Purity, Sex, Childbirth, and STDs: How to Live as a Woman in First-century Israel

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

What could you expect during childbirth in the first-century? How did you maintain ritual purity, and how did it affect your daily life? Did you have to worry about catching an STD? What happened to unwanted babies? Read on to learn more about women's experiences in the biblical era!

Welcome to the seventh post in our series on How to Live as a Woman in First-century Israel!

We've explored many important topics that delve into a historical woman's life, like women's roles in the workplace, managing a household, women's rights within marriage and rules on divorce, what to wear and how to stay clean, how women worship, and shopping for the family on a typical wage.

This series walks in the sandals of a woman in first-century Israel, the century during which Jesus Christ walked the earth.

For a long time, historians ignored or downplayed women in history—including women within the early Christian church. Today that is changing. More than ever, scholars are examining how historical women were viewed within society, their struggles, and their triumphs.

So let's take a look at sexual and reproductive health for women in first-century Israel! I invited you to imagine that you've been transported back in time and that this is now your life.

Menstruation practices in the ancient world

When you get your monthly period, your primary concern as a Jewish woman is not physical cleanliness, but ritual purity. Any man or woman who has a discharge from their body cannot go into the temple area, nor can anyone who recently touched them.

During your menstruation, you will be expected to keep your own bed and chair, and no one will share them with you—except perhaps another menstruating woman or little children you are caring for. In some regions, you might stay in a separate space for the duration, such as the women's side of the house.

As a Jewish woman, you will not go to the temple, have sex, or touch others, though you can pass things back and forth. From what we can tell, there seem to be no restrictions on cooking, weaving, praying, or other household tasks. (1)

You can read much more about women's periods in the Bible in this in-depth post!

To keep yourself comfortable, a menstrual cloth is typical. (2) There are sources that state that Greek women used tampons made from soft wool and that Egyptian woman used sponges. (3)

Could women travel with Jesus, or did menstruation make this impossible?

If you are eager to be a disciple of the new and exciting prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, you might wonder what restrictions you will face during your time of the month.

Based on Luke 8, There seem to be several women that traveled with Jesus. While it is possible these are all older women who had experienced menopause, it would not be hard to keep to your own ma