Sex and the Suburbs


Find out what Monica Lewinsky has to do with bar mitzvah gifts.

by Shulamit Reinharz

Forget Sex and the City; the real story seems to be happening in the suburbs. Witness Desperate Housewives. But perhaps we have desperate Jewish girls, as well. Or is that the real story?

As everyone remembers, Monica Lewinsky was a Jewish girl from Beverly Hills who got a position as an intern in the White House. Maybe she misunderstood what the word “position” meant.

At the height of the scandal, it seemed to me that our country had come a long way because no one was making an anti-Semitic generalization out of Monica’s behavior. But I was focusing on the wrong issue back then. It wasn’t that Monica was Jewish, but perhaps that Jewish girls were Monicas.

Everyone was rightly talking about Bill; what he did wrong, and wrong he surely did. But what about Monica? Had she been doing this kind of thing back in Beverly Hills or was this an entirely new extracurricular activity for her? Can we generalize Jewish girls in Weston or Westfield or Westwood from what Monica was doing in the West Wing?

These questions came to mind recently when a woman in her seventies began sharing her concern with me about the custom in her granddaughter’s prep school; Jewish girls were giving Jewish boys blowjobs as bar mitzvah presents! Presumably because they’ve already got everything else.

I couldn’t believe my ears. But then she told me that this practice is so rampant that the Reform Jewish movement has taken it on as a national policy concern. I checked that piece of information out on Google and, sure enough, there is an article to that effect dated November 19, 2005. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, addressed 4,200 people in Houston for its biennial convention and explicitly talked about oral sex and hooking up. Bravo, Rabbi Yoffie. For him the issue was that girls are “defining their worth by how they please boys.” The degradation of girls flies in the face of the Reform Movement’s dedication to the equality of women, he said.

To explore the topic further, I asked one of my (nice Jewish) male students at Brandeis (from another part of the country) if he had heard of girls doing this while he was in high school. He told me that this is particularly a “middle school thing” and it is common. Further, he didn’t think it was so bad. “It’s not sex,” he said, using the same line as Clinton. In other words, the kids want to have intercourse (“real sex”), but feel they shouldn’t. So instead, they have oral sex, which isn’t sex. He also said that the girls who do it are not stigmatized; usually the boy and girl like each other. “It’s safer than sex,” he went on to say. He did not see it as a problem.

Never one to lose an opportunity, at a recent bat mitzvah I asked the rabbi if he had heard about this topic. He told me his youth group leaders are complaining that this behavior exists and that his synagogue will soon be introducing a curriculum to deal with it.

I’m not sure exactly what the curriculum will entail, but I would like to offer one suggestion. Talk to the kids. Find out what sex means to them; find out what is realistic. Find out if they see it as sex; if the girls feel they are degraded. Find out if the boys are pressuring the girls. Sexual drives and urges are present in young people and since the kids are not about to get married, either in high school or shortly thereafter, they need to figure out how to cope. There aren’t too many models of young Jews to emulate (think about Philip Roth’s Portnoy or Woody Allen). I just read Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays and numerous other Jewish-boys-growing-up books. Sexual fantasies, exploits, doubts, and adventures crowd out other topics. It’s not just the videos and movies and songs; it’s in our “fine literature,” as well. Sex is ubiquitous.

In the meantime, I’d like to share a true story that probably sheds some light on this matter. During the time that Monica was getting her blue dress soiled, my 11-year old niece (from suburbia, but another state) visited our house. I went to turn off the TV, which was broadcasting yet another story on the topic. She said I didn’t need to do that because she knew what oral sex was. “Oh really,” I replied, “What is it?” “It’s when you talk while you’re doing it.”

That may, in fact, be the level of understanding of what sexual relations are all about among our tween-age Jews today. So, let’s start talking.

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