In this episode, Dr. Marcus and Rabbi Linzer tackle female masturbation and interview Miryam Kabakov about Eshel, a group for LGBT Orthodox Jews. In the Q&A: is it permissible to talk “dirty?”This episode was recorded live at Limmud NY.
These sources accompany the third episode of the Joy of Text podcast
The Mishna states that there is no problem with women manually stimulating their genitals.
Rashi states that the key problem is ejaculation, which would not be an issue for women.
Tosafot states that women might even be permitted to destroy a man’s semen because they are not commanded regarding procreation. He concludes that this may not be the case, but there is no problem for them to manually stimulate themselves, since they do not ejaculate their “seed” outside their bodies.
Ramban states that women may manually stimulate themselves because they do not become aroused as a result (!). If they would be aroused, it would be a problem not of destroying seed, but because they are causing themselves to have sexual thoughts. It would seem according to this, that for Ramban women would not be allowed to masturbate if it led to sexual thoughts.
רמב׳׳ן על נדה י׳׳ג א
אף על פי שאינן מצוות כאנשים ולא דינן ליקצץ מ”מ לא היתה יד המרבה לבדוק יותר מדאי משובחת לפי שהיא משחיתה ואין שבח בהשחתה אפילו לנשים, ועוד דהא מביאה עצמה לידי הרהור ואלו היתה בת הרגשה בת נדוי היא כדלקמן, ולפיכך הוצרכו בגמ’ לפרש דלאו בנות הרגשה נינהו
Ramban, Niddah 13a
Arguing against Rabbeinu Tam who states that women are not commanded regarding wasting seed because they are not commanded regarding procreation -] But even if they weren’t commanded in this regard like men, and their hand would not be deserving of being cut off, it would not make sense to say that if they check excessively they should be praised! For [if they did have “sensation” and this did cause their seed to emit,] she would be destroying her seed, and there would be nothing to praise for their destruction of seed, even for women! Moreover, through the checking she would be bringing herself to have sexual thoughts if she did ‘experience sensations,’ and she would be deserving of being put under the ban, as the Gemara states later (for someone who brings himself to have sexual thoughts). Therefore, the Gemara needed to explain that they do not, in fact, experience “sensation.”
The Talmud believed – as was widely believed at the time – that women emitted seed which combined with the semen to make a fetus. Nevertheless, it was not prohibited for them to stimulate themselves, either because the seed would not spill outside the body (Tosafot), or the stimulation would not lead to sexual excitement (Ramban).
Hippocrates, On the Generating Seed and the Nature of the Child 4-5
(4) In the case of women, it is my contention that when during intercourse the vagina is rubbed and the womb is disturbed, an irritation is set up in the womb which produces pleasure and heat in the rest of the body. A woman also releases something from her body, sometimes into the womb, which then becomes moist, and sometimes externally as well, if the womb is open wider than normal. Once intercourse has begun, she experiences pleasure throughout the whole time, until the man ejaculates. If her desire for intercourse is excited, she emits before the man, and for the remainder of the time she does not feel pleasure to the same extent; but if she is not in a state of excitement, then her pleasure terminates along with that of the man…. The pleasure experienced by the woman during intercourse is considerably less than the man’s, although it lasts longer. The reason that the man feels more pleasure is that the secretion from the bodily fluid in his case occurs suddenly, and as the result of a more violent disturbance than in the woman’s case.
Another point about women: if they have intercourse with men their health is better than if they do not…
(5) When a woman has intercourse, if she is not going to conceive, then it is her practice to expel the sperm produced by both partners whenever she wishes to do so. If however she is going to conceive, the sperm is not expelled, but remains in the womb. For when the womb has received the sperm it closes up and retains it, because the moisture causes the womb’s orifice to contract. Then both what is provided by the man and what is provided by the woman is mixed together. If the woman is experienced in matters of childbirth, and takes note when the sperm is retained, she will know the precise day on which she has conceived.
According to Rav Moshe, the only problem with sexual thoughts when there is no concern of spilling semen is if the thoughts are a concrete planning to do a sexual sin. For Rav Moshe, it would be permitted for a woman to masturbate and excite herself sexually, even to the point of orgasm, as long as everything remained in the realm of fantasy and not actual planning to sin.
אגרות משה אבן העזר א:סט
באיסורי הרהור מקרא דונשמרת וקרא דאחרי עיניכם ה’ מנ”א תשי”א…
והנה שני עניני איסור הרהור יש האחד מקרא דונשמרת מכ”ד רע בכתובות דף מ”ו שאיתא שם מכאן א”ר פינחס בן יאיר אל יהרהר אדם ביום ויבא לידי טומאה בלילה… משום שזה מביא לידי טומאת קרי שאסור להוציא לבטלה. והשני מקרא דאחרי עינכם דדריש בברכות דף י”ב זה הרהור עברה אינו מצד חששת הוצאת זרע לבטלה אלא הוא איסור מלהרהר לעשות העברה דזנות…
ולכן יש חלוק בנשים דבאיסור הרהור מקרא דונשמרת ליתנהו דאינו גורם להן שום דבר במשמוש עיי”ש בנדה וכ”ש שלא יגרום בהרהור ואף שלפעמים רואות דם מחמוד אין ראיית דם שום איסור.
