Halacha generally permits ejaculation of semen only in the context of vaginal intercourse (or occasionally with anal intercourse, according to some opinions). Otherwise, ejaculation may violate the prohibition of hotza’at zera levatalah, wasting of seed.
1) The withdrawal method of birth control is prohibited, as exemplified by the Biblical story of Er and Onan (Genesis 38), is prohibited.
2) Male masturbation is generally prohibited.
3) Barrier methods of contraception that do not allow the flow of semen into the vagina are prohibited. This is the problem with the use of condoms, which are almost never allowed outside of life-threatening situations. Some authorities maintain that diaphragms and sponges are also prohibited because of hotza’at zera levatalah, while others disagree because their placement does not interfere with the normal course of relations.
4) In cases of sexual disorders, a couple should consult a halachic authority about how to observe this halacha in light of their specific situation.
5) Many halachic authorities permit semen collection for fertility evaluation or procedures.
This site follows the halachic view that the prohibition of hotza’at zera levatalah does not apply when ejaculation is for the purpose of helping a couple to conceive.
There are two main halachic options for collecting semen: through relations with a semen-collection condom or through manual stimulation.
Many halachic authorities prefer collection through relations with a condom, since it more closely mimics regular relations. Others, including our site’s rabbinic supervisor, Rav Yehuda Henkin, maintain that both alternatives are equally permissible and leave choice of methods to a couple’s preference.
- Collection via Relations This type of collection is conducted with a sterile, non-lubricated condom, without spermicide and in a private space (preferably not at a facility). Some halachic authorities prefer that the condom be perforated (as with a sterile pin-prick), so that semen could theoretically enter the vaginal canal.
- Collection via Manual Stimulation When choosing this alternative, a couple should preferably take measures to distance this act further from the prohibition of hotza’at zera levatalah and thus also to distinguish it from masturbation. Either the wife could stimulate her husband (since she is not personally prohibited in hotza’at zera levatalah) or he should use his non-dominant hand or wear a thick glove.
Only the last option, a man stimulating himself, is permissible when the wife is niddah. However, even for time-sensitive procedures, couples preferring the other options may be able to choose them and then freeze the sperm.
Yoatzot Halacha Fertility Counselors offer personal consultations to women and couples who seek halachic guidance throughout the fertility journey. Details here.
Updated June 2020.