Against Sex During Menstruation

Lest you allow yourself to be distracted by irrelevant things, I tell you here: my wife and I are currently using birth control.

This is not a review of Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together. That's been done many times, and very well. Also, I haven't read the book, although I have briefly held it.

I can't believe I'm writing this. So this is my acknowledgment that this is a little weird. As a blogger, I can't very well fall prey to a "but, no one asked me" feeling. Not if I want to post with any regularity. Yet on this topic I have. I feel that maybe I shouldn't write about this because it's outside my obvious purview, and no one asked me. But here I go once again, even though no one asked me.

Tim Challies discussed the most-talked-about chapter of the Driscolls' book, the "Can We _______?", on his blog. As in, "can we do this?" and "can we do that?" The Driscolls urge us to run every such question we run into through the lens of I Corinthians 6:12, which says,
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
Based on this verse, the Driscolls ask us to run any sexual situation through these three questions: is it lawful? is it helpful? and is it enslaving? Challies ably points out the difficulties with this paradigm, particularly with their exegesis of the verse itself. The entire post, which is one of three he wrote on the topic, is well worth reading.

There's a particular "can we _______?" that I'd like to discuss. Proper thinking regarding it cannot be gained through the Driscoll's template, because their template lacks the context and depth of the gospel. Briefly from Challies' post:
We are not meant to read this verse and walk away with a list of ways a spouse might have his own sexual needs met. If anything spouse should read this and walk away with the determination to seek only the how he might serve his spouse. And this is where the gospel is truly lived out, not in celebrating the freedom to enjoy this or that sexual act, but in the freedom to deny yourself, trusting that not every desire or “need” actually needs to be met in order to be beautifully satisfied and fulfilled.
Asking is it lawful is very limiting. It is the sort of question that immature Christians ask all the time (as they must), but which with maturity we ask less and less as we begin to ask a superior gospel question: is it good? I would suggest a counterpart of three questions to the Driscolls': is it freeing? is it self-sacrificial? and is it good? The reader will note that these question reverse the original questions.


So,  here's a "can we" that first crossed my mental radar screen when I read Wendy Shalit's excellent book A Return to Modesty. I've heard several people discuss this "can we", although it is not the most "scandalous" of the questions addressed. The "can we" is this: can we have sex during my wife's period?

In some ways I just want to roll my eyes. Part of me wants to just say "it's just dirty, people." But no, because all of us, even the Christians, are trying to figure out what we can get away with instead of what is good, we must make a case.

First we'll start with a basic proposition from which we can move forward, one which Mark Driscoll acknowledged when he commanded the married couples in his church to have sex every day for a week. I'll be the first to say that this by itself is pastoral and salutary. Do all that you can to give yourselves to each other in this area, regularly and frequently. Here's a Maimonides quote I first stumbled across in the Jewish Shalit's book, helpfully from the perspective of women.
1. The [woman's] conjugal rights mentioned in the Torah are obligatory upon each man according to his physical powers and his occupation. How so? For the men who are healthy and live in comfortable and pleasurable circumstances, without having to perform work that would weaken their strength, and only eat and drink and sit idly in their homes, their conjugal schedule is every night; for the laborers, such as tailors, weavers, masons, and the like, their conjugal schedule is twice weekly, if their work is in the same city, and once a week if their work is in another city; for the donkey drivers, their schedule is once a week; for the camel drivers, once in thirty days...for the learned, once a week, because the study of Torah weakens their strength; it is the practice of the learned to have conjugal relations each Friday night.

2. A wife may restrict her husband in his business journeys, so that he would not otherwise deprive her of her conjugal rights. Hence he may not set out without her permission. Similarly, she may prevent him from exchanging an occupation involving a frequent conjugal schedule for one involving an infrequent one.

Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut (Laws of Marriage)
Long quote, but the point it illustrates is fundamental to more "complex" issues for married couples. The point is this: the sexuality of husbands and wives is expressed in constant service to each other. Christian husbands ought to reject talk of "needs", and embrace ideas of service.

Driscoll has told the Christians he pastors that it is lawful to have sex during the wife's menstrual period. I won't say it's unlawful; that is, I don't think that if you've ever done this you've committed some sort of egregious sin. But it is not for good; it is not what is best.

Again from Shalit's book.
One of the purposes of the laws of family purity in Judaism, according to Tehilla Abramov, is that "the separation of the niddah period [when the wife is menstruating, and for seven days after] teaches a couple to develop a love of friendship and harmony which finds physical expression in the dynamic and active happiness a couple experience when the woman is tehorah." Beyond the importance of developing non-sexual intimacy, though, having a time of mandatory separation gives a woman and a man a right to privacy.
I know, crazy, right?


The Jews have redounded upon the Torah that Christians share with them. Christians say that Christ fulfilled the law, which most would say, correctly, means that it is no longer unlawful to have sex with your wife when she's menstruating. But the principles of every aspect are still good, and I don't just mean in a "good advice" kind of way. The principal behind uncleanness was that after Adam death was spreading everywhere, and wherever death touch life, death prevailed. So if a spot of mold touched a house, the house died. After Christ the second Adam, it is life that is spreading everywhere. There is no more ceremonial uncleanness because all that is dedicated to God (including his people) is made clean by his life...and it only takes a spot of life to make it all clean. So many things that were unlawful are now straight up good. However, even given this, we must examine the nature of what we are speaking of.

If I say that women are unclean during menstruation I'll just make a bunch of people mad; besides, it's not true. Unclean is supposed to mean that something was, while unclean, unfit to be presented before God. This was so under the Law because death was issuing out of the woman; but even so, it was leading toward life through pregnancy. Now life rules over death, but I think there's still a sense in which we should acknowledge the rhythm...three weeks of life, a week of death leading to new life. There is no ceremonial uncleanness here, no discussion of holiness; it is simply an acknowledgment of the nature God has given us.

