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Kosher Sex: A Q&A on Jewish Sexuality

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I'm a Jew. How do I have Kosher sex?

I'm Hanne Blank, the Jewish editor on the Scarleteen staff. I'm going to take a quick stab at answering your question, though really, the best way to get an answer (which you probably know) is from a rabbi you trust.

I don't know if you are Orthodox or not, but if you are, perhaps you've heard of a term called "taharat hamispocheh" (rough transliteration). These are the laws (halacha) of family purity, or so they're called. They cover life situations involving sexuality and sexual activity, including when during a woman's menstrual cycle (they will presume that this is your wife, by the way: extramarital and premarital sex are considered wrong, and thus the law doesn't really deal with them much) it is okay to have sex with your partner. If you are curious about taharat hamishpocheh, the best brief introduction I know of to how all that stuff works is in rebbetzin Blu Greenberg's "How To Run a Jewish Household," a very general book that you may well be able to find in your public library or in your synagogue library.

Otherwise, there is a book (more recent, and not written expressly for Jews) called Kosher Sex, which you should be able to find in public libraries and in bookstores as well. I do not, I am afraid, know this book too terribly well.

Basically, my understanding of what constitutes religiously "kosher" sex is that it be sex with your wife (if you're a man, or with your husband if you're a woman). Different communities within Judaism tend to teach different things in regard to what kinds of sex are appropriate and not appropriate. Many Jews from traditional communities say that they were told that oral sex was sinful, and so was any anal stimulation or penetration. As far as I know, there is no ban on any of this in the Torah or in the halacha, strictly speaking, it seems to be stuff that has grown up around the notion that sex is primarily about 1) pleasure between the married members of a couple, and 2) producing children.

As you may already know, there is a lot of emphasis, particularly in more traditional communities, about having kids. Many Jews in those communities are encouraged to have large families, but not everyone wants or can afford to do that. Nowadays, it is more common to permit birth control, as long as a person and his/her spouse do intend to have at least 2 children (the idea is to replace yourselves with new Jews, at least, and have more if you can) later on. Again, what an individual rabbi in an individual community might say may vary, and some groups (particularly Hasidim) really frown on any birth control at all.

As a Jew, my take on it is this: if you are having sex with someone you love and care for, and you are extremely careful not to hurt yourself or hurt them, either emotionally, physically, spiritually, or in any other way, then it is very probably A-OK with G-d the way I understand Him. Judaism has a long history of believing strongly in the value of sexual pleasure (within marriage specifically, but anyway), and in the value of our sensual bodies and their ability to feel pleasurable things. Go look up the concept of "onah" sometime in a Jewish encyclopedia if you are curious about just how important this can be to Jewish history and Jewish law. So, anyway, I feel that "kosher" sex can be almost any sex if you are approaching it from a reverent, careful, loving, and non-selfish standpoint.

Ultimately, ask yourself this: "Is what I am doing selfish in any way? Does what I am doing express love and caring for this person I am with (even if you are just by yourself, masturbating, which is also okay!)? Does this express hesed (loving kindness) to this person? Are the people involved in this activity likely to benefit from it, and are they as UNlikely as possible to be hurt or damaged in any way by it?" If you're not doing it for selfish reasons, if you're doing it to express love, caring, and kindness, if the people involved are more likely to benefit and very unlikely to be hurt... I think you're on very much the right track.

I encourage you to talk to your rabbi about it if you feel that you can trust him. You might also talk to your rebbetzin, sometimes it is easier to approach a woman you trust about these sensitive issues. And of course, you know, it is always okay to ask G-d what He thinks. :)

written 28 Apr 2007 . updated 24 Jan 2014

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