In the Jewish tradition, sexual intimacy between spouses is a mitzvah – a divinely mandated obligation – for the enhancement of the marital bond and for purposes of rearing children.It is a blessed gift from the Almighty that is to be carefully nurtured and not misused.So it is that we read in the Sefer Hasidism, attributed to R. Yehudah He-hasid of Germany (circa 1200), that the ideal in marriage is for a wife and a husband to satisfyeach other sexually.The Iggeret Ha-kodesh, The Sacred Epistle, written by a 13th century Kabbalist (the exact identity of the author is not clear), offers an even more profound interpretation of human sexuality.In an excellent article by Biti Roi, published online in the Jewish Women’s Archive sponsored Jewish Women, A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/iggeret-ha-kodesh), Roi presents the central theme of the Iggeret in this way: “The basic notion of the Iggeret ha-Kodesh is that sexual relations between husband and wife are sacred and that the state of both husband and wife during intimacy determines the character of the future child. The child’s nature and essence are determined by its parents’ spiritual consciousness and the holiness of their intentions at the time of conception. The opening of the work uses theological sources such as the creation story to strengthen the argument that intimacy is holy. The work then provides more detailed explanations on how to achieve such sanctity, measuring it according to five standards: the nature of the conjugal act, the time that it takes place, the diet of the couple, the act’s intentions and its quality.” While the author of the Iggeret has a uniquely focused mystical agenda – which Roi lucidly analyzes – it is clear that for him meaningfully and lovingly satisfying sexual activity is an important component of the marital bond. The ecstasy of the sex act generates spiritual energy that transcends the physical realm and ascends into the realm of the divine.
The traditional Jewish halakhic perspective on sexuality is very clear. It is based on a Biblical passage in Exodus (21:10), which, according to the Sefer Ha-hinnukh on Exodus, law #46, mandates: “…whoever purchases a Hebrew maidservant and accepts her in designation for marriage, is not to leave her short of her [rightful] sh’er (food), k’sut (clothing) and ‘onah (conjugal intimacy).” As noted in Sefer Ha-hinnukh, rabbinic midrash extended these provisions to Jewish women in general.Among the significant elements of the rabbinic tradition are: 1. Sexual activity is appropriate only within marriage.2. It is the obligation of the husband to satisfy the sexual desires of his wife.3. Sexual activity is necessary for the husband to fulfill his obligation to bear children.4. Sexual activity cannot be coercive but must be consensual. 5. Sexual activity cannot be used as a means of manipulating one’s spouse for some ulterior motive. Most modern interpreters of Jewish tradition would redefine the husband’s primary responsibility in these matters as being a responsibility shared by both spouses equally.Further discussion of this matter can be found in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Sefer Nashim (Book of [laws relating to] Women), Hilkhot Ishut (“Laws of Marriage”), chapter 12; Elliot N. Dorff, This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations (available at http://rabbinicalassembly.org/indexfl.html (be sure to write the title in the “search” space); and David M. Feldman, Marital Relations, Birth Control, and Abortion in Jewish Law.
Given all of the above, if a person has an addiction to “cybersex,” which means that it is more than an occasional surfing of pornographic websites but rather a serious expenditure of time and energy that is having a detrimental impact on that person’s life and his/her relationships with others – especially a spouse, then immediate remedial action is mandated by the principles of Jewish law and ethics.Given the significant role sexual intimacy plays in a healthy marital relationship, addressing this illness – and that is how it ought to be approached – should be a top priority for the couple.Appropriate psychological and medical counseling is called for, in which both the addict and his/her spouse participate; therapy, as prescribed by medical and psychological professionals, should begin as soon as possible and should be maintained with the same level of intensity and responsibility as any treatment for a serious illness; and both the addict and the spouse should work to replace the anger, frustration, guilt and hurt that have resulted from this problem with love, care, comfort, reassurance and patience.Praying together and turning to God for strength should also be part of the regimen of rediscovering the beauty of loving intimacy with which God has gifted us.
