Why I Stopped Going To The Mikvah

I don’t go to the mikvah anymore.

For many years I did, and it wasn’t terrible. The balaniot were always nice. But the process to get there was a monthly struggle between my religion and my common sense.

Before I was married, menstruating did not interfere with my day-to-day activities. No one had to know about it, unless I complained to a girlfriend if my cramps were especially uncomfortable that day.

But once I began to keep the laws of taharat hamishpacha that monthly flow became the focal point of my existence. It changed how I slept, it changed what I wore, it changed who I could touch. I was required to do internal inspections, which I did not wish to do. I was required to drop everything and run to the bathroom before the sun went down so I could check if I was bleeding. I was required to cancel plans, miss events I wanted to go to, in order to go to the mikvah. When I was not a niddah I would feel pressure (not from my husband, but from myself) to sometimes be intimate when I had absolutely no interest in such activities, because I was expecting my period in a few days and we had only been together twice that whole month.

In addition, we struggled to find a method of birth control that suited our needs. Hormonal birth control made me gain weight, become depressed, and tanked my libido. My doctor recommended against IUDs because of my medical history, and diaphragms caused an endless cycle of bladder infections and yeast infections.

When we were first married, we consulted a rabbi over all these issues, and I was constantly feeling let down. I was taught in kallah classes that Judaism’s view on sex between husband and wife is “the more the merrier,” and that as much leeway as possible would be given to allow them to be together. But, at every turn, it seemed like we were being prevented from being together. I just felt like I was constantly worrying about what was going into and coming out of my vagina.

I finally said something to my husband about my discontent, and after much discussion, we made our first decision: No more rabbis. We will decide together what kind of birth control to use, halachically sanctioned or not, and we will decide together if we want to have another baby or not.

I was happier, but still frustrated over the extreme impact my period had on how I went about my daily routine for 12-14 days out of the month. Once again, I voiced my vexation to my husband, and we made another decision: No more harchakot. Sex while I was a niddah was still out of the question, but we both felt that all the stringencies were extremely unnecessary in our relationship. We’re not going to both suddenly rip all our clothes off in middle of the dining room if he passed me the mashed potatoes at dinner. And if one of us is feeling low, why shouldn’t we be allowed to get a loving, reassuring hug from our life partner?

The final blow came when, after a full period-free year and a half while nursing my third child, I noticed the signs of my returning fertility. When I stopped bleeding, I realized I had no desire, no interest, and actually felt a level of revulsion, at starting the process again of internal checks to count seven clean days before I could go to the mikvah.

I knew the magnitude of this decision was much greater than the others. I wasn’t sure how my husband would feel about a complete violation of the very bottom line of the halachot of taharat hamishpacha. I knew he had every right to be insistent that I do my bedikot and go to the mikvah, and that fact alone made me realize both how much I abhor halacha’s restrictive grip on the agency women have over their own bodies, and how much I love my husband. Because if he felt like this was a red line, if he felt we could not have an intimate relationship without my use of the mikvah, if I had to choose between being married to the kindest, most caring, thoughtful, and devoted husband in the world and going to the mikvah once a month, there wouldn’t be a contest.

I broached the subject with trepidation.

“It’s your body,” he said. “I can’t tell you what to do with it. I obviously would prefer if you did go, but if you have objections, I respect that.”

“I’m not ruling out the possibility of ever using the mikvah again,” I assured him. “It’s just…the thing is…it’s just blood. It’s healthy, it’s normal, it’s a regular occurrence in 50% of the world’s population. I’ve heard all explanations about how niddah doesn’t mean I’m dirty, and going to the mikvah is about spiritual cleanliness, about rebirth and renewal and all that jazz. But that bottom line is, even if you see beauty in the idea, it’s still a Big Deal. And I just need to feel what it’s like to live a life in which having a period is not a big deal.”

And so I have. And so far it’s been wonderful.

48 Comments

  1. Anonymous husband January 26, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    My wife also stopped going years ago. She hated the experience and I felt I had no right to insist. Outwardly, we are shomer shabbat & kashrut, but nobody knows we don’t keep taharat hamishpacha (though of course we don’t have sex during her period).

