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Hook Up vs. Shut Up: Yeshiva University's Sex Story Controversy

How did a poorly-written, not-entirely-credible account of first-time guilt-ridden yeshiva sex ignite a firestorm of controversy that has dominated newspapers, blogs and Shabbat table conversation?
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After all the press, all the controversy, all the recriminations and proclamations and resignations, I finally read the now-infamous fictional-or-not premarital sex piece in the YU Beacon and have only one reaction.


As in, did this pareve, poorly-written, not-entirely-credible account of first-time guilt-ridden yeshiva sex really ignite the firestorm of controversy that has dominated newspapers, blogs and Shabbat table conversation?

The too-hot-to-handle tale is tame to the max. It feels less than authentic in part because it is inconsistent. One second the narrator is in her lace undies, the next minute her lover is removing her clothes. Its trajectory is toward guilt, remorse and regret, hardly pleasure or even fun.

The writer seems to be laboring under the misconception that, first and foremost, sex is an educational experience, with the lesson embedded in the kicker of the piece: "The only thing I learn is how to do the walk of shame the day after."

Gawd. It reminds me of any number of cautionary Young Adult novels my mother sent my way when I was a pre-teen and the stories I kept hearing about girls who were unwise enough to have premarital sex and ended up getting pregnant and dying from illegal abortions or having to put up their illegitimate offspring for adoption. (The fact that I was adopted was just a confusing detail.)

The pithy piece, "How Do I Even Begin to Explain This," is a modern day cautionary tale about a Stern College girl and her deflowering with a Yeshiva University boy with whom she has been having rendezvous. Not that the prospect of Orthodox college kids having S-E-X is implausible, but one detail of the story brands it as fiction for me: the fact that there is a room key, the kind that turns, the sort that could be used to open a bottle of beer.

Now, when was the last time you checked into a Manhattan hotel with a metal key, not a card? I could be wrong but, for this detail and a variety of other reasons, the story strikes me as a product of a virgin's imagination.

Written in a style that might be termed Yeshiva Porn, the essay reads like a Stern girl's submission to Penthouse's "Forum" section:

As soon as my bra hits the floor, the voice is gone.

Between the fumbling, the pain, the pleasure, I convince myself that I've learned how to make love.

Cuddling with him that night, I tell him how much he means to me, but I know I can't tell him I love him. He removes his arm from around me and turns away. I bite down hard on my lip but my emotions betray me and I let out a whimper.


Speaking of forums, the comment forum on the YU Beacons's website is far more interesting than the article itself. Therein, a slew of reactions illuminate the larger issues. One forward-thinking maideleh writes: "I don't understand why people are so upset. I can find much more graphic sexual activity in the tanach and that may I remind you was written by God."

Yet a young woman whose headshot shows her with a scarf and an infant disagrees with that point of view:

The article is the most disgusting thing I have EVER read!!! I don't understand why someone would write that on there!! Why do they even go to Stern???

This writer is obviously not very widely read if this bubbe meiseh is the most disgusting thing she has ever come across. In the comment section, it's often hard to tell who is serious and who is having fun. There is lots of wise-guy bantering and sarcasm, some of it clever. Some jokesters pose as the boy in question. One comment is written in such "yeshivish" that I thought it was intended as a spoof until I saw that the writer is a Torah Reader at a synagogue in the Hamptons:

Why don't we skip all the emotional entanglements and skip to the bottom line. This article describes not just a "breach of tznius" but a full fledged aveirah. And if she didn't go to the mikveh beforehand (which a single girl is not allowed to do anyway) her and her boyfriend are Chayev Kareis. Anyone who reads this might think I'm being "Yeshivish" but I'm not. This is straightup from the chumash.

Wow. Compared with death at the hand of the Almighty, I would say that the author is lucky to escape with only a guilty conscience -- and maybe the suspicion that her lover is just not that into her.

Yet as dismaying as I find the reaction of those who would seek to silence a college publication for writing frankly about sex, the plethora of dispassionate dispatches from the hook-up universe invariably make me want to hurl for other reasons.

Somewhere between the random culture of coupling that has replaced sexual intimacy and the prudish prohibitionist reaction to premarital sex exists an ideal sex ethic for single people both Orthodox and otherwise. I hate to think that the only options available these days are impersonal trysts, abstinence or shame-filled encounters.

Anyone for exclusive, emotional intimacy laced with the erotic?

Or does that simply not happen anymore?