Six Jews Who Changed the Way We Talk About Sex

A (completely unscientific) look at the Chosen People with a specially chosen expertise.

Yael Miller
Yael Miller
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A pedestrian passes construction boards covering the front of a lingerie store.
A pedestrian passes construction boards covering the front of a lingerie store.Credit: Bloomberg
Yael Miller
Yael Miller

Jewish sex therapist Shirley Zussman recently turned 100, and after more than 50 years of giving sex advice to patients young and old, the sexpert continues to thrive. Zussman’s milestone got me thinking about all the people who have been famous for their sex advice or sexual escapades, and how many of those people are Jewish. In fact, I realized, there are a lot of Jewish people in the sex industry. From sexperts to researchers to pornstars, here’s my (entirely unscientific) list of the top six Chosen People with a specially chosen expertise:

The oldest Jewish sexpert

Shirley Zussman may be 100, but she’s still giving pertinent, savvy advice to people worldwide. Rather than chastising things like the pornography of today, she explains pornography as something that's been around since "prehistoric times." While you might blush at the prospect of someone older than your mother giving you a sex talk, Zussman's counsel goes far beyond the standard "birds and the bees": she gives the smart advice to stop looking at our computer screens and cell phones, and start getting out to make “real” connections.

Father of 'the slip'

Sigmund Freud, perhaps the most famous psychologist of all time, was also Jewish. From proclaiming that infants had sexual desire to his famous son-wishes-to-replace-his-father Oedipus Rex theory, he was probably also one of the most shocking theorists of the century. Far be it for me to wax poetic on a baby's sexual desire, but regardless, you gotta admire the guy for pushing the boundaries. This founder of psychoanalysis is not only known for his influence on the study of how humans think about sex, he has been dubbed one of the most influential minds of the 20th century. The namesake of the "Freudian slip," you can blame Freud the next time you make a faux pas and accidentally slip a naughty word at the Shabbat table.

Sigmund Freud in his working room in 1938. Photo by Sigmund Freud Museum / AP.

Doc’ around the block

We've all heard of famous Dr. Ruth - the Jewish grandmother we all know and love that gives lectures and advice to crowds on sex. This "little old lady" is larger than life: from fleeing the Nazis to dodging bombs in Israel, she's certainly been around the block. In between tweeting photos of herself with her grandchildren, she continues to provide sex advice to young and old alike. This superwoman is also a wine maker: her low alcohol wine supposedly helps men, erm, euphemistically "stay active" for sexual relations after drinking wine, as the low percentage of alcohol won't inhibit what's going on down there.

I can't imagine dumping bucket of ice water on oneself does much for the libido.

The most mainstream porn

Of course, we couldn’t leave out good ol' Ron Jeremy, a legend in and of himself, who's basically been elevated from the status of "porn star" to "regular star." He is arguably the most mainstream porn star today. As he said to TIME magazine, he was working in the Catskills ("like any Jewish boy," he says) at a hotel when he got his start with X-rated photos. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of appearances in porn films - and is also openly, and firmly, Jewish.

Nice Jewish boy of porn

James Deen, the "nice Jewish boy of porn" recently waxed poetic about knowing he wanted to be a porn star since he was in third grade at a Jewish primary school. (Interesting, when I was in third grade I wanted to be an art teacher… Each to his own.) In the pornographic film “Nice Jewish Girls,” James Deen played a rabbi who, well, did some pretty unprintable things. I didn't even realize there was a market for that kind of stuff.

James Deen. Photo by Wikipedia

The criminal Walt Disney

Apparently, Reuben Sturman, the "Walt Disney of Porn," was also Jewish. The son of Russian immigrants, Sturman, was convicted of tax evasion and other crimes and died in prison. If we set aside the fact that this guy was a convicted criminal with alleged links to massive crime organizations and just focus on his career in sex, we discover he had a profound impact on the pornography industry. Sturman updated the traditional peepshow by bringing in color TVs rather than real-life acts, established X-rated retail stores, and by the late 1970s, he owned over 200 adult bookstores, according to researcher Nathan Abrams. He was so popular that the U.S. Justice Department called him the number-one distributor of hardcore pornography in the United States.

A book published by Reuben Sturman's 'Exotik Books.'

Now, lest you begin to think that the fact that my list only includes secular Jews means the Haredim are lacking in lust, I’ve got news for you. Evidence suggests that the sex lives of ultra-Orthodox Jews are far from no-frills: from kosher sex toys to sexperts, they've got it covered, too.

So I think it's safe to say that while we may not all agree with Ron Jeremy's choice of profession or aspire to grow up to be a porn star like James Deen, most of us can take a page from Dr. Ruth or Dr. Zussman's book and recognize that age doesn't have to inhibit your ambitions or, well, libido.

Yael Miller lives in Washington, DC.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Alfred Kinsey was Jewish.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott