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Intimacy and fertility questions

2 November, 2004

Question:

To whom it may concern,

I understand and agree with all of the good things they have to say about nidah and I keep it joyfully and wholeheartedly.

However, I have 3 questions and frustrations. I would appreciate it if you would be so kind to take the time to provide a sensitive and complete response. I read another frustrated person's questions to which a short and seemingly insensitive response was provided.

My first issue is as follows: When growing up and in school thorugh the teenage years, we are taught to not talk to or touch boys and to save ourselves for our husbands. So being the good girl that I am, I believed what they instilled in us and kept myself all for my husband. Then, I get married and think that – hey – I was a good girl and didn't do anything inappropriate before marriage so now that I did everything halachically, chupah and kiddushin, etc. I am free to do as I please with the husband with whom I saved myself for despite all of the challenges I faced.

And then I am told that for about 2 weeks out of every month (and that's assuming there are no stains, complications, and excluding post-partum extended period od separation) I can not even TOUCH or be affectionate with my husband??? Is this what I saved myself for? Is this what I did everything right for? Is this why I did chupah and Kiddushin befor ever even socializing with the opposite sex? Why? So that half of my married life I sould be unable to touch my dear husband or even be gazed at by him, let alone engage – heaven forbid! – in marital relations with him??!!

And to add insult to injury, the time of separation is during my period when I need my husband's comforting touch more than ever. And even more, after birth when a woman needs closeness and physical comfort more than any other occasion!!

My second issue is the fact that all of the material I've read, specifically the book "Family Purity" by Fishel Jacobs see to demonize the men by making them out for sexual beasts who need to be controlled during the prohibited times. It teaches us women to do or not do different things to "help him control himself". On the other hand, as opposed to taking the women's sexual desires into consideration, the only restrictions placed upon the man is to be sensitive to his wife and not make her feel guilty and that it is her fault.

The material takes no consideration of the woman's needs, desires, and frustrations. It makes us out to be these prude people who don't want or need sex and who are kind enough to "allow" their husbands to enjoy themselves. If the frustration was equal then there would be more restrictions on the part of men too. My husband is extremely insulted by this demonization of men and I as a woman feel cheated and slighted by this age-old outdated perspective of women and their libido.

My 3rd issue is that of fertility. I am confident without doubt that there are many women out there including myself who have ovulated time and again during the seven days and have missed ovulation because of that, and along with that the chance of getting pregnant that month. True that assuming a woman's cycle is the perfect 28 days they will ovulate exactly on the day of mikvah but that is not always the case and when it is, it is cutting it REAL close to the point where I am sure many people miss it.

In addition, if you will take a look at scientific studies you will see that doctors recommend having sex already from 2-3 days prior to ovulation to ensure that sperm is waitng when the egg arrives as sperm can live up to 3 days in the woman's body. Also, since abstinence is required by men during the time of separation, this also minimizes chances for conception as fertility experts have found that sperm dies after 3 days. That being so, by the time mikvah comes – if one hasn't missed ovulation, then the husband's sperm is likely dead anyway by then.

It just boggles my mind how halacha can actually REDUCE the chance of getting pregnant each month as if it isn't already naturally reduced as is?

Your prompt response to all of my above concerns are greatly appreciated. I eagerly anticipate hearing from you soon.

Thank you


Answer:

Thank you for your question. We are sorry that you found one of our replies insensitive. We try to do our best.

It is good to hear, as you state, that you feel joyful and wholehearted with most of the principles of hilchot niddah. Motivation is very significant in succeeding with the challenges presented by the laws of family purity.

1) The laws of modesty and proper sexual conduct accompany a Jewish person through the different stages of life. Living up to Torah standards in one stage does not render 'discounts' on the next. And the challenges of a religious life do not end with marriage; in some aspects, they've just begun. (Let me add that it is not uncommon for a person who wasn't fortunate enough to live up to their own standards before marriage to feel that such conduct has taken an emotional and spiritual toll on them, sometimes lasting years. Therefore, besides reaping the inherent rewards of keeping mitzvot, you just may have spared yourself some of the agonies of not doing so.)

During the niddah period, affection cannot be expressed physically. This is the time to try to pursue other aspects of the relationship, and other ways of showing affection. The focus should be on what you can do to reduce the stress without touching (for example, putting aside quality time to talk to each other). As you say, some situations (such as after childbirth) can be more difficult and frustrating than others. We are not obliged to love these challenges, but we can take pride in keeping the Torah even when times are rough.

2) The rabbis were aware of women's sexual desire and libido. Remember that the mitzvah of onah (marital relations) is an obligation of the husband to his wife. You are objecting to the halachot as you have seen them presented and explained in secondary sources. Most original sources simply state the restrictions that apply to each spouse, with a fair amount of symmetry intended to prevent touching or sexual intimacy on both sides. There are some differences, which reflect an understanding of difference between men and women. (This is also discussed in modern secular literature; see for example Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus). If the literature you have read to date about taharat hamishpacha has bothered you, you may enjoy a A Lifetime Companion to the Laws of Jewish Family Life, by Dr. Deena Zimmerman, a yoetzet halacha. In the book, and on this site, you will find the harchakot presented in a different manner from what you have described.  

3) On the topic of early ovulation, please see the articles on halachic infertility and the relevant questions and answers. Basically, it is true that the current halachic reality (which has existed since early in the Talmudic period and is a function of exile and the lack of a Temple) does occasionally reduce the chances of pregnancy. However, many actual cases can be resolved by eliminating mistaken stringencies in halachic practice (see the above mentioned Q&A). Medical intervention can also help in many cases.

4) Sperm stay alive for about 72 hours (possibly up to 5 days in the proper cervical fluid) after ejaculation. Therefore, it is okay for relations to take place slightly before the woman ovulates. The fact that men abstain during the time their wives are niddah does not further contribute to the fertility issue.


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