אבל איסור הרהור מקרא דאחרי עיניכם שהוא שלא להרהר לעבור עברת זנות איכא גם בנשים כמו שאיכא איסור הרהור ע”ז כדאיתא בחינוך שהבאתי. אבל לאיסור זה אין לחוש בהסתכלות ובראיית בע”ח נזקקין שכל אלו דרשינן מונשמרת שהוא רק שלא לבא להוצאת זרע לבטלה שליתא זה בנשים.
ולחוש שמא תבאנה מזה להרהר לעשות איסורין להבעל לאסור לה לא מצינו ששייך לחוש לזה בהסתכלות וכדומה וכדאשכחן שהיו הנשים מותרות להסתכל בר’ יוחנן כשסלקו מטבילה.
אך יש איסור אחר בנשים מדין דת יהודית שלא להתנהג בפריצות בכתובות דף ע”ב אבל מצד זה הוא רק כשהיא עצמה עושה כך אבל כשדרך כל הנשים בעירה כן אין שייך להחשיב זה לפריצות ואין חלוק מה שנעשה דרך הנשים שבעיר היה משום פריצות דעכ”פ כיון שכן הוא דרך לבישתן והלוכן אין להחשיב זה למעשה פריצות ולאסור עליהן אלא מדרך חסידות לצניעות יתירא ותע”ב, ידידו, משה פיינשטיין
Iggrot Moshe, EH 1:69
Regarding the prohibition of sexual thoughts from the verse “and you shall guard yourself against every evil thing,” and the verse, “do not stray after your eyes,”, 5 Av 1951…
Behold, there are two prohibitions regarding sexual thoughts. One is based on the verse, “And you shall guard yourself against every evil thing,” – see Ketuvot 46 where it states, “From this verse, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said: ‘A person should not have sexual thoughts in the day lest he come to impurity in the night’.”… This is prohibited because it leads to seminal emission, which cannot be done for naught. The second prohibition is based on the verse, “Do not stray after your eyes” – which is explained in Berakhot 12 – “this refers to thoughts of sin”. This prohibition is not based on the concern of wasting seed, but it is rather a prohibition to have thoughts to plan to do a sexual sin…
Therefore, there is a distinction regarding women, for when it comes to the prohibition of sexual thoughts based on the verse, “and you shall guard yourself” – they are not included. For their manual stimulation (of their genitals) does not cause them any (emission of seed, which is what this verse prohibits), see there in Niddah. All the more so that their sexual thoughts alone will not cause (any emission of seed), and although they at times see blood due to desire (see Niddah 66a), there is no prohibition in seeing blood.
But the prohibition of sexual thoughts that is based on the verse “do not stray after your eyes,” which is a prohibition against have thoughts to transgress a sexual prohibition – this would apply to women, just as there is a prohibition to have thoughts to transgress the prohibition of idolatry, as was stated in the Chinukh that I quoted. But there is no problem as far as this prohibition is concerned with looking (at things which are sexually stimulating) and with looking at animals who are coupling – for all of these are derived from the verse “guard yourself against every evil thing” – which prohibits only doing things which might lead to the wasting of seed, which is not a concern for women.
And we have no basis for being concerned that looking at such things will lead a person to have thoughts to actually transgress a prohibition and to have sex with someone who is forbidden to her. We have in fact found that women were permitted to look at Rabbi Yochanan when they left the mikveh (although this would lead them to be thinking of his good looks).
There is, however, another prohibition in regards to women on the basis of dat Yehudit, the norms of Jewish women, namely, to not act in a way of immodesty (Ketuvot 72). But from this perspective, it is only a problem if she alone acts this way, but if it is the way of all the women of her town to do this, then her behavior cannot be considered to be immodest. And it is immaterial if what has become the norm of women in the town is because of general immodesty, for regardless, since this has now become the norm of how they dress and comport themselves, this behavior cannot be considered to be immodest, and there is no basis to make this forbidden to them, save from the perspective of extra piety and extra modesty, and let such people be blessed
Notice the different concerns the Gemara has with male masturbation and how weightily some of the rabbis treat it.
Here the concern about causing an erection focuses on sexual thoughts, not on wasting of seed. Notice that the concern for sexual thoughts does not seem to be that it is inherently bad, just that it may lead to a person acting on them (as per Rav Moshe, above). Is it possible that Rebbe Ami is saying something more – that it is always a bad idea to indulge in one’s desires, even if it will not immediately lead to anything bad?
Q & A – Talking Dirty