Your question is very good. We can find many discussions in Jewish law and ethics about adultery, deceit and betrayed trust but not about cybersex addiction. At first glance, it might seem that cybersex is not as problematic a form of infidelity as real life adultery. However, this can be misleading. The Internet's ubiquitous freedom can propel the user into a fantasy world. Here virtual personas can realize thwarted desires and fulfill poignant needs. The easy accessibility of the World Wide Web offers charmingly deceptive opportunities for camouflaged intimacy. Cybersex offers immediate stimulation and instant gratification. But it tends to objectify the participants, reducing them to body parts and pornographic pictures while maintaining the secret thrill of an incognito façade. Does your spouse view this as a "harmless pastime"? Or perhaps deep inside he/she would really prefer a healthier alternative? If the latter, then perhaps you can find an opening to gently guide your marital partner to a systematic recovery plan.
In coping with "betrayed trust" in a 20 year marriage, the question is how extensive is the damage. Is the relationship irrevocably torn? If not, then the preferred choice in Jewish law is to try and restore marital harmony, "shalom bayit". Rabbinical courts will usually encourage the couple to search for more effective ways of communicating, sharing and rapprochement. If that is the direction you choose, your empathetic understanding of the motivating factors leading to your partner's "addiction" become a crucial component.
A focal point for halachic discussions on addictions is the Maimonidean description of free will in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuva (Return/Penitence), chs. 5-6, where he explains the gradual loss of free choice in addictive behavior. However, another more optimistic psychological theme has also permeated halachic thinking. It is based on the statement of the Talmudic sage Resh Lakish (himself a former gladiator) in tractate Yoma 86b, that even intentional iniquities can be transformed into merits. This radical concept of "teshuva" was developed by R. Hasdai Crescas (1340-1411), chief Rabbi of Spain responding to the massive wave of conversions to Christianity in 1391. In the 20th century it was propounded by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine, in his book "Lights of Return". R. Kook's underlying kabbalistic purpose is to discover the spark of holiness embedded in the sin, and transform it into a force for goodness and strength. In your example of cybersex, the motivating spark is often an essential human yearning for intimacy. The redemptive power of "teshuva" can channel this Eros to a sanctified purity. Then your marital relationship will thrive.
The bottom line: Is this particular case of cybersex preoccupation irreparable? Or is there a chance to renew the romantic spark that initially brought you together? Perhaps it is still possible to transform the iniquity of cybersex into a catalyst for rejuvenating marital joy?
This question, in this form or some other, seems to manifest itself in each generation in a different way. The question remains, somehow, the same. Infidelity (which is clearly implied when the questioner said ‘the addict was deceitful and betrayed trust’) is the real issue. Cybersex, itself, is not the issue. It is the addiction to cybersex that is the issue.
To be sure, this addiction, like all addictions, is real. We usually associate addiction to tangible things like, food, drugs, alcohol, and so forth. But cybersex – the addiction to pornography – is a well-documented addiction. As such, it needs to be treated as an addiction and, like any other addiction, it must be treated with therapies of various types.
The addiction itself has lasted somewhere between 10 and 20 years. For this to be true – and I am quite certain it is – there is a very deep problem either in the marriage or in addict. This problem manifested itself in as a betrayal of trust – which I can only assume in this context means adultery. Of course, Jewish law is quite clear on this issue. Consensual sex between at least one partner who is married is forbidden.
The real issue for the questioner is how long is it possible to continue living in this arrangement. I fear that, without proper therapy, what has happened in the past will continue to happen into the indefinite future. Judging by the tone of your question, I will assume that you have grown frustrated with your partner. Sometimes a marriage can’t be saved even if both partners work hard at it. When addiction is compounded into the equation, sexual infidelity, and basic distrust, saving the marriage may be impossible.
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