Monday, May 21, 2012

Female Masturbation in Halacha - Guest Post

This post was emailed to me by a female reader, and asked for a place to post it. I complied. Here it is in its entirety.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a definitive halachic analysis or a 'psak' that applies to all cases - this is a very sensitive issue and each person must speak to their own Rav if they require halachic guidance. This is only research, advice and guidance given by some Rabbis that I asked. Note that this issue is NOT black on white - it is a very gray area!

Female masturbation (FM) – is it halachically permitted? There was a recent article in the YU Beacon that says that FM is completely permitted, but that women feel negatively towards masturbation because of the Issur of Hashchatat Zera Levatala. It goes on to say that they shouldn't feel this way because the obligation does not apply to women and that women feel guilty about this for no reason.
Frankly I have difficulty believing that there’s absolutely NO problem whatsoever with female masturbation (FM from now on) so I decided to do a bit of research and ask a few Rabbis, and these are the issues I came across.

I'd like to split the topic up into three seperate issues:
1. The halachic issues surrounding the technical act FM and sexual fantasy
2. Hashkafic and ethical issues relating to this kind of behaviour
3. Advice and guidance

Part 1: Halachic Analysis of FM
Specific Prohibition
The severe halachic prohibition concerning masturbation is focused on the wasting of semen involved in male masturbation. The main discussion of this is in the Gemara on Niddah 13a. It's pretty clear from there that the wasting of semen is the principal problem and other issurim (or a man touching parts of the penis, even when just urinating) are introduced as a way to avoid behaviour which may lead to full male masturbation. It seems from this that the actual act of FM is not subject to a specific prohibition.

‫תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף יג עמוד א‬

דא"ר יוחנן: כל המוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה חייב מיתה

The act of male masturbation to the point of ejaculation is clearly prohibited and brought in halacha - see Rambam Issurei Biah 21:18 and Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer Siman 23. Again - no mention of women.

‫רמב"ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק כא הלכה יח‬

‫אסור להוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה, לפיכך לא יהיה אדם דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ, ולא ישא קטנהשאינה ראויה לילד, אבל אלו שמנאפין ביד ומוציאין שכבת זרע לא די להם שאיסור גדול הוא אלאשהעושה זה בנדוי הוא יושב ועליהם נאמר ידיכם דמים מלאו וכאילו הרג הנפש‬

‫שולחן ערוך אבן העזר הלכות אישות סימן כג‬

‫איסור הוצאת זרע לבטלה ודברים המביאים לכך, ובו ז' סעיפים‬

‫סעיף א‬

‫א (א) א] אסור להוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה ועון זה חמור מכל עבירות שבתורה. ב] לפיכך לא יהיהאדם דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ, ב (ב) ג] ולא ישא קטנה שאינה ראויה לילד‬

There is a reference in the sugya there to the severity of a man causing himself purposefuly to have an erection. The reason given is interestingly not 'in case he masturbates' but:

‫תלמוד בבלי מסכת נדה דף יג עמוד ב‬

‫מעטרה ולמעלה - אסור. אמר רב: המקשה עצמו לדעת יהא בנדוי, ולימא אסור! דקמגרי יצה"ראנפשיה. ורבי אמי אמר: נקרא עבריין, שכך אומנתו של יצר הרע, היום אומר לו עשה כך, ולמחראומר לו עשה כך, ולמחר אומר לו לך עבוד עבודת כוכבים - והולך ועובד. איכא דאמרי, אמר רביאמי: כל המביא עצמו לידי הרהור אין מכניסין אותו במחיצתו של הקב"ה, ‬

The Concern here is that a person is throwing himself into an act of 'ta'ava' and 'giving in' to the Yetser Hara which will then have a further hold on him - to the point of even inciting him to do avoda zara. This doesn't seem to have anything specifically to do with wasting semen but is a general issue of 'giving in to ta'ava' and it does not specifically mention a gender.

The prohibition of generating/giving in to ta'ava is also brought in the halacha in two places: Shulchan Aruch O.C. 240:4 states that a man may not look directly at his wife's private parts since this is 'megare yetser hara'. Even though this is directed at man, the concept could also apply to a woman. Shulchan Aruch O.C. 307:16 also prohibits (men and women) reading erotic literature for the same reason. It would make sense that FM in order to generate sexual stimulation would also fall under the same category - but see part 3 below. Lastly, giving in to ta'ava for the sake of ta'ava is not conducive to growth (see Avot, 4:21) where it says that jealousy, pleasure and honour take man out of this world.
‫שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות ק"ש ותפלה של ערבית סימן רמ סעיף ד‬

* ‫אסור להסתכל באותו מקום, שכל המסתכל שם אין לו בושת פנים, ועובר על: והצנע לכת (מיכהו, ח), ומעביר הבושה מעל פניו, שכל המתבייש אינו חוטא, דכתיב: ובעבור תהיה יראתו על פניכם(שמות כ, כ) זו הבושה, לבלתי תחטאו (שמות כ, כ) ועוד דקא מגרה יצר הרע בנפשיה, * וכל שכןהנושק שם, שעובר על כל אלה ועוד, שעובר על: בל תשקצו את נפשותיכם‬.

