50 Shades of Jew

By Aviva Woolf on Sunday, December 2, 2012 [Mitzpeh]

My phone rings, the screen flashing ‘Dad’ and I answer. “So…I just got off the phone with your mother and…you’re joking right?” he asks. I sigh. I’ve lost track of how many conversations have started like this.

But this time, it’s in response to my latest job application for the position of social media coordinator for the newly launched website Jewrotica.org, a site developed by a modern Orthodox-raised woman named Ayo Oppenheimer.

Far from the recently popular genre of ‘mommy porn’ made infamous by “50 Shades of Grey” (which incidentally first circulated in the Orthodox circles before exploding in the mainstream according to the New York Times), Oppenheimer’s vision is genuine and well meaning.

The site strives to be an outlet for expression in the Jewish world, a place where the young and old alike, can go for advice, perspective and exposure to concepts and ideas they might be too embarrassed to ask about elsewhere.

While Jewrotica does have a story telling aspect revolving around sex and gender, it also has insights written by sex therapists, published authors and professors. Its site does not contain any nudity and all content is rated so the reader can choose just how much he or she wishes to be exposed to.

So, why do I want to work there? After reading Oppenheimer’s mission statement, I realized that what she was saying really reflected many of the conversations I’ve had with my own friends. In her editor’s column, Oppenheimer touches on the fact that despite being part of a sex-positive religion, many Jewish young adults often feel uncomfortable broaching the subject with teachers or religious leaders.

What we see on TV shows like “Skins” and “Gossip Girl” may reflect the average American college student, though likely not the average modern Orthodox Jewish college student. For those of us who came from one world in high school and are now living in a completely new one in college, the change can be overwhelming.

“As high school girls, we were objects of desire that had to cover up from the ever-present male gaze,” said junior government and politics major Ahuva Sunshine. “This website has the potential to educate both men and women about sexual desire and exploration in an entertaining and harmless manner.”

And Jewrotica does explore. Some stories are heartbreaking, like the one about the seminary girl who forms a friendship and then a relationship with a young Arab cab driver. Some are mischievous, like the story about a Purim party that goes horribly wrong. Yes, some of its content is not for everyone, but the website is making an effort to give people a voice and permission to ask questions and to really decide for themselves what they think is sensual, interesting or downright weird.

“I think this site has plenty of potential as far as starting conversations,” said Yoni Weiss, a senior at City College in New York. “It is nice though to see some homosexual stories and ones about sexual abuse. The topic of sexual dangers and ills like abuse can be pathologically ignored (among Orthodox) which makes it that much more dangerous. This site can be used as a healthier outlet, both for readers and writers, as opposed to suicide, running away from home, or a repeat of the events.”

And while Jewrotica isn’t exactly Planned Parenthood, some Jewish young adults admit that Jewish day schools are lacking in the sexual education department, or are only discussing it in Hebrew within the context of marriage.

“Kids don’t get enough exposure when it would be beneficial,” said Ari Manas, a student at Yeshiva University. “They are taught sexuality is wrong and by the time it comes up in their lives, talking to a teacher or parent is far too difficult. They need to teach teens and a younger age to be comfortable talking to them.”

Jewrotica walks a fine line between trying to be edgy enough to draw in a younger, more modern crowd and being tame enough to appeal to those with a glimmer of curiosity, who would feel too awkward speaking up with their own opinions.

“The website doesn’t just offer naughty stories and sexual confessions but provides a necessary forum for people to submit their experiences as religious (or not so religious) Jews struggling with or rejoicing in their sexuality,” said Amalia Marks, a senior at UMBC. “I think this website offers the modern Orthodox community a healthy way to face the elephant in the room—pre-marital sexual activity in the Jewish community—that is widely ignored.”

Although some stories may incorporate some elements that are not necessarily rabbi-approved, they touch on thoughts we all entertain anyway, making them less taboo. It’s called fantasy because it’s not real. And I don’t remember the 11th commandment saying “thou shalt not daydream about Zac Efron.” (Seriously though, don’t. He’s mine.)