Niddah and the Ick Factor

Pop quiz: Are you totally grossed out by the idea of period sex? My intense research has lead me to conclude that
a)    some people really are
b)    some people really are not

Profound, right?

I’ve been thinking about this because tonight I’ll be attending the second session of Yeshivat Hadar‘s 6-part shiur series on
, the laws of menstrual purity. Here’s the little blurb about the series says:

The biblical and rabbinic material on sexual practice surrounding menstruation is more loaded with critique and apology than almost any other area of halakhic literature.  In this series we will attempt to engage this topic directly and honestly, sincerely searching for what these ancient sources continue to teach us today and to imagine new possibilities for their application to contemporary reality.

You can attend the sessions on Tuesday nights from 7:30 until 9pm, or you can stream them live, or watch the videos.

At the first session, Rabbi Ethan Tucker briefly mentioned “the ick factor” and basically said we should keep in mind that it’s a real reaction some people have, and we shouldn’t belittle it if we don’t personally have that reaction. It was a minor point he made in an evening of much larger points, but it really impressed me, because I think so much of the way we talk about sex–both within and outside of Jewish contexts–is about identifying something as an ick factor, and castigating that. It’s all about, “We can all agree that X is totally nasty. Anyone who wants to do X is gross.” And of course then anyone who does like X, or even who just doesn’t have a problem with it, is suddenly in a crappy position. On the other hand, to the person who really is skeeved out by X, they legitimately don’t want to think about it because it makes them gag.

So, it seems clear that the answer here is to say, “Hey, no one do anything that skeeves you out. And if someone else is doing something that skeeves you out and
a)    they’re doing it with a partner who is a consenting adult
b)    everyone seems to be enjoying themselves
c)    no one is pressuring you to join

please just leave them alone and go on your merry way. If you start to think about it and feel yucky, think about baseball, or England, or your favorite pair of boots. Move on with your life. Focus on getting what you want in your bedroom, and not trying to control anyone else’s sex life.

The thing that bothers me about Niddah is that it mandates an ick factor. Everyone who cares about halakhah has to observe this prohibition that is pretty clearly linked to an ick factor, even if they and their partner are not at all grossed out by it.

I don’t have a solution here. It’s just a sad observation.

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