10 Things to Know about Old Testament Laws and Periods

by | Aug 26, 2020 | Faith | 39 comments

Old Testament laws And Periods: 10 Things to Know

As Christians, a lot of the cultural ideas that we get about our periods derive from Old Testament laws that called periods “unclean.”

We’re finishing up our series on periods today! And I thought I’d end with something that came up repeatedly in the comments over the last month:

  • Why did God call periods unclean?
  • Why were women unclean after having babies?
  • What does this tell us about how God sees women’s bodies?

Does God think we’re gross? Does He consider us “unclean” more than men are unclean? Should women feel shame?

After all the questions came up, I did some more digging about the Old Testament laws, and here are 10 things that can help clarify our thinking about it!

1. The purposes of these Laws were twofold: To keep the community healthy, and to point to truths about God in “object lesson” ways

Old Testament Laws tended to revolve around two things: the way the Israelites interacted with the Temple and with God; and the way that the Israelites should interact with each other. o, for instance, there were rules about who could go in what parts of the Temple and when; and there were rules about who you could marry or how you should treat your servants.

These rules did two things: they showed us that God is different from us, and that the true God is different from other people’s gods, because He asked different things of the Israelites. The idea of being “separate” and called apart was solidified in these laws, which were very numerous. They included what you could eat; when you could wear; how you dealt with sin (whether intentional or not).

And, yes, they focused on when you were “clean” and “unclean”.

What’s interesting about the “clean” and “unclean” distinction is that many of the things that are called unclean are things that, if they were left unchecked, could get the community sick. So, for instance, you were unclean for seven days if you touched a dead body (Numbers 19:11). Why? Well, in a time of pestilence, going near a dead body may make you sick, too. So having a rule that you couldn’t go near someone for a time after touching a dead body actually lessened the spread of disease. Not eating meat with blood still in it made sure your meat was cooked. Not eating foods that were more likely to carry parasites made people less likely to get sick.

And then we get to the rules about menstruation, which say:

When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. And if any man lies with her and her menstrual impurity comes upon him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

Leviticus 15:19-24

And if one is unclean, one cannot go to the Temple or offer prayers or anything else religious, and those who do go to the Temple must stay away from you. So, in general, being unclean is to be avoided.

In the Old Testament, then, when a woman is unclean, her husband wasn’t supposed to come near her.

2. A woman’s “uncleanness” was often a time for sisterhood bonding

Because a man couldn’t come near her when she was menstruating, and he couldn’t touch what she touched, women often went into separate tents during their “time of the month”. And often other women who were menstruating were there, too. So this was a time when women could be together, could chat and talk and take it a little bit easier. They wouldn’t be able to prepare food for their husbands, and they wouldn’t have to do the normal household tasks, because if they did, then everything would be unclean. So this was often a nice “time off”, fun with your sisters!

3. Unclean laws are not about one’s moral state

It’s important to note that being unclean is not about sin. It was about ritual uncleanness and whether or not you could participate in temple activities.

Touching a dead body made you ritually unclean, for instance, but it wasn’t like Israelites weren’t supposed to prepare bodies for burial, or that this was a sin to do.

People were also ritually unclean if they had certain sores on their bodies. Again, not an issue of sin.

Why was the idea of blood so tied up in ritual uncleanness (like with periods?) Since one of the main aspects of the temple was animal sacrifice, where the animal’s blood was spilled, it was important that it not be contaminated with human blood. Even men who were bleeding could not be in the temple. In the temple, life was restored through animal sacrifice which helps get one right with God. Life is in the blood, and so the temple was to proclaim life, and that blood could not be contaminated.

4. When you think “unclean”, don’t think shame. It simply may mean you need to wash.

One of the bigger picture things that God wanted to teach people is that we were tarnished by sin, and we needed to be cleansed by Him. We need to be morally clean to approach God.

