Peninei Halakha

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10. The Prohibition of Masturbation for Women

Women likewise may not stimulate themselves to reach orgasm. This is because sexual desire should be safeguarded for the enhancement of love and devotion between husband and wife, not for selfish gratification. However, for two related reasons, the prohibition for women is not as severe as the prohibitions for men. Firstly, with regard to men, ejaculation impedes the mitzva of ona, because a man’s sexual potency is limited, and when he wastes seed, it diminishes his desire to be with his wife. If the couple’s set time of ona is that day, sometimes he will not be able to have sexual relations with her even if he wants to. In contrast, a woman is not limited in this way. Even if she brings herself to orgasm, she will likely be able to have another orgasm with her husband. She will certainly be able to have sexual relations with him.

Secondly, a man’s semen has the potential to impregnate, and masturbation wastes that potential. In contrast, the secretions that issue as a result of a woman’s masturbation cannot lead to conception; even after they have exuded, her ovum can be fertilized as before.

Nevertheless, a woman may not stimulate herself, because that pleasure should be reserved for strengthening a couple’s relationship.

There is another difference between men and women in this regard. A man is very easily stimulated, and any touch of his penis can be arousing. Therefore, the Sages forbade a man to touch his penis, lest it result in the wasting of seed (see section 5 above). However, with respect to women, ordinary contact with the vaginal area is not too stimulating. Therefore, the Sages state that the more frequently a woman performs bedikot (internal examinations to check for menstrual blood), more praiseworthy she is (Nidda 13a).[15]

[15]. It is implied in the view of Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot on Nidda 13a) that it is not prohibited for women to masturbate, which is why the Sages regarded it as praiseworthy for women to perform frequent bedikot. This is also implied by Birkei Yosef, YD 335:5. However, according to the Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, Ran, and Me’iri, women many not stimulate themselves manually, and the reason that vaginal examinations are permitted, even encouraged, is because they are not arousing. The prohibition is based on the verse relating to the flood: “All flesh had corrupted its ways on earth” (Bereishit 6:12); “all flesh” includes women, who also corrupted their ways. Furthermore, one who is drawn to gratify her improper desires is liable to sin in other ways as well. The root issue, according to all of these explanations, is that behaving this way impairs the marital covenant, for all of this desire should be directed toward strengthening the couple’s love and devotion through the mitzvot of ona and procreation. (The connection of women to the mitzva of procreation is explained in 5:3 below.) Arizal said: “Know that just as a man who wastes seed when not with a woman creates demons, so too a woman creates demons if she is not with a man. This is alluded to by the verse… ‘plague will not come near your tent’ (Tehillim 91:10). That is, the ‘plague’ – the demonic masculine (samekh-mem dekhura) – ‘will not come near your tent’, meaning your wife” (Arizal, Sha’ar Ha-kavanot, Derushei Ha-layla 7, cited in Responsa Torah Lishma §504). Nevertheless, it is not as severe a prohibition as masturbation is for men, so Arizal did not establish a series of fasts for women to atone for this sin.

If a woman is finding it difficult to enjoy sexual relations and is advised by a God-fearing therapist to try to stimulate herself, she may do so. The reason for this is twofold. First, the purpose is to facilitate observance of the mitzva of ona. Second, in pressing circumstances the permissive opinions of Rabbeinu Tam and Birkei Yosef may be relied upon. (See also Ḥidushei Ḥatam Sofer on Nidda 13a, which seems to rule leniently regarding a married woman thinking of her husband.)

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Editor: Nechama Unterman