‫שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות שבת סימן שז סעיף טז‬

‫מליצות ומשלים של שיחת (נח) חולין ודברי חשק, כגון ספר עמנואל, וכן ספרי מלחמות, אסורלקרות בהם בשבת; ואף בחול אסור (נט) כב משום מושב לצים (תהילים א, א), * כג ועובר משוםאל תפנו אל האלילים (ויקרא יט, ד) לא תפנו (ס) אל מדעתכם; ובדברי חשק, איכא תו משום מגרהיצר הרע; ומי שחיברן ומי שהעתיקן, (סא) וא"צ לומר המדפיסן, * מחטיאים את הרבים. הגה:ונראה לדקדק הא דאסור (סב) לקרות בשיחת חולין וספורי מלחמות, היינו דוקא אם כתוביםבלשון לע"ז, (סג) <יג> אבל כד בלשון הקודש, (סד) שרי. (וכנ"ל מלשון שכתבו התוספות פרקכל כתבי, וכן נהגו להקל בזה‬). 

‫משנה מסכת אבות פרק ד משנה כא‬

[‫כג] רבי אליעזר הקפר אומר הקנאה והתאוה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם‬:

Sexual Fantasy
This is an entirely seperate issur min hatorah of 'Lo Tatutu Acharei Levavchem Veacharei Eineichem'. This prohibition includes a) fantasizing about doing any aveira (not only sexual) - see Rambam Hilchot Avodah Zara 2:3; and b) looking at things which arouse one to sexual desire which is prohibited as erva - see Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 4:4. This would include reading erotica or looking at pornography - see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 307:16 (sourced above).
As such, fantasizing about sexual acts with a specific man (or woman) to whom one is prohibited in order to generate arousal would be prohibited (this also applies if you are fantasizing about kissing a boy or breaking shomer negia). This would include Jews and non-Jews. It may be that general fantasy about sex acts without a specific person in mind may not be the same, although the comments above about generating ta'ava would still apply.
Similarly, reading arotica or pornography to stimulate FM would be a problem of 'Lo Taturu'
A woman may not fantasize in any way about another man - a women may LOOK at another woman or man undressed (reiyah), but as soon as she starts having sexual intent (histaklut), she comes under lo taturu (men cannot even 'look' at women naked. Rashi on the passuk Lo Taturu in Bamidbar 16:39 seems relevant:-

הלב והעינים הם מרגלים לגוף ומסרסרים לו את העבירות, העין רואה והלב חומד והגוףעושה את העבירות

Part 2: Hashkafic Considerations

Excessive focusing on and stimulating Ta’ava is always going to be negative for personal growth and will also restrict general tikun hamidot. Tikun Hamidot itself is also a halachic obligation of ‘Vehalachta Bidrachaiv’, albeit a less defined and more subjective one. There are many references to the negativity of Ta’ava from Pirkei Avot 4:21 onwards

Part 3: Advice and Guidance

This is the hardest part of all. Everything above may be correct in principle but the question is how one can integrate that into their personal life, with all the issues that affect each person specifically. Sex drive can be extremely powerful and dominant and very difficult to subdue. This is of course a major challenge for many young men for whom life without masturbation is very difficult indeed.

It is critically important not to allow guilt feelings about this kind of thing to block religious growth and cause negative self-esteem. Whilst, for all the reasons above, I would not go so far as to say that FM is totally halachically permitted, it is certainly not something which should be central to one's cheshbon hanefesh. Many other areas of halachic and general Jewish life are much more central to growth as a Jew and these should be your focus.

When it comes to FM, one should certainly try to avoid the problems of Hirhurim/Lo Taturu and inappropriate reading material. One should also aim to try and masturbate less rather than more (with most people, the more they self-stimulate and engage in FM, the more they want to). If however one feels that pent up sexual energy is blocking her personal equilibrium and spiritual growth, and some masturbation is essential, this may be a necessary outlet at this stage.

Hope that was something to think about...


  1. Thank you very much for publishing my post Wondering Minds! Much appreciated.

    For all the readers, I would just like to clarify the reason that I wanted this to be posted. I posted it for girls to read. I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue, doing research on it, and working on it. I wanted to make other girls aware of the issues so that IY'H it would maybe help someone else with their religious growth. And also to rebutt the article in the beacon.

  2. You've read everything wrong. The reason why it is forbidden to arouse oneself (for a man) is because it will lead to ejaculation. That is the aveirah which causes one to do another avairah until he eventually does avoda zara. Same with looking at arousing things. A man may look at his wife sexually(except for oto makom for a separate reason) even when not engaging in the act, because he has a permitted outlet should he need one. Vlo taturu is talking about doing an aveirah, asher zonim achreihem.

    Both this post and the Beacon miss the gemarah about Shmuel in Yivamot and his daughters. It speaks of nashim ha'misolalot ze bazeh. Rashi has a very odd explanation there. More likely (and based on Yerushalmi) it speaks of mutual masturbation and says that although there is no issur per say, but according to some opinions are pagum lakahunah. Many read this gemara as as lesbianism but in halacha there is no distinction between an act done on oneself or another since both do not include penetration. Lesbianism in of itself maybe forbidden not because of the acts involved as much a the unnatural lifestyle they openly live.

    I should point out that according to the Talmud women also have a seed they ejaculate, but it is irrelevant since they have no mitzvah of piru urivu. Of course we know this is not true. Although according to some authorities they are including in the navi's mitzvah to populate the world. But since masturbation doesn't effect this is a non-issue.

    Others raise this issue of braking the bisulim, because according to the talmud אין האשה כורתת ברית אלא למי שעשהה כלי. Firstly this isn't applicable to most masturbation, which doesn't include penetration. Secondly the Talmud's understanding of female anatomy is dead wrong. There is no kli that is being made and all that is happening is the stretching of the hymen. Third it's up to her to decide if she cares about this.


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