    Reply
    1. Anonymous August 30, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Its says in the torah that if you touch a lady when she is not clean there is an issur of cures, i dont think thats this is something you wana play around with

      Reply
    2. sara September 6, 2017 at 9:52 am

      You are keeping Niddah in the Karaitic fashion. Karaites wash in a regular bath or shower, 7 days after the START of a regular period (not 7 nekiiim).

      Reply
  2. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you for being yourself.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Thank you for writing about what was clearly a very difficult decision. I sometimes wonder if the rabbinic restrictions that have been layered on top of the basic din d’orayta of niddah (immersion after seven days, no bedikot, no harchakot) have made taharat hamishpachah unbearable – a set of rules that the community cannot tolerate – such that they create the risk of (pardon the pun) throwing out the baby with the bath water. Some conservative rabbis rule that the chumrah of rabi zeira (i.e., the additional five days and the bedikot) is just that – a chumrah, which is optional. They might be on to something.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous February 1, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      I agree

      Reply
  4. Anon woman January 26, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I’ve never been married yet but I used to go to the Mikva for my partner. He considers himself religious and keeps Shabbat, kosher, and niddah. I myself do not observe anything, and don’t believe in the laws. I went because I really wanted to have sex with him and the only way he would was if I would go to the Mikvah. I stopped going because it was such an ordeal and I couldn’t deal with having to make sure we had sex in the 2 weeks I wasn’t a niddah. I don’t plan to go to keep taharat mispacha at all when I’m married so I hope my husband doesn’t request that. I really relate to you

    Reply
    1. 900windows January 28, 2017 at 9:50 am

      Might be good to discuss this before marriage to know where you both stand…….better sorted sooner than later

      Reply
  5. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    I understand where you’re coming from. We do our own version of the laws (definitely still hug and hold hands!) For me, it is not a big deal at all, so I keep going.

    Reply
  6. A thought! January 26, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    I wonder why women can’t go to the mikveh during the day. It would make the process so much easier. For a working woman, it seems really hard to run home after a full day of work. take care of your child only to run out again when all you want to do is go to sleep.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Exactly. How I wished for years that I could go during the day. Having to go at night was absolutely miserable.

      Reply
    2. Francesca January 26, 2017 at 9:36 pm

      Yes!

      Reply
  7. chutzpah January 26, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Wow! You perfectly described how I felt but was unable to articulate to myself or my husband, who I did love very much at the time.Unfortunately instead of being with him I found myself sneaking off to a fast food restaurant and wetting my hair in the sink so he would think I went. I got caught. The Rabbis had him divorce me. He fought me for custody and despite our 50/50 split he managed to alienate 2/3 of my children. When I turned 50 I had a procedure that cauterized the uterine lining to stop heavy bleeding. Now that I now longer have a monthly cycle I look back and wonder if I could have faked it a little longer for the sake of my children. Thank you for the insights and I’m so happy it worked out for your marriage.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Oh wow, what an article! As if I had written it myself!! Thank u!

    Reply
  9. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    I’ve heard of women keeping dropping the seven “clean” days and keeping only those days when there’s an actual flow, as biblical law (rather than rabbinic law) required.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous January 27, 2017 at 6:33 am

      I considered doing that before I stopped going altogether. I found the actual dip in the mikvah very nice but all the chumrahs around it and to get there were oppressive.

      Reply
    2. Anon August 29, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Actually, the seven clean days are in the written Torah, very specifically. That is why it’s near impossible to get a heter to shorten them. You can shorten the 5 days, but not 7.

      Reply
  10. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    you spoke to me. the only problem is i also have lost my sex drive – which isn’t coming back anytime soon – even went to the mikveh hoping that the dipping, the ritual, etc would bring it back. is this normal?

    Reply
    1. sara September 6, 2017 at 10:01 am

      no. see a dr, or find a new relationship. unless you are nursing, its normal to have decreased libido while nursing due to hormones and/or sleep deprivation.

      Reply
  11. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    We’ve done the same. We just got to a point where we were both too depressed and needed each other. One thing led to another. Since then we haven’t kept it. We are shomer shabbat and kashrut and so many other things but barely anyone but the closest friends know we aren’t keeping taharat hamishpacha. We feel so much more relaxed and happier now that we don’t have rules defining when we can and can’t touch.

