually every high school movie where the "ordinary" boys and girls, which constitutes 90 percent of the grade, are treated as uninteresting nerds who get wedgies while the quarterback and the head of the cheer-leading squad are treated as movie stars. It is incredible how at even an early age, when teenagers are so hormonally charged, they are erotically desensitized to the vast majority of other teenagers, feeling attracted only to about ten percent of the class.
Single sex schools are attacked for not allowing boys and girls to learn how to get along with the opposite sex. But more often than not the opposite is true. A single sex education leads to boys who are generally interested in crossing the divide and getting to know a girl even if she does not rank in highest beauty percentile.
This also explains something far more insidious in our culture. The fact that people date and date without falling in love and without getting married. The great challenge to the Jewish community in the United States is no longer intermarriage, but lack of marriage. Tends of thousands of singles congregate on the Upper West Side of Manhattan or the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles. They attend singles synagogues. They go to and endless variety of singles events. They date about fifty people each. And still no magic. They just don't fall in love and fail to develop an erotic spark.
But notice how in what is often referred to as the 'ultra-orthodox' community, where I was educated, this rarely happens. On the contrary, most men and women get engaged after dating, perhaps, their fourth or fifth person, and after dating just a few weeks. I know what you're thinking. Yeah, you religious kooks will marry almost anybody. But give us a bit more credit for our discernment. The real reason we get engaged so much more quickly is that the two sexes have been largely separated since birth. So when they finally go out, they don't need to be impressed with superlatives. They are attracted to good enough - someone who satisfied their needs - as opposed to mounting a fifteen-year search for "the best." When our men and women go out, the date itself is erotic. The distance between men and women exists in the very educational structures so that when the two are brought together, even in a non-sexual environment, an immediate sexual spark is felt. They go out and guess what? They're actually attracted to each other.
Husbands and wives need to recapture some of that same erotic longing by ensuring they never grow into being the same person and always maintain erotic differentiation.
The erotic mind works through differentiation. Sexual polarity is key. When, say, a husband wife become too alike, when they do everything together and never have any space, they begin to tire of one another. This is not only due to the loss of novelty, but more importantly to the loss of sexual polarity. This is a strong argument for the need for zones of privacy even in marriage. Yes, when we marry we become one flesh. But it's important that we remain one flesh clothed in two bodies. We dare never become one person.
To be sure, I am a great believer in the most intense intimacy in marriage and would never advocate distance between husband and wife in the most important spheres. But there is a good reason that Jewish law says that a wife should preserve a modicum of modesty even in the bedroom and that a husband should be careful never to attend to his hygienic needs in his wife's presence. Not everything in marriage is designed to be shared.
This is why the Bible insists on certain incontrovertible differences that must forever remain between men and women. It says that men cannot wear a woman's clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5) and men are not to uproot the hair on their faces (Leviticus 19:27) (yes, that is the reason we Rabbis have such undeniably sexy beards). Even in external appearance, men and women are supposed to look different. In the Jewish religion, men and women sit separately in the synagogue, with a literal divider down the middle, all designed to heighten, while never overdoing, the sexual divide.
One of the best ways to ensure this erotic differentiation is for men to once again become gentlemen and for women to become ladies. No, I am not advocating that men wear britches and women go back to rib-crushing corsets. But one of the reasons we love watching Victorian-period dramas, like Jane Austen films, is because of the erotic charge that always seems to exist between men and women. Yes, I know that Victorians have become metaphors for erotic repression and sexual hypocrisy and I'm not asking that any of us go back to a time when women were treated as porcelain dolls. I've got five daughters, and I want them to have every opportunity that a man has to use their brains and God-given talent to make a positive, intelligent, and knowledge-based impact on the world. But the reason these period dramas are so naturally romantic is that the differentiation between the sexes is so strongly pronounced. The men are gentlemen, the woman are ladies. There is a certain refinement of character that each possesses. And if husbands and wives would act more accordingly, the erotic spark between them would naturally grow.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who hosts a daily national radio show on 'Oprah and Friends,' is currently working completing a book on the eight principles of erotic attraction. www.shmuley.com