Catching up on my reading fell into an interesting juxtaposition of articles. Just after reading “The Sex Choreographer – How Do You Stage A Sex Scene In The #MeToo Era? Call In An Intimacy Coordinator” (NY Times Magazine, Jan. 19, 2020) I read “The ‘Angels’ at Victoria’s Secret Suffered A Culture Of Misogyny” (NY Times, Feb. 2, 2020).

The first article details the creation of a new profession for filming movies and staging plays: the “intimacy coordinator.” The responsibilities of this position range from coordinating sex scenes and nudity to protecting vulnerable actors from discomfort and exploitation. This choreographing has come to replace what used to be “improvised or lightly choreographed intimacy [that] used to be the norm.” These professionals protect actors who formerly might/would have been intimidated from speaking up for a variety of reasons, including being fired, being blackballed, etc.

The second article details the ways in which models for Victoria’s Secret allege that they were bullied and harassed by the two men who held ultimate power in the company. Witnesses claim that Ed Razek, one of the top executives at L Brands – parent company to VS – would try to kiss models and ask them to sit on his lap; he is alleged to have “touched one model’s crotch ahead of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion show” and to have stopped hiring at least one woman who refused his advances. Leslie Wexner, founder and chief executive of L Brands – and one of the leading Jewish philanthropists in America – is alleged to have ignored the complaints; he’s also accused of demeaning women verbally. Wexner, likewise, recently has been connected closely to Jeffrey Epstein who – along with the many other crimes of which he’s accused – apparently lured women and attacked them after promising to land them a modeling gig with VS.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

When I first read of intimacy coordinators some months ago, I could only think: “What’s wrong with this picture?” Perhaps the problem isn’t unspoken expectations and unreasonable pressures and insufficient guidance; perhaps the problem is the expectation of nudity and sexual simulation itself. Eliminate nudity & sexual activity and, voila, many (though certainly not all) of the problems disappear.

Perhaps there are times when the sexual act itself is necessary to the story the movie tells; “The Sessions,” with Helen Hunt portraying a sex therapist guiding a paraplegic to the ability to enjoy sex, comes to mind. But how often is that the case? How many movies have we seen where the sex and nudity are largely, if not entirely, gratuitous? We all know: sex sells.

And as long as we keep buying, it will keep selling.

Maybe we need to stop buying.

Rehabilitating The Jewish Virtue Of Modesty

I believe in a sexual ethic that values and enjoys sexual intimacy between committed, responsible partners. Our tradition speaks positively of sexual relations both for purposes of procreation and for enjoyment. Not all authorities have agreed – when have they agreed about anything? – with this position. Some have said that sex is bad but there is no mainstream Jewish tradition of celibacy. And while women were usually, if not always, treated by law as “objects” and not as “subjects” it also is true that it is a man’s obligation to satisfy his wife’s sexual needs(!).

In our American culture, we seem to swing back and forth between a prudishness that would abolish all sex – or at least all evidence of it – on the one hand, and a market economy that can’t put enough flesh out there.

In Jewish tradition, we have held an ideal of modesty, tzniyut. For different Jewish communities at different times this was applied in different ways. Nowadays, in the more traditional of our communities where this is still of concern, it includes dress that is not too revealing, refraining from public displays of affection, and the separation of genders.

Modesty For Liberals?

I don’t yet know how to interpret this idea for a more liberal community. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on whether or not it could be at all useful.

What I do think is this: that while we need laws to govern the abuses that (mostly) women have suffered professionally and personally from men who don’t know how to behave respectfully, we also would benefit from a cultural shift away from the ‘60’s model of “anything goes” to a way of thinking that values respect for others, self-restraint and discipline, privacy and the sanctity of intimate human relations, in which partners are valued as being created in the image of God rather than as commodities to be used and thrown away.

Put differently, in addition to sex education we need moral education.