    Reply
  12. Becky January 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    I stopped going to the mikva for an all together different reason. There had been one too many times I had been told off by the assistant for coming late Friday night.(my husband had to go to shul first as it was out of the question for him to daven at home)I was nervous as it was with her rude comments adding to my upset. I threatened the rabbis that I would stop going unless that particular assistant was sacked. The rabbi gave me excuses why he couldn’t. Little did I realise that my words had more meaning than I realised. Over the next months my anger at religious extreme laws intensified together with me getting more and more disinterested in my husband due to his lack of understanding and apathy of my feelings. I have never been back.

    Reply
  13. anon January 26, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    if you think just dealing with mikvah and all the laws that precede it,is hard, try dealing with it all and at the same time dealing with years of infertility. if i resented the laws of taharas hamishpacha before, i totally abhor them now. they just add a much huger stress to our battle for a child. i cant even tell you how much i hate it. . and the notion about asking rabbi permission for things about my personal body , don’t even get me started!! if the rabbis just knew how many women secretly do what they want , and if they would take away half of the rabbinic laws, then many more women would go to the mikvah.

    Reply
    1. 900windows January 28, 2017 at 10:01 am

      My personal view is that a woman should not have to consult a man, even if he is a Rabbi, about anything to do with the female body, especially about periods, and when to have sex……menstruating is a natural process – without it, that Rabbi, or any of us, would not exist! _ so, I find it difficult to understand why it is regarded as being ‘unclean’. It’s certainly sometimes inconvenient, and sometimes extremely unpleasant for the woman going through it, which is bad enough without adding rules to it.

      Reply
      1. Anon August 29, 2017 at 10:42 pm

        It’s not unclean, it’s a spiritual thing. There is a loss of potential life with each flow.

        Reply
        1. sara September 6, 2017 at 10:03 am

          an egg lives for about 24 hours after ovulation. by the time the period starts, its long gone

          Reply
  14. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    I struggled with the same issues. Now I am older and it is no longer relevant. But it is very reassuring for me to hear other women have had the same struggle and made the same types of decisions. You have a wonderful husband. Blessings to you for writing this.

    Reply
  15. Elizabeth Liz Kirshner January 26, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    So much respect for your honesty and thoughtfulness. It’s so hard to be in a position that feels like you have to choose between a sincere commitment to halachic values and your own sense of well-being. May you continue to have the clarity to know what’s right for you. I believe that’s what Hashem wants from us, even if it’s not always what halacha would want.

    Reply
    1. 900windows February 6, 2017 at 12:12 am

      “May you continue to have the clarity to know what’s right for you. I believe that’s what Hashem wants from us, even if it’s not always what halacha would want.”

      Oh, I love that…… Halacha and Hashem are not always of the same opinion, so to speak. And Hashem is the ultimate.

      Thank you for say this

      Reply
  16. Anonymous January 26, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    I totally hear you. I personally went through this, not just with mikva, but with Kashrut and Shabbat as well. The difficulties, stress, oppression, made it almost impossible to see the positive of it. I don’t believe the rabbis get to dictate what I do or don’t do in my own home! Woth my own body! The laws are just restrictive, repressive and sometimes ridicules. I’m sure g-d understands, and would never want to ruin our lives!

    Reply
    1. 900windows January 28, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Anonymous,
      You took the words right out of my mouth. I know G-d understands me(though I am past the time of life for the ‘periodical concerns’) I am doing my best, and He knows that.

      Reply
    2. 900windows February 6, 2017 at 12:14 am

      ” I’m sure g-d understands, and would never want to ruin our lives!” …..similar to Elizabeth’s point above….
      I so agree. I do not believe that G-d wants us to get all twizzled up and uptight – and .I know He understands.

      Reply
  17. Ezer January 26, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing. As a rabbinical student currently studying the laws of Niddah it is helpful to understand what people are struggling with. I will also share that I have had my own struggles with resentment towards specific rituals. I have OCD and I got very resentful at all the pressure I felt Judaism was placing on me. My experience was that I was able to step back and let go of some of the emotional baggage while still keeping the laws but giving myself a feeling of a breather. Things have improved a lot thank God, wishing you well.

