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March 22, 2007



I think that the Jewish law also says that spouses should avoid contact during menstruation as well. (There are many people here who are MUCH more informed about Judaism than I, so please correct me if I am wrong.) That would mean that spouses probably abstained for 11 days or longer. I am sure that there are many people who broke this rule--not exactly something you can closely regulate, but very interesting as many people who I talk to about abstaining for NFP are horrified at the notion of not having sex for 7 days in a row or more. But apparently Jewish people have been able to do it for centuries, and claim it has benefits. Any thoughts?


PS--Also interesting, as a general rule, if someone were to follow the Jewish laws of abstinence, they would resume sexual contact during the most fertile time of a woman's cycle. I guess God was serious when he said be fruitful and multiply?

Jelmer de Jong

Hi Shira. I always enjoy reading your thoughtful and very interesting writing. Lanaé gave me the link to your blog a few months ago, and ever since I've returned every now and then to read the newest additions. I trust you are doing well at Yale.. Furtermore, I hope your plans for the coming time shall be fulfilled. Someday, we'll meet again! Blessings, Jelmer.


The Hindu tradition is similar. No sex during the period and for up to 5 or so day afterwards. Also, it is supposed to be a time of rest for a woman, which I like a lot and am happy to have a legitimate excuse to rest a bit! Not sure if we have any sort of similar custom in the West.


I remember when I first moved here (to my predominantly Orthodox Jewish 'hood) noticing that religious couples never held hands walking down the street - but didn't make the connection till once, while walking with an Orthodox friend, she pointed out a couple who WAS holding hands, the woman being obviously pregnant. "That's why they can hold hands in public," she said. Because even though the couples would be able to touch during the days outside of the forbidden period, by touching in public they would invite people to speculate on whether they were in fact observing the purity laws, and even if they were, the observers would then know when the woman was having her period - and neither of these options would display modesty. But everyone would know that an obviously pregnant woman wouldn't be having her period so no prurient speculation would attach.

Not being Jewish, I'm rather glad that I don't have to abstain from ALL physical contact (including holding hands and kissing goodbye/hello) but it's neat to see that in fact it can be done. And that marriages can survive and indeed thrive without continuous sex; that communication on many different levels needs to be given a chance to develop and grow. Because there are going to be times in one's marriage (after the birth of a baby, for instance, or during times of illness or involuntary separation) when sex is not going to happen, and if you already know how to maintain your marriage through times of abstinence, you can face these occasions with equanimity.

John Jansen

Elin said: "Because there are going to be times in one's marriage (after the birth of a baby, for instance, or during times of illness or involuntary separation) when sex is not going to happen, and if you already know how to maintain your marriage through times of abstinence, you can face these occasions with equanimity."

Elin, I was going to say something along these lines, but you beat me to it.

Excellent point!


The observant Jews on this blog will probably be horrified by me. LOL

My husband and I observe the purity laws....to an extent. We aren't intimate during nor for seven days after. However, we do still touch each other - holding hands and such. Limiting intimate contact for ten to fourteen days each month does keep desire between us quite high; it's like having a honeymoon every month.

The universal application, I think, follows along these lines: That deliberate separation teaches us to communicate in non-sexual ways which helps create deeper relationships. It also teaches discipline and self control. Our culture is attached to sex when and where ever. Family purity teaches us that there is more to a strong relationship than just sex.


We practice NFP, and the days we cannot engage in sexual contact do, in fact, give us a honeymoon type experience as well as heightening excitement for the other. My husband was initially skeptical of these effects, but he is the one who pointed out its effects on us, and how much he appreciates them.

I agree with those who have talked about the times (such as after having a baby, or while someone is away on a business trip) when a couple must be (or should be, anyway) abstinent, and how these times of separation help prepare you for that. It becomes a time of anticipation rather than deprivation.

