The Censorship of Sex
By Chana Boteach, CEO
Toward the end of 2020, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a stunning piece about Pornhub, the x-rated mega-site known for its Times Square sponsorships and free memberships to help ease the stress of COVID-19 lockdowns. Ranked the tenth most visited site on earth, Pornhub pulls in a staggering 3.5 billion visits per month — outpacing Amazon, Netflix, and Yahoo.
Pulling the sheets off their supposed legitimacy, Kristof exposed the inherent rot and criminal fabric of mainstream internet porn. Pornhub turns a horrifying blind eye and profits from videos made without consent, depicting violent sexual assaults, and featuring girls as young as fourteen. The lewd leviathan claims to combat illegal, non-consenting and underage content, but trying to censor unverified uploads is a senseless game of whack-a-mole. Worse, they play it in reverse: Pornhub profits off the shots they miss.
Considering its colossal target, Kristof’s disturbing article says less about porn than about sex and the internet — and how they bring out the worst in each other.
Facebook seems to agree.
In the wake of Kristoff’s article on Pornhub, Facebook updated its “community guidelines,” kicking in a wave of measures designed to crack down on sexually explicit content. It’s a valiant and very needed step in filtering the exploitative, even criminal content out there. But here’s the problem. In doing so they’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. (In this case I’m the baby.) These laws go further than they should; in fact, just mentioning sex can get you caught in the vast digital dragnet.
Kosher Sex, the company to which I devote my life, exists to provide a wholesome way to talk about sexuality, seek advice and buy products that can help make sex what it should be- passionate, pleasurable and connecting. Yet, since the December update, I’ve found myself repeatedly running afoul of Facebook’s algorithmic police.
My Instagram account has been disabled three times. I remain banned from advertising the most helpful and tasteful products and can’t boost my educational events. Worst of all, if you look up my handle, KosherSex, Pornhub shows up just beneath it. Instagram seems to think we’re related. But why exactly — because my company’s name contains the word ‘sex’?
Facebook’s puritanical sanitization of all things sex-related isn’t just scrubbing the dark corners of the internet; it’s restricting the positive movements and conversations around sex that are needed to replace them.
I built Kosher Sex because I believe in sex. I see its potential as a connecting, healing, empowering force in a divided world, an act that transcends the physical and fuses bodies and souls. I believe that there’s more to sex than a vapid experience that ends with a gratifying spasm. At Kosher Sex, we teach people how to integrate sex into their lives in a way that is wholesome and liberating. We fight to eradicate shame in sexuality and motivate the masses to better understand their bodies and minds.
The algorithms don’t know that, though. They can’t discern the explicit from the educational, the degrading from the helpful. I and so many others are trying to bring back that weight and power to sex, and yet, we’re under the same scrutiny and censorship as those that post obscene, pornographic images and material. To avoid shut-downs and shadow-bans, sex educators like myself have resorted to using the word “secks” — dropping sex’s most iconic letter in a whole new level of ‘character assassination.’
Heres what Facebook doesn’t get: continuing to make any sex talk taboo creates an even bigger vacuum for porn to gladly fill. As I struggle to maintain a presence on social media, Pornhub will continue to get 40 billion hits a year from people who, like the algorithms, also don’t know the difference. Mold grows quicker in the dark, and Facebook and Instagram’s juvenile, prudish stance on sex only makes matters worse. But the truth is, the internet’s sex problem is symptomatic of society’s.
We’ve come to view sex in extremes. At one end, it’s casual and for having fun- yet leaves many with a dull sense of loneliness. At the other, it’s a vehicle for having kids- part of the boneyard of marriage, the rubble of your once towering sex life. This imbalanced conception fuels the exploitative and dirty content we’re so accustomed to seeing.
But sex deserves more credit. It can be so much more than this.
Kosher Sex, my father’s book and the inspiration behind my company, seeks to fill in these gaps. It’s rooted in the fascinating Jewish understanding of sexuality. In the Torah, having a rewarding, intimate, and active sex life is considered as vital to a home as clothing and food. Believe it or not, the Bible explains that you can actually know someone better carnally, physically, and experientially better than you can know them verbally or intellectually. In Judaism, marriage is based on lust rather than love. Compatibility and commonalities are simply not enough- it is only attraction that will keep two people together. Not just physical attraction, but the pull of the senses- someone’s mind, smell, voice, sounds. Sex is discussed openly — all throughout the Bible, the Talmud, and Rabbinic literature, setting parameters to ensure that it is a pleasurable, consensual act that nurtures intimacy. By flaunting the sex taboo, Jewish teachers encouraged better sexual expressions. They taught that sex could be for more than for procreation or recreation. It has the power to be the holiest of all acts.
Sex is kosher, and anything two people do to deepen their attachment and arouse their excitement for each other is kosher too. Our erotic and sexual self is part of our nature and it cannot be suppressed. The media outlets and algorithms that feed us our information should reflect that. Done right, the power of sex and the internet will make for quite a pair.