    Reply
    1. ccziv February 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      As just an ordinary Jew with plenty of struggles, I deeply appreciate a rabbinical student who strives to understand the real struggles of real people. I predict that you will be a beloved rabbi with a direct line to Hashem. Many blessings to you!

      Reply
  18. Devora Rochel January 27, 2017 at 12:58 am

    I hope this is supportive although I’m not agreeing. To diet via a fad diet or proper nutrition and exercise are two ways of getting to a similar point but not the same. The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directives of finding a mashpia (a friend who you look up to with regard to their connection to Hashem through Torah and Mitzvos yet who can guide and understand you at your level) as well as having a Rav you trust gives us the tools to journey through life – which is by the grace of G-d as well as with His trust in us that we will connect to Him and bring Him into this world through keeping the Torah and Mitzvos as commanded by Hashem and expounded by our chachomim and rabbanim – with clarity know what’s right and the strength to follow through. Otherwise we grope through the dark unsure of what’s real.
    Emunas Hashem ahavas Hashem and yiras Hashem are definitely our heritage but needs to be nurtured through learning and although there are many wonderful reasons and outcomes for many or even all of the Mitzvos they don’t always resonate but it’s up to us to encourage and strengthen ourselves to be able to keep the Mitzvos as best we can (we all have challenges) and really for the only reason that Hashem asked and wants us to.
    Wishing you all the best in whatever choice you make.
    Devora

    Reply
  19. Chaya January 27, 2017 at 3:53 am

    My husband travels half of every month. We LOVE each other and it has been excruciatingly painful when my dates didn’t measure up with his travel dates and sometimes we were together just once a month. Yet, we believe that this is what God wants, we commit to Torah. Our times together are filled with love and joy. I don’t regret it. I think living for something you believe in in the long run gives more strength/fulfillment than immediate physical gratification/fulfillment.

    Reply
  20. grateful January 27, 2017 at 6:48 am

    thank you for this brave honesty! and yes – mikva was an extremely negative thing for me that was only damaging to my relationship to halacha and judaism – which i value deeply as an orthodox jewish woman raising an orthodox jewish family
    i was “lucky” enough to have to preventatively have my ovaries removed at age 40 due to being a carrier of the BRCA gene that gave me a very high chance of getting ovarian cancer Gd forbid. Who knew what a bracha early menopause could be!!!!! no more periods or being frustrated /angry over bedikot and mikva – just free to be together whenever it feels right and all that crazy pressure gone away – so grateful!

    Reply
  21. Yechezkel January 27, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Thank you for sharing yor story. I’m a orthodox rabbi in training and I wish to serve all Jewish people to my best abilities. perhaps you know this already but let me suggest following:

    the rabbis in the talmud and over centuries made a lot of additional decrees on taharat ha mishpacha, and demanded all these additional days and bedikas etc.
    But from the Torah you are perfectly fine to go to the mikvah after 7 days, whether or not the period has stopped. In addition to that, for the torah every pool that is built on firm ground such as e.g. a swimming pool would fit for a mikva, and a bath suit is not chozez when you make sure the water reaches all parts underneath.

    I wish you wholeheartedly many broches from above on your spiritual journey…

    Reply
    1. YAM January 27, 2017 at 5:59 pm

      Yechezkel, I 100% agree with you and this would be tolerable for me. I don’t need rabbinical approval to do this, but my husband won’t be ok with unless he has a Rabbi tell him so. I wish you could point me in the direction of someone who would be able to say this to my husband.

      Reply
    2. Tuvia January 29, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      While I am not here to comment on this article (which breaks my heart), this last comment by a rabbinical student is wholly incorrect in its description of what is biblical and what is not. At the very least, I feel Achroy to state that. (And, as a point to the other comments in this thread: at least respect Halacha to be as complex as American law, as it is not unique for ANY system of law to be complex and mired in years of back and forth, with nuanced legal judgements etc. only that Judaism makes us ALL aware of ITS complexities. But let’s not pretend that it is unique in its spiders web of legalese and that it needs to be simplified and ‘normalized’, as that would make it then the exception of legal systems and not the norm)

      Reply
  22. YAM January 27, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Great article. I too feel your pain. You articulated my thoughts and feelings exactly and I feel a lot better knowing that many women feel this way. There is something def off with the way this “mitzvah” is kept. Dislike is not a strong enough word. I would stop keeping it 100% if I could.