Many of the laws, then, focus on this idea of “clean” and “unclean” as a picture of needing to wash before a holy God. It doesn’t mean that we’re sinful if we’re in a particular state of uncleanness; but it helps the Israelites through their daily lives have a reminder that they needed to think about being clean before God (another way that the Law points us to Jesus, as Paul says, who makes us clean.) And the times that we’re unclean are often simply times we need to wash–after periods, after sex (or emissions of semen), after handling dead bodies, when you have open sores.

5. Men were unclean as often as women–but we don’t seem to talk about it as much

While we’re quite familiar with the fact that women were “unclean” during their menstruation, we often forget that men were unclean frequently, too. They were unclean every time they had an emission of semen, whether through sex, or nocturnal emissions, or any other way.

It is not only women’s bodily fluids that are considered ritually unclean, then, but men’s as well.

6. When women were ceremonially unclean, men couldn’t approach them for sex

If a man approached a woman for sex during her period, he would then be unclean for seven more days. Men were not supposed to have sex with a woman during her period. To me, this is actually one of the most fascinating tidbits about the Old Testament Law, BECAUSE:

7. The fact that God asked couples to abstain during her period means that He doesn’t believe men can’t last without sexual release

We were talking last week about how Kevin Leman in Sheet Music told women that they must give their husbands sexual favors during their periods and the postpartum phase or else the husband would go crazy and would be climbing the walls and wouldn’t be able to resist porn. In Every Man’s Battle, women are called “methadone vials” for husbands’ porn addictions, and told that they need to give husbands release so that they won’t be tempted.

However, this was NOT the way that God saw things at all. It’s quite clear in Old Testament Law that God expected men to abstain for a time, and not have any release valve. And this was BEFORE the Holy Spirit came in all of His power! God felt men, even without the Holy Spirit, could honor their wives and wait. And yet too often modern Christian sex advice tells women the exact opposite.

I was talking about this on Facebook recently, and one woman summed it up beautifully like this:

God clearly assumed men have the self-control to “not come at their wives” for 7 days of bleeding and 40 days of postpartum recovery. “This law I command is not too hard for you…”

Before the New Covenant, before the indwelling power to resist sin and love your neighbor as yourself was even given, God expected men to have self-control during the times when He gave women an explicit, legally protected rest from sexual contact. There was no loophole for prostitutes or porn.

The fact that modern Christianity assumes women‘s bodies are fair game for men’s desires at any time – and then blames the woman for her husband’s lack of self-control and selfish, adulterous choices – shows how low a value the church places on women and how much it continues to elevate the (literal) pleasure of men above the Word of God and the fruit of the Spirit, which is love (your wife as your own body) and self-control.

Sharon J.

8. The unclean period after the birth of a baby allowed healing

After giving birth, women were also ceremonially unclean for a period of time.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.  If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.

Leviticus 12:1-5

The time of uncleanness after giving birth allowed the woman time to heal without having to do housework or care for her husband. It’s actually quite similar to the “6-week” medical guideline that we use now. In Old Testament times, a woman wasn’t to be approached for intercourse until the baby was at least 40 days old (and, in the case of a girl, 80 days old). So this was medically quite advanced, even then.

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9. Women had a longer time being unclean after the birth of a girl–for potentially a lot of reasons!

There’s much debate about why the period of uncleanness after the birth of a girl is twice as long as after the birth of a boy. Does it mean that God likes boys better, so you’re not as unclean afterwards? That’s an unfortunately easy conclusion to draw when you read it through our cultural lens.

But I’ve read a number of other interpretations which resonate with me more, based on what I know of the culture of the time, and what I know of the heart of God. I’ll just list some of them here:

It allows the baby girl time to grow, get healthy, and bond before the husband wants to “try for a boy”

Because many cultures have a bias towards male children, the pressure may be to try for another baby right away so that you can have a boy. Giving the mother a longer time to recover from childbirth lets the girl get more nourished, grow a bit, and bond before sex is resumed.

There is sacredness in “blood”, and girls represent more blood–“the life is in the blood”

Some baby girls have a “mini-period” (bloody mucous discharge) a few days after birth because of hormonal changes. This is perfectly natural, but it could be that the longer period of uncleanness takes into account this as well.

