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QUESTION

Are there halakhic concerns about a woman masturbating during the sheva neki’im (7 clean days before she goes to the mikveh)?

ANSWER

In regards to female masturbation in general, many poskim are of the opinion that this is permitted (you can hear our Joy of Text podcast on this topic, here). Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe EH 1:69) rules that it is nevertheless forbidden to be thinking of doing acts of sexual transgression, as this would fall in the category of הרהור עבירה, indulging in sinful thoughts. This may, however, only apply to cases where one is actual thinking about really doing such acts, and not merely fantasizing.

When a women is in a state of niddah – whether when she is actively menstruating or when she is during the period of sheva neki’im – and cannot be having sex with her husband, it seems to me that it would likewise be permitted. I can see three possible reasons that one might want to be more strict:

  1. Perhaps stimulating the genital area will lead to bleeding. I do not believe that this has any basis in fact.
  2. The Gemara‘s concept of דם חימוד – that strong sexual desire can produce uterine bleeding. This concept, however, plays almost no role in practical Halakha (outside of the issue of when a woman goes to the mikveh before her wedding). If it did, every time a woman was about to have sex with her husband, she would have to check that her desire did not cause her to bleed. While there have been some who have ruled this way, this is certainly not how we pasken.
  3. It is improper to be having sexual thoughts at a time when one cannot be with her husband. I cannot, however, see any good basis for this assertion. First, often the case is that someone is having sexual thoughts and feelings regardless, and masturbating actually provides a healthy outlet for these feelings. It could even be seen as a safeguard from acting on those feelings, and having sex with her husband when she is a niddah, which would be a serious violation. As to the concern that masturbating will stimulate and increase such feelings – again, unless there was a concern that this would lead to acting on these feelings, I do not see why this should be forbidden or in any ways different than masturbating at other times.

I do, think, however, that the woman should not hide from her husband the fact that she is doing this. If her husband knows that she is masturbating to relieve sexual tension, it makes it part of their shared sexual relationship, and ultimately even her sexual thoughts and fantasies can tie back to her relationship with her husband. If, however, it is something that is done in secret, then it could be experienced either by her or by him, as a form of “cheating” on one’s spouse.

This is the approach I would take in general, even not during niddah. I don’t think that means having to let the spouse know each time it is happening, just a general awareness that this is something that one does from time to time.

It is important to note that during niddah in particular, the husband may likewise be having sexual feelings and struggling with his urges at a time that he cannot act on them, and for him, masturbating is not a halakhically acceptable option (if he is concerned that if he doesn’t masturbate he might be tempted to have sex with his wife when she is a niddah, then that is a different matter. See בית שמואל, אבה”ע, ס’ כ”ג ס”ק א). This is all the more reason to be in conversation with each other about this, so it does not feel that one person is taking care of her needs, and the other’s needs are not even being acknowledged.