Onan? Oh, No!

Onan Oh No

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Written by “Couldn’t Make This Up”. “Couldn’t Make this Up” is a congregational Rabbi and a first-time Jewrotica writer in the Southwestern United States.

Rated PG-13Like most rabbis, I suppose I am always delighted to be asked questions. My favorites are the ones that fall into the “they-didn’t-tell-us-about-this-in-seminary” category. An all-time great came my way several years ago. I loved the earnestness of the question, and the opportunity I was given to correct some misinformation. The question came in written form; I’ve changed a few details to preserve the anonymity of the questioner:


I have a penitent-to-clergyman question, but first I must explain a medical condition I am beset with. My physician today informed me I have prostatitis, a chronic infection of the prostate gland. He prescribed the antibiotic ciprofloxacin for the next thirty days. He also instructed me to have sexual intercourse as frequently as possible for the next month, preferably daily. He explained that fluid buildup in the prostate exacerbates this condition. I pointed out to Dr. Perry that would be impossible, since I am not currently in a relationship of a sexual nature.

My doctor then told me to masturbate daily. I guess he could see the shocked look on my face, and asked me what was the matter. I told him that would be a sin (Genesis 38:8-10). He laughed and suggested that I discuss the matter with my clergyman. Rabbi, I realize that by now you must be rolling on the floor, but I have a real problem with this. Perchance it is the hardshell Baptist influence in my childhood, not to mention the fact I am not about to cavort with ladies of the evening. I’m also a little long in the tooth for speed dating. I have a large enough burden of sin as we approach Rosh Hashanah, and have no desire to add to it. Is there some way you could give me permission to practice onanism for the next month? I promise I won’t enjoy it, and will not allow any prurient thoughts to enter my mind during that time period, except those necessary to achieve orgasm.

I know you’ve had this come up before in your rabbinate. Thank you in advance for whatever guidance you may give me in this matter.



Actually, no. That had never come up in my rabbinate. But I was happy to introduce this wonderful person to a more sex-positive way of looking at things. My response:


I have some reading set aside for you, from Rabbi Elliot Dorff’s excellent book, “Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics.” As you’ll see, masturbation is understood today — both medically and Jewishly — as a normal release of sexual energy, both physical and emotional. And when prescribed by a doctor…well, all the more so is it permitted. Certainly this is the best alternative as a medical therapy (as opposed to hiring a prostitute or entering a relationship without an emotional component).

And for the record, Onan‘s “spilling of the seed,” was coitus interruptus, and the sin was in not fulfilling his levirate obligation to his brother’s memory and household. Nothing whatsoever to do with masturbation, as is plain from the context…but that hasn’t stopped generations of preachers from scaring the daylights out of teenage boys!

Wishing you a refuah shleimah,



I am happy to report that the questioner took my advice to heart, thanked me for setting him straight about “Onanism,” and experienced a full and happy recovery!

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