Also, there is an idea that the life is in the blood (this is why, for instance, people weren’t to eat meat with blood in it). And since life giving is reserved for God, then blood made one unclean before God. Since baby girls have the potential for more blood–and giving life–than baby boys, then their period of uncleanness is longer.

Because blood is holy, then when it is spilt, it transmits ritual uncleanness, unless it is spilt by a priest to provide sanctification for people. All other spilled blood makes one unclean.

Girls get extra time because they aren’t circumcised like boys

While boys are circumcised on the eighth day to set them apart for God, girls don’t have an analogous physical sign that is done to them. So they get “set apart” for twice as long as boys to signify this.

10. Jesus’ death took away the need to be “clean” to approach God

Finally, the big thing to understand now is that we are no longer under the law. When Jesus was on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two (Luke 23:45). The curtain separated the people from the “Holiest of Holies”, where God literally dwelt. Only the High Priest could enter the Holiest of Holies, and that only once a year. Only the High Priest could be in the presence of God.

But on the cross, the curtain was torn in two, signifying that now we could all have communion with God without impediment.

In Acts 10, we read the story of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman centurion who wanted to follow Jesus, and Peter was sent to talk to him. But before Peter was sent for, he had a vision from God preparing him for this encounter:

And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Acts 10:10-16

The purpose of the Law was to point us to Christ. It showed us our sin, and it showed us our need for a Savior. It showed us God’s holiness, and how we were to be set apart. It showed us the need for sacrifice. But in Jesus, all of this was fulfilled.

What I find important about the Old Testament laws about periods and the postpartum phase, then, is what it tells us about how God sees women and sex.

God expected men to abstain for a time, and did not expect women to provide sexual favors at all times and under any circumstances to stop men from sinning. God has sympathy for women who are going through difficult periods, or who are going through a post-partum phase. God built in times for women to rejuvenate and to have rest.

Even if the Law no longer applies, these were God’s intentions towards us. Any teaching on sex, then, should not ignore women’s experiences postpartum or during their periods, and should not be predicated on the idea that a man cannot stay pure without a woman’s constant help (contrary to Every Man’s Battle, wives are not methadone vials).

That’s how I see it, anyway. What about you?

Does this change your thinking on the laws at all? Do you have an insight that could be #11? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Erin

    This is all very interesting. But I do want to point out that most if not all Old Testament men had multiple wives and/or concubines so they never really had to go without sex because one happened to be unavailable for her time of the month.

    • Annie

      Ah, except women who live together start to have their cycles align. Likely the man involved was more than ready for his women to move out to the red tent and leave him in peace.

      • Petrina

        This is very interesting. I had wondered the same, because we live in a culture and in a world where there is a lot of mysoginy and chauvinism, and some of those types of men would probably extract different reasons for it, and insert their biased interpretations into the scripture for the reason behind the longer purification time for a girl.
        Although I do not like to jump to conclusions and we don’t know why God did things the way he did, I had also considered the fact that girls are not circumcised.
        I knew the reason could not be moral cleanliness, because clearly, men have behaved more lawlessly than women all throughout the ages and the Bible does NOT indicate in any way, shape, or form that men are more righteous than women.
        I also considered it may be because the woman was deceived and in transgression. When a woman gives birth to a girl, she’s bringing another future woman into the world.
        Eirher way, I know God is good and just, no matter how false teachers and chauvinists try to portray Him.
        That is an excellent point you brought up about men being perfectly capable of abstaining from sexual behavior. I already knew that they are, but many of them try to pretend that they are not. Sex is so tied to some men’s ego that they are very entitled and demanding when it comes to it.
        My PERSONAL conviction is that during menstruation, a husband and wife should not have intercourse.
        Great post!


          Good read I enjoyed. But let me also say old testament husbands were not necessarily to wait for 80 days without sex because most of old testament men were polygamous husbands. And I think that is why polygyny was permissible and was never rebuked by the scriptures throughout.