Alexandra Foley

I completely agree with the benefits of periodic abstinence as mentioned above: honeymoon effect etc. I also wanted to mention that in the pre-Vatican Catholic world, couples would abstain during times of fasting such as Lent, Advent and the Ember Days. So during these fasts, the lack of physical intimacy was to help you focus on the penitential quality of the season. (I have seen references to this in some novels such as Kristin Lavransdatter -- my favorite book.) I like the idea of abstaining for holy reasons and not just for child-spacing reasons. Forty days can be a long time, but the benefits (as mentioned above) are salutary for both the couple as well as the individual. And Sundays are never days of fasting :)


I just want to echo the other thoughts made here. The union between a husband and wife is supposed to be one that satiates. If I am truly connecting with my husband (mind, body, and spirit) I should not have to be with him again in a few hours or even the next night. My husband and I practice NFP and I just love it! It has actually increased our lovemaking. Most people, when they hear we are using NFP, balk at the idea of abstinence. I ask them, "So you and your spouse are making love every night?" -- I think if I count all of the days in a month I could "safely" be with my husband it would be around 17 days. Just about every study I've read concerning sexual frequency puts the times per month a married couple join together as around 4-12 times per month (yeah sure there are those that totally break these numbers...but this is the average). We have a Natural Fertility Appreciation counselor at the pregnancy center I work at. She tells the couples that the time of abstinence is a time for the husband to woo the wife. I LOVE that part! This is a time for back rubs and spooning and my husband playing with my hair, etc. It is also beneficial for the man --- periods of abstinence will increase his pleasure the next time he joins with his wife.

I also like this because the husband is respecting the woman's fertility. He is not asking her to chemically alter her body so he can be with her whenever. He respects the way God designed her and they make a choice to be together based upon thought and prayer and not just urge.

I recently counseled a girl who got pregnant 3 WEEKS after having her baby. Her boyfriend had NO respect for her and simply wanted to gratify himself. How precious it is when a husband can respect his wife's body -- and she too can respect herself.


This sounds really cool. I wonder if it would work on an unmarried but committed gentile couple? I'm gonna look into this, guess I'll let you know!


I've been thinking about this all weekend, and I don't think I could do it. Touch is a primary love language between my husband and I, and being told that not only can we not have sex for half the month. (Because my period is always 7 days and always has been), but not only not *touch* for that time. Half of my life. No way. This would be a deal breaker for me.

Shira Stanleigh

Thanks for all of the comments everyone. I must admit, this was my first time encountering "NFP", but it's fascinating that this practice exists external to a mainstream religious organization or institution...further reinforcing my underlying sentiment here, which is: these laws are not exclusively for religious devotees, as much as [possibly] helpful for all people seeking to forge deeper, more meaningful relationships!
Jews indeed have been observing these customs for centuries--and many observant ones live, love and swear by them...


One thing, though, in a society without birth control and where women would breastfeed for several years, this is not really a big deal, since breastfeeding ihibits fertility in most women. I've only had 8 periods in the past 15 years between being pregnant and nursing each of my six children for an average of two years.


what a bunch of feminist bulls--t. basically, what these women are saying is, 'i'll "join" with you when i feel like it'. it doesn't matter what you want, it's what i want that matters. lol....what a pile of b.s.

of course i'm not suggesting some brute take his wife by the hair and drag her into his cave, etc, etc. however, limp wristed 'men' who allow their wives to completely dictate sex are just that...limp wristed sissies. those of you that this applies to may not like reading this, but it's true. who makes the decisions in your family? oh...don't even go there. "we both do"...yea, whatever!


jt, not sure if you are joking or what exactly. You DO realize that Jewish purity laws and NFP are not cases of women unilaterally dictating to their husbands when they are going to have sex, don't you?

For one thing, I don't think anybody can do either of those things without both spouses being equally committed to it.

More importantly, neither Jewish purity laws nor NFP are structured according to when EITHER the man or the woman feels like having sex. Both are based on the menstrual cycle - not the way either partner happens to "feel" at a given point in time.

As for being "feminist" b.s. - that's pretty funny - because I think both these practices are usually outright rejected by feminists - although as we see here there are some women who find them liberating in ways the "feminist" movement wouldn't think of.