There are two kinds of pagans in this world. There are those who serve the Earth Gods, and those who serve the Sky Gods. Those who serve the Earth Gods are slaves to earth, the moon, and physical limitation. Those who serve the Sky Gods are slaves to brazen heaven, the sun, and intellectual might. The pagans of today, even most feminists, serve the Sky Gods. Power is their god, and they are afraid to acknowledge the sway of nature; to do so would be to knock down their own gods.

Christians live in Middle Earth. Our God is neither an Earth God nor a Sky God, he is Maker and Lord of Heaven and Earth. Christians are able to find their place in and according to nature without fear of being enslaved by it.

I believe that our society has a general resentment of any natural limitations on our sexuality, on anything that would say "I don't really think that was made for that." The reason for this is that our society's gods have told them that nothing is more important than what our own wills desire. Christians must reject this, both because of nature (what we were made for), and because of service (what we are called to will and do).


Sex is about life. Yes, it's about making babies, so in that sense it's about life. But it's also about building up the life of the married couple. In a very real way sex is constantly renewing and enriching the life that the married couple share together. That is, if it's being done selflessly.

Talk of "needs" is annoying. When has a man (or a woman for that matter) ever talked about having "needs" and not sounded like a selfish prick?

The natural rhythm of three weeks of sex, and yes, it should be three weeks of sex, followed by one week of abstinence, is salutary, because it acknowledges the natural rhythm of the woman, and therefore of the sexual relationship. Three weeks of life, one of death. Three weeks of sowing, one of lying fallow. Three weeks of feasting, one of rest.

So we ask our three questions. Is it freeing to abstain from sex during menstruation? Yes, it is. Sex during this time is nearly completely male-driven. And it would only come up in a context of having fallen out of a healthy rhythm. We know that a man can be a bit grumpy if  it's been a while for him; if a woman is horny during this time it is almost always because the week leading up to the "sexual fast" was sexually lean. Shalit's point about a "right to privacy" comes into play when speaking of freedom.  It is better to have set periods of togetherness and aloneness to a system of will-he-won't-she. It is under such a system that what I think could fairly be called the imposition of sex under menstruation would become an issue. The very privacy, rest, and aloneness provided by the liturgical rhythm of feast and abstention is freeing. If there is not a set time of fasting (particularly one that acknowledges nature) there is never a time when the man might not importune the woman, and never a time when the woman gets to be alone without rejecting the man.

By the way, the choice of the word "fallow" a paragraph earlier was no accident. If you let the soil for a year, the crop is all the richer the following years. When a couple comes together again after a time, there's an extra dose of appreciation and enthusiasm. My wife's body (and mine) is on a full monthly sexual cycle which is completely trackable. Her body anticipates not only the lean times, but the fat times.

A fallow field.
Is it self-sacrificial to abstain from sex during menstruation? Yes. It's not about your "needs", buddy. Give yourself up not only to her, but to what is natural and good. It's not about you, it's about your place on Middle Earth. You are a human, a man, married to a woman. You have a house and a church and a marriage and a garden and some kids. You are more than your desire to rut. In fact, you are not that at all. You are an Adam whose actions are life-bringing, in which you are always giving of yourself to bring life to what is not you, whether it be your homebrewed beer or your marriage.

Is it good to abstain from sex during menstruation? Yes, it is good. It is part of the good dance of marriage. Marriage is fundamentally a sexual relationship; you're mates. Many languages have a word for wife that languishes on the shelf, while the word "woman" is preferred to it. As in, I have a woman and four kids. As in, I'm meeting my woman at the grocery store after work. As in, she's my sexual mate for life; she's my woman. The dance of marriage is largely a sexual dance; that is right and good. So good. So make it a dance; give it timing and rhythm and ritual. Don't turn it into a mosh pit; you could very well find yourself not dancing at all.

P.S. These three questions, as well as the question of whether a behavior brings life to the marriage, can answer a lot of questions right out of the gate.


  1. Wow! Seems like you've given this some thought. Especially appreciated the idea of rest and return.

  2. If sex is an act of service, if the wife desires intimacy during menstruation, as is normal to some women who's sex drive tends to be higher during these times, what is your suggestion then, if the man has no qualms about engaging in intercourse during this period.
    this article speaks with regards to sex during this time being a "male driven" activity, but often times it is not.
    also you made mention that sex is a "life activity", for making babies, and with regards to sex during menstruation it actually made sense, as an idea/emotion could, but it goes without stating that not all sex is for the purpose of making babies, that in fact a baby sometimes is the result of the lovers furious love for one another and a blessing rather than the baby being the desired "end game" of a consensual activity.

    Is abstinence from sex during this period, in a way a moment of "silence", if you will, in honour/memory of the Fall's negative effects on life giving ceremonies. That by sin we have becoming deserving of death, and by death the woman's life bearing womb is robbed of its life giving abilities 1/4th -1/2 of a month, and that by this tradition of abstinence we are constantly reminded of our fallen state and our need for a savior? If this be the case, then it is an argument for abstinence that I could agree with as a proper response in a scenario where the wife requests sex during menstruation.

    1. I think it's a mistake to view sex as an act apart, even within marriage. Marriage is a sexual relationship, so sex shouldn't ever happen outside the context of family. I think that can affect its interpretation, even if we don't say that every sex act ought to be expressly reproductive.

    2. I believe every above scenario was assumed to be within the bounds of marital bliss.

      For clarification, can you give a clear "should or should not" opinion? If a wife desires sex during the "cycle of death" would it be beneficial for the man to abstain, regardless if the intent of the intercourse is reproductive or not? If so is the motivation physical, spiritual, or a combination of the two?


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