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Sep 9, 2011

Men 101: Impulses

This post by Yedid Nefesh got me thinking about the male sexual impulse. While I've been thinking about addressing male sexuality, that's a whole other topic. However, in reference to the male impulse for sexual contact and sexual release, I have a metaphor.

Imagine having to fast for a day. Many of you may not have to imagine, and know some of the challenges that come with it and those feelings of weakness, headaches, stomach aches, hunger, thirst, inability to focus, exhaustion... that tell us our body is in need of nourishment and drink. In a sense, it is a kind of withdrawal, all those powerful physiological alarms that tell us that our body requires care.

For some, fasting for a day isn't terrible. Imagine having to fast for two consecutive days, or three, without any opportunity to eat or drink. What about fasting for a full week? A month? A year?

A person would die long before then.

The male sexual impulse is often compared to hunger or thirst. It's a need that does not simply go away after being filled once, or once in a while. The body sends out powerful physiological reminders and alarms reminding us that we need care.

And yet, we are told not to until marriage. So, from the age of about 13 until our 20's at the very least, we're starved. Can you imagine living for seven years without food? Without water? If we were forced or kept alive, but had to live with that kind of starvation... it is a form of torture.

For many observant men, it gets worse. We are told we cannot touch. And, in many ways, we can't look. But it's there. Women are on the street, in stores, on the roads. Beautiful and tempting... and we are hungering. All the time. All. The. Time.

(From this perspective, I can understand the extreme divisions. I don't agree with them, for a great many reasons, and I don't find this reason sufficient to justify the extreme measures and lengths, but that's just my own little mind.)

To try and understand what it takes for a man not to act on that impulse, that hunger, that torture, is to understand how every moment -from moment to moment -that he does not give in he is producing miracles, engaging in the most exalted acts of heroism and moving mountains in restraining himself.

Put him in a relationship or dating a woman, and you've multiplied his difficulty exponentially, especially when the couple find each another attractive. 

Maybe I'm just too much a disciple of Rav Levy Yitzchack of Bardichev, but for every moment that a man restrains himself -especially under this kind of pressure -he builds tremendous merit for himself. It is a test that is passed for each and every second of restraint. I don't count the number of times it's broken, but the number of seconds it's maintained, and the dedication to maintaining that restraint.

It's a perspective I think can only be gained by understanding the forces at work. Understanding it without having to experience it is perhaps, shall I say, difficult. 


  1. I have been thinking about your reaction to my post, especially since one of the topic of this week's parasha proved to be relevant: the episode about a man at war being allowed to lay with a woman, followed by the whole process that follows(hair, nails, cry...) before he marries her/ maybe converts her....
    At the shabbos meal i was attending, someone brought up the question of why man is permitted to go with his natural impulse in this scenario? Its one of the only time (perhaps the only time actually) that it is permitted to do something because of the challenge, versus abstaining yourself from an Issur and getting bigger Schar for it.
    How come?

  2. @ YN
    The torah makes it quite clear that it doesnt want the man to take the yefas toar. As rashi explains, that is why the torah makes him wait a year, in that years time has her do things that will make her completely repulsive to him in order to get him to drop her. Rashi goes even further to state that one who does marry her will have a ben sorer umoreh. (And as we see in Navi actually took place with dovid hamelech where he had his son avsholom because he married naamoh).

  3. Though I appreciate your honesty, I can't help but feel that your post is a bit melodramatic (for a lack of a better word). I hate the portrayal that men are filled with crazy hormones/impulses and are basically pigs that have to restraint themselves. That's how they are painted in the frum world. That's what we are told when we learn about tzniut and shomer negiah. Women on the other hand, have no desires, no impulses, and basically no teivot. Neither of those extremes are correct.

    You want an applause for every time that you do not break shomer negiah? for every time that you do not watch something inappropriate? I get it its hard. Its hard for women too (obviously on a different level). But the way you paint it, it just makes me very uncomfortable to think that men are sitting on the other side of the table, waiting to pounce and basically not listening to anything because ALL thats on their mind is this crazy/unbearable desire.

    I'm sorry but I can't think that controlling yourself is being "heroic". That's what we came here to do. You are doing what you came here to do: control your body/impulses and allow your neshama (the real you) to make the decisions.