      • Petrina

        It is comical to me, the attempt to mislead women into believing that men could not sexually control themselves. Men started that rumor and women often believe too many things. I believe it was men’s intention to absolve themselves from their responsibility and accountability. From a young age, I knew it had to be false, because the Bible commands him to abstain from fornication. Why would God tell a man to abstain from sexual immorality if it was impossible?
        For a lot of men it is natural urge and EGO.
        In addition, God naturally gave women the sexual power in the sense that the male pursues the female, works for her, and has to prove himself to her even in the animal kingdom before he gets the right to mate.
        Likewise, the man pursues the woman and has to prove himself and she responds. Because so many people are on a power trip I believe they wanted to try to “steal” women’s sexual power.
        This is why men view sex as a sort of conquest and some view it in violent terms and this is why some of them force women. It is about a perverted, distorted sense of power.

      • Goldfields Girl

        Wow, this was so fascinating. I didn’t know that men could be considered unclean.
        As a mum to a new baby and having 4 children all ages 5 and under, I’d be happy to be classed as unclean for a week each month and disappear with some of my friends!!
        Deneale |Goldfields Girl

      • Jeni

        I don’t believe in the idea of cycles aligning. Every woman’s cycle spans a different time period(no pun intended). Some are 28 days, some are 35 days, some may be longer or shorter. At some point in their cycles they may coincide, but this aligning stuff is just, IMHO, evolutionary thinking.

      • EOF

        Cycles do align when you spend a lot of time close with other ladies. I’ve experienced it personally when I worked closely with two other women. Our cycles were all different at first, but within a couple of months we were all starting on and ending on the same day, and it lasted as long as we worked together.

    • Melanie

      Erin, what about how women tend to sync up with each other… especially living in close quarters with more exposure to lunar phases?
      Shiela, I love this! Thanks for tackling it, I’ve always wondered about this. But I did have the same thoughts about the week off every month. Grandmas probably relished the opportunity to step in and help out extra with the kids!

    • Alfabets

      This may be true. But there are examples of men in the OT who were monogamous. Isaac, Joseph, Job, Hosea are 4 that came to my mind quickly. And if women who live in community often get their periods at or around the same time, it isn’t necessarily true that the husband would have another wife he could have sex with. Having said that, it is possible that the man had more than one wife, hence negating the need to abstain while his one wife was unclean.
      Man’s polygamous sin doesn’t negate God’s goodness in providing rest for the woman.

    • Budgie

      I don’t think there was a much polygamy as you might think. Remember, Abraham only took Hagar after many years of childlessness and Sarah’s urging. Isaac only had 1 wife. Jacob would likely only have had 1 if he hadn’t been tricked. We can read between the lines that Elkanah took a second wife only because Hannah was barren as he clearly loved Hannah more.
      Kings definitely had more than one wife but they were powerful and rich. An ordinary Hebrew man may not have had the means to support multiple wives. And we know polygamy was not God’s ideal.
      Also, unless they were acquiring wives from foreign countries (which they generally weren’t supposed to do) it would be impossible for all men to have several wives. If boys and girls are roughly equal in birth numbers, there wouldn’t be enough females to go around. Of course, many men died in war, but then many women died in childbirth.
      God made rules for multiple wives so we know it happened, but when you really look at specific characters in the Bible, I don’t think you’d find too many who were conclusively polygamist apart from the royals. So I don’t think it was really common, especially among those who were committed to serving God (which obviously wasn’t everyone, especially at certain times!).

    • Jess

      That’s a myth. Normally only rulers or extremely wealthy had more then one wife or a concubine.

    • Angela

      Actually that ties right in with the comment I was already going to make. If the wives live and work together, they menstruate at the same time almost guaranteed. So zero help there. But they probably don’t have babies at the exact same time, so he might get lucky with the postpartum wait.
      Also we don’t know that polygamy was ever super common in Israel. Poor men wouldn’t be able to afford multiple wives, and most of the polygamy recorded is of situations where there were extenuating circumstances, like the first wife was barren, or Jacob getting railroaded into 2 wives and 2 concubines. Lots of stories of men with only one wife as far as we can tell, so I think polygamy wasn’t for everyone.