    Reply
  23. Girl who reads January 29, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks for posting this article. It was beautifully written. My husband and I find it difficult to keep our hands off each other during the seven days. For the sake of out marriage we do as we feel is right for us. I’m glad we are not alone in finding the rabbinical restrictions impressive. We keep a kosher home and Shabbat. This however is too much for us. Thanks for your article and to everyone else who expressed themselves so beautifully.

    Reply
  24. Anonymous January 29, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I too chose not to go to the Mikva. I think it’s a beautiful mitzvah for those who don’t struggle with their cycles.
    I am irregular and found it very difficult and I truely resented going. I do feel a guilt about it… I do feel that those who keep it are truely blessed. But I also believe it’s not for everyone.
    This is my and my husbands secrrt. I would not share with anyone the fact that I don’t go to the Mikva. And I don’t close the idea of going back to it if I’m ever spiritually ready. But for now I’m content with my choice!

    Reply
  25. Sharonah January 31, 2017 at 3:46 am

    It was very interesting to hear your side of what you’ve been going through, and I’m so glad for your honesty. I guess these feelings are more common than I imagined and probably never heard expressed due to the taboo nature of it. For myself, deciding to keep Taharat hamishpacha totally saved my marriage and I would never give back this gift from the Abeshter.
    Gd bless and my you always be fulfilled in all your decisions.

    Reply
  26. mg February 3, 2017 at 12:32 am

    As a working woman, the afternoon checks were really inconvenient. My rabbi at the time, who is mainstream Orthodox, said it is fine to just do the morning checks. That really helped.

    Reply
  27. ccziv February 3, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Wow! Good for you! And Mazel Tov for marrying well. A woman’s monthly cycle is absolutely natural. I think some in very strictly religious communities sometimes forget one of the most beautiful things about our faith: that we do in fact change our beliefs and practices according to evidence and community agreement, at least historically.

    Honestly, I think many men fear women because we have the ultimate creative power: the ability to bring a new life into this world. This is an awesome (as in awe-inspiring) super power. And it is high time that we (ideally in conjunction with our partners) reclaim control and redefine as normal and beautiful our reproductive processes. Women do not *only* have babies, we also have beautiful brains that are capable of deciding how best to handle our bodies. I’m proud of you!

    Reply
    1. 900windows February 6, 2017 at 12:20 am

      Cciv,
      So beautifully put. Thank you.

      Reply
  28. Yitzchak Horowitz August 30, 2017 at 10:48 am

    I would like to make an analogy. I used to play a lot of online video games. These games had rules about how to play and that involved not being allowed to do certain things (don’t cheat, don’t harass other players). When agreeing to play the game you agree to the rules and if you don’t keep to the rules you get banned from the game.

    Judaism is an all or nothing proposition. You can’t believe you need to keep shabbos but taharos hamishpacha is not important. (Obviously no one is perfect but we should constantly be trying to perform these acts not giving up on doing them). You agreed to these rules before you were born and when you break them you are risking getting yourself into a heck of a lot of trouble.

    In regards to everyone calling it oppressive. It would seem to me that it is up to each person to make it into something special instead of viewing it as a burden. Having a set of rules isn’t oppression. We tell children when to go to sleep, when to eat, and how to act and no one would consider that oppressive. It is incredibly important to have a set of rules to live by. (By the way, one of those rules is that rabbis get to add on restrictions).

    I try not to judge anyone since keeping Judaism is incredibly difficult (I have my own areas that I struggle to not view as a burden). However, I find this post deeply disturbing considering it says outright we don’t need to speak to Rabbi’s because we can figure it all out on our own, which is the equivalent of self diagnosing an illness and deciding on treatment instead of seeing a doctor.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous November 11, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Now, imagine this. A few people have to follow rules on top of the ones already listed in the game. These people were told that they agreed to follow them, but they have no recollection of signing on to them. They have to have these burdens for the rest of the time playing the game while everyone else did not have to abide by these extra rules. Is that really fair?

      Reply

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