  4. @the professor: thanks for the clarification. So is it a go for it if you really cant refrain yourself but you'll feel sorry for it?

  5. @ YN thats pretty much the case.

    @ ZP I agree with you wholeheartedly.

  6. @YN:

    Actually, the entire point of thta halachah is to tell him to WAIT. This gives him an opportunity to get to know her (and NOT follow his immediate impulse to "take her") and then make a choice.

    It is the Torah telling him to delay gratification. It's not easy, but when in the situation, giving him a path to (potentially) be with her may be more realistic than just telling him not to. I forget where the source is, but I've heard that the Torah provides a mutar way of handling each and every desire a person (man or woman) has. It's just recognizing his nature and giving him a better alternative. This actually contrasts with the halachot regarding food in wartime, when a man is allowed to eat anything he finds (including pork).


    The idea of man as a pig or incapable of reigning in his impulses is a modern secular idea. He is 100% responsible for his actions, the Torah makes that clear. The post was not about vindicating man, but about understanding what we deal with as men. I hope you can appreciate this as the context for the OP.

    In regards to tzniyut, I think the extreme ideas expoused are a tad overzealous. The way I think about it is that it's about (a) personal refinement and (b) not throwing temptation into a man's face. In that regard men also have certain codes for appropriate behavior. It's not exactly like Lifnei Iver, because our goal is to have control, not assume every man has no discipline. But people also aren't supposed to put delicious non-kosher food in front of their friends/family when they're hungry. It's just not smart.

    Given that we are single longer now than we had been 50 years ago (and hundreds of years ago people were married before the end of their teens) and halachah even reflected that (numbers vary from 13 to 18 as two opinions in the Gemarah and Rambam uses some extreme language regarding men who aren't married by the age of 20), it's become a more pressing issue. Generally, we've let go of the Halachot that dictate the maximum age for marriage (instead of chosing, as society did, to permit pre-marital sexual contact).

    That doesn't mean our attitudes or the way we're handling it is perfect... as a single man I'm struggling and floundering with it myself as I imagine most or all of us are. But we find our ways to cope. Men can focus and listen, we certainly do well enough in our studies to become doctors, lawyers, psychologists, businessmen, etc.

    The idea of women as non-sexual is an ancient and puritanical belief. The idea that a woman has to be non-sexual in order to maintain her purity is likewise ridiculous, and yet many people (especially men) hold onto that idea. Women are plenty sexual, in some ways much more so than men (and in some ways less). But female sexuality and sexual impulse is very likely much different than male sexuality/impulse. It's also not the topic of the OP, which was supposed to give some insight into the experience of sexual impulse from a man.

    In short, I agree with you in much of what you said, though I hope you appreciate the context and purpose of the post as it was intended. This type of insight is what I referred to in an older post when I noted that I will put more of my masculine perspective up on my blog.

  7. @Ish: I really appreciate you taking the time to answer back.

    I DID (and DO) understand the point that you were/are trying to make. I took a Human Sexuality class in Stern (it was the second time it was being taught, unsurprisingly) and the professor joked how this class should be taught uptown (obviously that would never be approved). I KNOW (to the extent that I can know without being a man) how hard it is and the sexual drive that humans (but man in particular) have. I did appreciate what I felt was the out pour of your emotions and it did give me some insight into your struggle.

    I like your first clarification since I do think that sometimes men (even later on while they are married, since obviously, desires do not stop then) use their "weakness" as an excuse for inappropriate behavior (i.e. porn and sometimes, lo aleinu, worse things).

    I only brought up ztniut as an example of a situation in which the "drive" of men is always brought up as a "reason" for doing that particular thing. I have actually heard rabbis call men "pigs" (no joke). I believe that ztniut is something personal and very internal. Like the title of my blog suggests, I believe that women are princesses of Hashem. As such, I dress and try to carry myself as one. Aside from being and acting ztanuah, I think its important for women to always be put together and look beautiful. But that is a different topic altogether.

    I hear that it is hard since we are not getting married as early as we used to, specially men. It is difficult for both men and women, and I do appreciate you acknowledging that the struggle is not only one-sided though I do agree with you that it is very different.

    iy"H you'll find your other half and though there will be many other struggles, you will be able to release this energy and channel it in the appropriate direction.