Jewish Law (halacha) can be pretty expansive. It can also be interpreted in various ways depending on the precision of your religious lens. We will not aim to tackle the entirely of the Talmud in an easy ABC format, but below we do cover the main guidelines when it comes to basic sexual health from a Jewish perspective.
Here’s the skinny:
Menstruation: No physical contact (i.e. touching, kissing, intercourse) between husband and wife during this window. Also referred to as niddah, this sacred time lasts until all bleeding has ceased, with an additional seven days post-period. The end of this window is sanctified with the woman’s immersion in a kosher ritual bath called a mikveh. Once the mikveh is finished, the woman returns home to have steamy sexual relations with her husband.
Contraception: Permitted, under most circumstances. Hormonal methods, yes; barrier methods, no. Men cannot use condoms or get a vasectomy operation as both prevent his sperm and life force from flowing freely. Women can use birth control pills, patch, shot, intrauterine device (IUD), and even spermicide. Diaphragms, cervical cap, and sponges are controversial as they are somewhat barrier in style.
Infertility: Most medical interventions for attaining pregnancy are allowed. Artificial insemination is only permitted with the husband’s sperm. However, obtaining a sperm sample can tricky and methods of doing so need to be discussed with a Rabbi. Masturbation or condom use to help collect semen can be viable options in this scenario.
There is more flexibility with egg donation, so long as the donor is Jewish. If not, conversion may need to occur post-birth. Same is the case with surrogacy. Ideally, the mother carrying the child is Jewish. However, the child needs to know the identity of the surrogate mother as not to later get confused and marry her other children. I suppose when we consist of only 1% of the world’s population, this possibility exists.
Abortion: Permitted, under very certain circumstances. The mother’s life and health always comes first. If the pregnancy threatens her well-being, then abortion is sanctioned by permission from the Rabbi.
Childbirth: Niddah is also taken post-birth, thus creating a separation of husband and wife for the first week of the child’s life in this world. Stay tuned for a more in-depth discussion on Niddah and the role in sexuality.
Also, for a more thorough read on sexual health and Jewish law, please visit: http://www.jewishwomenshealth.org. In the meantime, have a very sexy Shabbos!