Period Sex: What Does the Bible Say?

There was a recent post here on Marriage Heat titled “Freedom in Christ” that sparked an interesting discussion in the comments. The original topic had a wider scope, but most of the comments fixated on the question of whether or not the Bible allows for sex during a woman’s period (assuming, of course, that the couple is married). I wrote a comment in response, but in my signature style it ended up being very long. So here are my thoughts in a separate post instead!
Echoing the words of earlier commentors on that post, I don’t believe we are necessarily supposed to avoid sex during a period. I think that was a commandment given to the Israelites under the Old Testament, and not to us Christians under the New Testament. However, there were some penalties to period sex beyond merely being ceremonially unclean, and I think it’s important to understand the history. There are a few references from Leviticus that are relevant.
First, it helps to understand that many things were ceremonially unclean but were not necessarily sins. We can see that sex itself was considered unclean even though it’s a beautiful and necessary part of life:
Leviticus 15:18: “When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe in water, and they will be unclean until evening.” (NIV)
However, there were some specific commands about sex during the period. One verse indicates a week of uncleanliness:
Leviticus 15:24: “If a man has sexual relations with her [a woman having her period] and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean.” (NIV)
Another verse directly commands against period sex:
Leviticus 18:19: “Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanliness of her monthly period.” (NIV)
And yet another verse prescribes a punishment:
Leviticus 20:18: “If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.” (NIV)
Here we see a pretty steep punishment prescribed. It’s not the death penalty as many of the other sexual sins carry, but being cut off from your people is still no small thing, especially in that age, I would imagine.
At least to my knowledge, these commandments and the idea of ceremonial uncleanliness are NOT carried over into the New Testament. However, many principles from various places in the Old Testament ARE carried over to the New Testament. In that context, it’s important to realize that the punishment prescribed in Leviticus 20 is nestled snugly in between penalties for incest, bestiality, and homosexuality, which are still generally recognized by the Christian worldview as sinful perversions.
While I’m not convinced that period sex is a sin, I do find it curious that it is lumped in with other things that we still find sinful. Why would our views change on just one thing in that group while the others remain “sinful” in our minds for thousands of years without change? Perhaps we no longer count period sex as a sin because it was not renewed as such in the New Testament, but incest and homosexuality were, so we still consider those sinful. Then again, if it was not inherently corrupt and was only an issue of ceremonial cleanliness, why did God prescribe the punishment of being cut off from the people? Again, I’m not convinced it’s a sin, but there are certainly some tough questions to be answered. (It may also be useful to realize that the idea of the uncleanliness of the period extends back into Genesis, long before God ever gave these laws to Moses and the Israelites in Leviticus. That, however, is a separate discussion.)
I’d like to thank the original poster of “Freedom in Christ” for sparking this discussion, even perhaps unintentionally. It has given me some deeper insight into the issue and helped me to realize that it’s considerably more complex than I first imagined.
I am by no means a biblical scholar, and I clearly don’t have all the answers, so take all these thoughts with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I hope this opens everyone’s minds to new ideas and stimulates some deep thinking!
[Editor’s Reminder: Keep all discussion calm and considerate, please.]

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4 replies
  1. Harper Shelby Thornton says:

    Laws regarding things like incest, homosexuality, etc were one thing, and sex during the period was another – the latter were ceremonial laws that were given to the Jews, whereas the former is about morality which we should abide by. Not that it saves us or anything but it's something we as saved people should do, as a reasonable service to God. I personally don't understand all those particular statutes, I admit it. I still don't think those ones apply to us, including about washing after having sex. I think usually couples are to tired to do that after having sex. What do you all think?

    Personally I didn't have sex during my period because it was sticky, it stank, we felt it would've been uncomfortable, especially since the smell was off-putting

  2. ArtRutherford says:

    My wife doesn't have periods anymore, (too old) but when she did, we didn't think anything of it, (being unclean, etc.) it was just a little more messy. Took longer to clean up. Made sure none of the blood got on the sheets. But it was otherwise just as fun as sex at other times.

  3. CrazyHappyLoved says:

    Some Bible commentators (no more qualified than the rest of us, probably) show instances of parallel and even side-by-side verses where both "cut off from their people" and "put to death" apply to the same offense. They draw the conclusion that this equates them. I'm not so sure. But it begs the question how in the world anyone would *know* if you approached your wife to lay with her during her period. Was there a period police? Unless one sees this as applying to the admonition from the apostles to "abstain from blood," I don't see how it applies to Gentile believers. But, as in all things, I believe we have to follow our conscience and the Holy Spirit's guidance no matter what. If I just *think* it's wrong, then for me to do it anyway would be a sin.

  4. HeSaid-SheSaid says:

    I think your reading too much into the phrase "cut off". I have a Hebrew Bible dictionary and that phrase was used many times in the OT, but only once in the NASB translation was it used to translate the Hebrew word for "kill" into English. So I don't believe Lev 20:18 was that instance.

    To be ceremonily unclean IS to be cut off, I believe in a social way. Why? Because it was such a pain in the rear to be unclean. Special washings and rules applied, and time periods applied. If you touched someone while unclean, they now become unclean. An object you touch becomes unclean, and if someone touches the same object, they now become unclean. (As referenced in Genesis when Laban searched his daughters tent looking for his stolen idols, so she hid them underneath herself where she sat and claimed she had her period, knowing this would prevent her father from touching whatever it was so was sitting on because he didn't want to be unclean).

    So really, it was just easier, and friendlier to just sit at home and wait it out. Otherwise, you might really tick someone off if you made them unclean too, accidently or not.

    Think about the woman in Jesus's day who had the bleeding problem for years and years. She literally would be a social outcast, she was NEVER clean. I believe that is why she secretly touched Jesus's garment. I think she was afraid He wouldn't touch her if she openly admitted her condition. She was desperate, yet still had faith in His healing powers. And it's that same power that makes us clean today, so to speak, and thus makes the following of OT law unnecessary. He, is the fulfillment of the law.

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