Dear Rabbi Simon
I have a halachic question regarding marriage and, in particular, sex. I simply want to know whether a wife is obliged to have relations with her husband, in the same way that a man is obliged to? We learn [in this week’s parasha—ed.] that a man must provide his wife with things like clothes, a home, sustenance etc. as per the ketuba, and sexual activity is included in that. The laws of ritual purity and Mikvah are part of that.
However, I am in a relationship where my wife, who despite saying she loves me and is attracted to me, simply has no drive anymore for physical and health reasons. We are both 36 and have three small children. As a result, she attaches no urgency anymore to relations, nor mikva and will not even talk about sex, saying only that she’s too tired, too busy and doesn’t really feel a need to engage in it more than once a month (when she returns home from the mikveh). This really isn’t suitable for me and causes me tremendous feelings of frustration, neglect and sadness. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her this because I am mitzvah-observant and I feel she believes observant people can control their desires and not want relations so much (she feels that 3/4 times a month is a lot).
Obviously this is a deep subject and I am sure that you are going to suggest therapy and counselling, however I did mention this to her a few times and she believes that that is for relationships which are fraught with arguments and fighting, which thankfully ours is not. We have harmony and dates and hang out together, but she’s just not a physical person anymore. I’ve told her all of the above and more but she makes no effort at all to listen or improve and remains unapproachable and complacent. I would love to show her a Halachic source for the question in the first paragraph above, which could easily be advanced to admonish a husband, were the roles to be reversed (as they sometimes are, I realise).
I am sorry if this is the wrong forum for this question and please feel free to point me in the right direction if you feel appropriate.
Thank you for your poignant and personal question. I am pleased that the anonymous nature of this forum enables you to ask in a frank and honest manner.
You are correct that my impulse is to urge you and your wife (or possibly just your wife on her own) to seek the input of a therapist, who can help her develop (or recover) the physical desire (arousal) which is a natural component of a fulfilling marriage. The fact that your relationship is in many ways strong and harmonious is a basis for optimism for the success of such intervention. I hope that this link may be helpful to you: Please visit https://www.yoatzot.org/questions-and-answers/5039/. [BTW there are similar resources in the UK as well.]
Of course it is axiomatic that the most talented counsellor will only be able to help if the client wants help. Which takes us to the specific question you have asked, namely, sources in halakhah for a woman’s obligation in marital relations. This matter is indeed explicit in many places, starting with the Mishna Ketubot 5:7 and Talmud 63a-b. This is the din of moredet (one who rebels against her husband) codified by Rambam Ishut 14:8-11 and Shulkhan ‘Arukh Even ha-Ezer 77:2. (And yes, there is a corresponding category of mored, one who rebels against his wife.) Simply put, a woman is obligated to provide for her husband’s sexual needs, just as he is obligated to provide for hers. This is an implied condition of the agreement to marry. In fact, the penalty for a woman’s refusal to respect her husband’s sexual needs is more severe (costly, in monetary terms) because (say the Sages) a man’s feelings of sexual deprivation are more acute than a woman’s. He suffers more, so her penalty (for inflicting this upon him) is more severe.
It is true that a man also has a further specific Torah obligation to provide for his wife’s conjugal needs (derived from Ex 21:10; see Rashi and Ramban there) which he may not neglect (other than by mutual agreement), but this in no way detracts from her obligation towards him.
With Torah blessings
Rabbi Rashi Simon