  2. Amy

    I have often thought this was a way to ensure procreation since women are most fertile in the days following this time of uncleanness.

  3. Alfabets

    Thank you, Sheila, for this article. I appreciate how you have broken this topic down into understandable pieces. I have been asked this question before and had some of the answers, such as men also being unclean after any emission, but your answer here shows me how much God honors and cherishes women.

  4. Jenn

    I’m a childbirth educator & doula who loves research. As far as I can find, there isn’t any research on the safe postpartum interval to refrain from intercourse.
    My first OB told me to wait until my stitches dissolved—which took less than 4 weeks. My second told me to start “when you feel ready,” then at my 6 week postpartum visit told me that 2/3rds of his patients had sex prior to 6 weeks. My midwife for my third and fourth births told me to wait until the bleeding stopped.
    That the time of postpartum rest in America & Canada in current times resembles the Biblical rules is likely more because we live in a Judeo-Christian culture that had already adopted that norm than that medical science supports that interval.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Actually, having sex too early can increase postpartum complications such as postpartum hemorrhages and uterine infections. The reason doctors recommend waiting 4-6 weeks is to mitigate the chances of vaginal tearing not healing properly, thus increasing the amount of scar tissue, reducing risk of bleeding, and reducing infection risk.
      Additionally, the hormones in our bodies often naturally make us want to wait for at least a month and a half for sex. It’s not just Judeo-Christian culture that makes women wait after childbirth to have sex, it’s our very physiology. Plus, in other cultures that are not based in Judaism such as East Asia, women are given a full month where they are practically bedridden to simply allow their body to heal before any normal tasks are taken on.
      Medical science highly supports waiting at least 4-6 weeks before resuming sexual activity UNLESS your body wants it and it is not painful. Research has found that the average woman waits 2.1 months to begin having sex again, and 83% of women have difficulties with sex in the postpartum period for the first 3 months after having a baby. Waiting is good, it gives you a chance to heal. And I find it odd that so many of your doctors and OBs did not promote this–all of the health professionals I saw actually encouraged me to take longer than 6 weeks precisely because of my stitches.

      • Kristina G

        My physiology didn’t get the memo…I always want sex within days! With my first I waited 5.5 weeks, with my second 4 weeks, and with my third 3.5. And it was all me, my husband didn’t pressure at all, but would check in about once a week where I was at.
        Never any issues on my end. I did have an episiotomy and 2nd degree tearing with my first, so things were quite sore the first time and decreased gradually over about the first 8 times. But with the second and third, I had only the treensiest tear and nothing, so it only took a couple times to feel back to normal.
        My husband doesn’t do blood, so I was over bleeding before we attempted anything.

  5. Laura

    So, if a man was unclean for 7 days following sex, I’m really curious about what that says about their normal sexual frequency. It seems like they would have been having sex less than once week, at least if you define sex as “male orgasm.” Maybe I’m forgetting something, but did sex make women unclean at all? If not, that means that women could orgasm frequently with no social consequences, but men had some pretty strict censure. I’ve never thought about that before.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      He was unclean if he had sex with a woman on her period for 7 days, but only unclean after regular sex until nightfall. Does that make sense? And I believe that women would have been unclean for the same amount of time after regular sex.

  6. Emmy

    I was discussing periods and Old Testament Law with my sister who is not religious and has never even heard about purity culture and stuff. We were discussing this women-being-unclean-during-periods concept and she said something very interesting I’d like to share.
    She was not offended by the concept at all. In her opinion, that was exactly the way how it had to be written in order to be an effective commandmed. If the commandmends had been written like “thou shall not sleep with your wife when she has her period because it may be uncomfortable to her” or “thou shall not sleep with your wife for 40 days after she has given birth because she needs to recover”, no single man would have taken the commandmends serious. Men would have violated them in a minute, because just the very best of them considered what would be the best for their wives.
    In her opinion, Moses had been very smart by writing those laws in such a way that ordinary men would listen.

