When a 50-year-old woman’s botched operation in 1995 rendered her unable to have sex, a Portuguese court ruled that the injury took place at “an age when sex is not as important as in younger years,” and duly reduced the damages owed to her by the hospital.
The New York Times reported this week that Maria Ivone Carvalho Pinto de Sousa Morais, now 72, has disputed this, and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that this was, in fact, an unjust ruling.
“The question at issue here is not considerations of age or sex as such, but rather the assumption that sexuality is not as important for a 50-year-old woman and mother of two children as for someone of a younger age,” the ruling stated. “That assumption reflects a traditional idea of female sexuality as being essentially linked to childbearing purposes and thus ignores its physical and psychological relevance for the self-fulfillment of women as people.”
But the Talmud actually weighed in on this 2,000 years ago.
According to Jewish law, sexual pleasure is actually a wife’s right — and a husband’s lifetime obligation, no matter what the age, regardless of whether a woman is at a childbearing age or not. The ketubah, the marriage contract that a husband signs, states that the three things a husband is compelled to give his wife are she’er, clothing; kesut, clothing, and v’onah, literally “time,” which is understood as a rabbinic euphemism for marital relations.
Female sexuality is a basic human need, the text implies — just like food and clothing — and doesn’t have to be tied to procreation, either.
Actually, the Talmud writes that a woman’s sexual needs are more important than money. In a discussion in Ketubot 62b, the rabbis debate if a married donkey driver (one who travels locally and spends the nights at home, at a lower pay grade) can choose to become a camel driver (one who travels longer distances and is thus more rarely at home, but is paid more). The Talmud concludes that a woman would prefer her husband remain a donkey driver over a camel driver: Even though the latter job earns more money, it is more important for a woman to have a regular relationship with her husband than the extra dollars (or shekels, in this case).
Another discussion, in Yevamot 62b, says quite clearly that a righteous woman ought to be rewarded by her husband — in the bedroom. “Whoever knows that his wife fears heaven and she desires him, and he does not visit her [that is, have intercourse with her], is called a sinner, as it is stated: ‘And you shall know that your tent is in peace.’”
Some ancient wisdoms just never go out of style.