Danielle, I'm glad that breastfeeding worked as a contraceptive for you but it doesn't always. I have several friends who got pregnant while breastfeeding without ever getting a period in between. For myself (I have a 4 month old) I am just not prepared to trust breastfeeding from keeping me from having 2 kids in under 13 months! I don't know much about NFP but I think there's more to it than just observing periods.


Hi, new to this blog and really appreciate all the discussion here. Just wanted to add my 2 cents about breastfeeding and fertility. While known as "lactational amenorrhea", this effect of not being fertile is due to much more than just breastfeeding, though that is the main factor. *Exclusive* breastfeeding is key to using this method for family planning. Many women find their fertility returns (or that theyre' pregnant, surprise!) around the time their baby begins to eat solid foods- the baby may not be taking a bottle but introduction of solids means baby is no longer *exclusively* breastfed.

The frequency and duration of breastfeeding is a factor, as well as amount of physical contact between mother and baby. The more nursing and contact the more likely/longer the lactational amenorrhea will last. Pacifier use can also be a factor in earlier return of meses in a breastfeeding mother, as it may replace the breastfeeding that a baby may do for comfort rather than nutrition/calories. Sleeping in proximity to your baby also promotes this timely phase of infertility.

It just makes sense to me that the more a baby needs mother physically, the less desirable it would be to have another baby, and our bodies are wired for that reality!

I have three children and experienced Lact. amenorrhea for 12 mos with first, 18 mos with second and 17 months with third.


My point was not that breastfeeding acts as birth control - but that it renders the purity laws much less onerous than one might suppose from the point of view of our society. Most women in Bible times would have gone from one pregnancy to the next with very few periods in between. There would have been very few occasions for them to actually observe the purity laws.


As a muslim woman I agree with abstaining from sex for certain reasons.But I think not being able to have any physical contact for any during a womans menstruation is kind of harsh. In Islam husband and wife are forbidden from having sexual intercourse during the days she is impure. But there is still physical contact. so you can still kiss and such just no sex.

Now when a woman has a baby it is recommended that there be no sexual intercourse for 40 days after the baby is born. This gives the woman time to heal and have sometime to herself,which is great because when you can have intercourse it is like a honeymoon.You just cross your fingers and hope you dont get pregnant too soon!!!!!!!


I went looking for some answers after my husband approached me with the statement he read in the Old Testament laws during his bible study last night. He said that the Lord was against sexual intercourse during and 7 days after the menstrual cycle. This we had never questioned in the past. It truly made me feel that in his eye's I was "unclean". I now feel to abstain during and for the 7 days after my monthly cycle. I thought that after the Messianic law, the time of Christ resurrection and forward, that we are no longer under the law but under grace and the Messianic tight structure placed on the Jews no longer apply. That is the belief as a gentile that is. We are both Christian/Non-Jewish, should I now feel we need to apply this law to our marriage?

My husband wants to do further research to find out if this should still apply as “God’s will” for today. I wanted to know your thoughts.

Paul Clutterbuck

Jacob Neusner wrote 500 books in 40 years; I doubt that he would have had the energy to do that if it wasn't for NFP. There's a lot to be said for sublimating one's sexual energies on a regular basis so that one can put those energies into one's life mission. NFP allows this to happen without depriving either partner of their conjugal rights.

If one has abstained from sexual activity until marriage, then abstaining for up to 14 days at a time shouldn't be a problem. Problems only arise if people haven't learned to discipline their passions before they marry.

I first came across NFP in the early 1990s, and when I learned that it can give greater pleasure to a woman I committed myself to practising it. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says in his book Kosher Sex that NFP allows a couple to be both lovers and friends. I like that!

Last year, I was engaged to a (non-observant) Jewish woman while also taking an anti-androgen for prostate cancer. I went so far as to ask the specialists in charge of my treatment if I could cycle it 2 weeks on/2 weeks off, so I could create an androgen-progestogen cycle. My request eventually led to my withdrawing the medication entirely.

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