      • C

        Wow! Another amazing article! Really enjoyed reading this. I do agree that God cares greatly for women and that his built in times for rest are so important. I wish my upcoming postpartum time could be restful! I long for the community of multigenerational living and society….

  7. Amanda

    Everyone would always know you and your spouse had sex, because you couldn’t do certain activities! That would be different.

    • Lynne

      Wow! I always imagine ancient Jewish culture to be very private/ashamed about sex (Maybe because that’s common in conservative christian circles?) I wonder if they would have seen it as an occasion for pride (like locker room talk – “Sorry, can’t come to the temple today … wink” – or embarassment/shame?

      • Anon

        It’s really only a recent development for sex to be treated as either unmentionable or something to wink & nudge and snigger over. Until recently, most people were born and died at home, and in small houses (or in tents), other family members would have been much more aware of when sex was taking place (and in larger houses, it would have been obvious when the master of the house was visiting his wife’s bedroom).
        Jane Austen was a ‘respectable’ spinster, yet reading her letters, she was obviously very well informed as to how babies were made and what childbirth was like. It was only really during the Victorian era that sex became unmentionable. Previous generations regarded it as a fact of life.

      • Sarah Evans

        My reading of the OT doesn’t suggest that ancient Judaism was squeamish about sex at all. I loved “Woman – the Full Story” by Michele Guinness https://www.amazon.co.uk/WOMAN-FULL-STORY-Celebration-Freedoms/dp/0310250595 in which she makes similar points to Sheila here about some “down time” and rest for women during periods and after birth. She has great things to say about being a “help meet” aka ezer kenegdo as well. I recommend it.

  8. Sarah O

    Thank you for tackling these, Sheila. I sort of hate to ask this, but would sure appreciate some differing perspectives…would you consider doing a follow up on the Old Testament laws around rape? I find some of these at odds with modern research on trauma-response so mulling them over, if you’ve read some possible interpretation options I’d be interested to read.
    As far as uncleanness after giving birth to a boy vs a girl, I wonder if this is also a very early recognition of the fact that girls are born with their sex gametes/ovum, which is not the case for boys. So the longer period of uncleanness would be a recognition of more “life” being present in a baby girl than a baby boy, not of less moral quality.
    Thank you for pointing out that men also have involuntary processes that cause “uncleanness” cause that sure DOES NOT get the same level of attention.
    So for ladies like me, who have a set of boy/girls twins…do we get 66 days, or 99? Did I miss a full summer vacation? Am I owed a she-shed chalet? (lol)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Sarah!
      Sure, that’s a great idea about looking at the Old Testament laws about rape. let me think about that!
      And I have heard that interpretation of the longer period for girls being because they’re born with the potential for life in them already. Kind of cool if you think about it!
      I definitely think you’re owed a long vacation…. 🙂

      • Naomiyah

        Something that may interest you is the work of a beloved professor at my university. Dr. Rebekah Josberger is a Biblical Hebrew scholar and bible teacher and the co-author of some of the best Biblical Hebrew curriculum in the world . She loves the Lord and the Old Testament and I thoroughly recommend reading her doctoral dissertation (which is free online) covering difficult law passages in Deuteronomy and God’s concern for women in a very patriarchal society. Her work is insightful and not to be missed

  9. Aj

    Using the definition of any emission of semen as being “unclean”, men would actually be unclean more often than woman. Most men (especially young men) will have an involuntary release of semen every 3-4 days if it is not expelled through sexual release. This means men would be unclean every 3-4 days. Although this involuntary release usually occurs at night it can possibly occur in other ways. I have personally experienced an involuntary release of semen while passing a straining bowel movement. I believe this occurred because it put pressure on my prostate. Knowing that the prostate is where most of the “fluid” in semen is contained, I believe the pressure on my prostate forced the release. It’s important to understand that, for a man, ejaculation and orgasm are NOT synonymous and do not have to occur simultaneously. Although rare, it is possible for a man to have an orgasm without ejaculating. It is also possible for a man to ejaculate without having an orgasm. It’s interesting that the voluntary act of having sex doesn’t necessarily make a man unclean (sex could occur without ejaculation) but an emission of semen which often occurs involuntarily does make a man unclean. It’s also interesting to note that a man who has had his prostate removed (do to prostate cancer) is no longer capable of ejaculation, but still very capable of experiencing intense orgasmic pleasure.

  10. Rut bat Asenath

    Sheila, you covered the health aspects of this topic very well. This is a tricky subject to tackle in a world that doesn’t understand God’s heart for us. Bravo!
    As a Messianic Jew, I was raised with the understanding of ‘ceremonially unclean’ having to do with God’s calling us unto holiness. He knew mankind would do what’s right in our own eyes, so He gave us Torah – His instructions for how to live/behave — whether-or-not we agree with them, He does know best (Oy! is that a hard pill for us all to swallow – myself included!) For this topic, Torah = Genesis to Deuteronomy; though everything from Gen-Rev is His instruction for life.
    Forgive me if you covered this spiritual application & I missed it – one other reason for the ‘no sex while menstruating’, the skirt/chair/bed of a menstruating woman being ceremonially unclean & ejaculation ceremonial uncleanliness has to do with God being a god of life, not death. (Let me explain…)
    Ejaculation: as we all know, if sperm DOESN’T fertilize an egg, it dies – thus we have the death of potential life (millions of time over per ejaculation.)
    Menstruating & clothing/furniture: as we all know, every month the uterus prepares to nurture life (sustain a fertilized egg). Same as above – no fertilized egg…. death of potential life to care for… so the menstruation begins. Menstrual blood is the sign of this reality & our bodies are in a symbolic time of mourning. God holds life SO precious that not only do our personal relationships change, even our clothing & furniture are affected by this.
    The associated ritual washing & immersion mentioned in Torah goes beyond PHYSICAL cleanliness (as one would go to this washing/immersion already bathed), but is symbolic of separating us from this death & life scenario. It’s a word-picture of leaving death behind us & entering a new phase of LIFE! Every day’s a new chance for life.
    This nuance of God’s care for all life is mind-blowing; especially in light of Yeshua/Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” I love that Yeshua/Jesus is the fulfillment/completion of how we live our lives – when walking out our faith in Him falls short (i.e. human error) He covers, completes & fulfills us. And since heaven and earth are still here, it’s wonderful to know He’s still our protective covering!

    • Sarah Evans

      Thank you so much for your perspective on this which is really enriching.

  11. Lori Mayberry

    I’m menopausal, now, but you don’t know how often I wished we were still able to separate ourselves from the rest of the household when I was menstruating. I was so monthly miserable that the felt obligation to still function and service was not fair to me or my family, for what they had to endure in my miserable countenance and grumpiness.
    I would especially die inside when my husband would invite people over for dinner at that time…
    One time we dropped in on some friends and the wife would not come out due to the fact that she was menstruating and in bed. I remember thinking to myself, “Why can’t I do that? That is what I need to do!”, but I had been living under my own self-inflicted “suck it up” attitude along with a very unsympathetic husband whose disappointment at not getting his dinner made for him or a “handy” would be too much for me to take.
    This info should be empowering for young women to not be as hard on themselves as I was on myself, and go a long way to encourage men to go easy on their wives and learn mercy, patience, understanding, and empathy.
    Anyways, thanks for what you do, Sheila, (and for letting me vent. Haha).

  12. Dan Wilson

    I am a Christian, a man, and a pastor and I just need to express my appreciation for how Biblical and in line with God’s character this is! Thank you!

  13. Connie

    There is another whole aspect to this. The Egyptian religion was all about sex, including rituals around bdily fluids, in the temples. I believe that God was making a point about that as well.


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