Niddah Diaries: Skipping a period

When I scheduled a trip to my parents for succot, I realized that I’d most likely have to go to the mikvah over chag while on vacation. I don’t like the idea of using this mikvah (I’ve used it once before, a few days before I got married, and it’s pretty gross), and I don’t like the idea of going to the mikvah on chag, either. Therefore, it was a pretty easy decision for me to use my birth control pills to skip my period this month.

For niddah purposes, this means five weeks of being able to have sex, instead of the normal two. It also means that if I don’t want to have sex one night because I’m tired, that’s okay, because we can just have sex the next night. I’m only on the beginning of week 3 (i.e. this is the week that I should be getting my period, but I went straight to the new pack of pills). I’ll let you know how it goes, but so far, the intimacy and romance has not been lacking, even if we chose not to have sex one or two times last week.

Over Rosh Hashana, we were staying at relatives’ house, in the same city that we live in. There was another couple there, too, and the woman apparently was scheduled to use the mikvah the first night of Yom Tov. They weren’t eating with us that night, and instead were intentionally eating with an elderly couple that tends to eat quickly. However, apparently they missed the mikvah appointment and had to go back there the next night. By the end of chag, everyone at our house knew they were going to the mikvah and knew that they had missed their appointment and knew that they went again the next night.

While we were waiting for them to get back from the mikvah the second night, I had a conversation with one of my relatives about the whole thing. She, a woman in her 50s who has been keeping niddah her whole adult life, said that she didn’t understand why this women was so insistent to go now, and why everyone had to know about this woman’s mikvah schedule. She said that when she was younger, no one was supposed to know that you were going to the mikvah, and therefore, people usually waited and went after shabbat/yom tov. My husband spoke up and said, “Yeah, but delaying mikvah is REALLY frowned upon”. I spoke up and said, “She could just manipulate her birth control” (We all happen to know she takes birth control pills because she’s mentioned it before).

To me, and this relative, avoiding mikvah on shabbat/yom tov would be a priority. But for her, it’s not. And those are choices we all make.

Birth Control: Fertility Awareness as a viable form?

About a year ago, I attended a lecture on the topic of halachik birth control. It was given by a Yoetzet Halacha and prominent kallah teacher. She went through the various forms of birth control and what halachik problems they raise, how rabbis have gotten around the issue, and when they might be appropriate for women.

My biggest concern with her lecture was that up there with pills, IUDs, and condoms, she included the Fertility Awareness Method. Another article I read recently about birth control in the Orthodox community also mentioned this method as part of a list of options couples have to avoid pregnancy.

The “fertility awareness method” is a way in which women can monitor their body temperatures, vaginal mucus, and calendar days to determine when they are ovulating, and avoid sex while ovulating.

The problem is, the “fertility awareness method” is not really birth control at all!! Planned Parenthood puts the efficacy rates for the method at only 75% when used “as an average person would”, with an average amount of mistakes. When used absolutely perfectly, the efficacy rate can go up to 90%. These rates sure wouldn’t satisfy me if I was looking for a way to prevent pregnancy. In comparison, most birth control pills have a 99% efficacy rate when used “as an average person would”, and a 99.99% efficacy rate when used perfectly.

The “fertility awareness method” is even less effective than the pull-out method. Pull-out, or withdrawal, also has studies showing that the method is 77% effective with average use and 96% effective with perfect use. The numbers may seem to indicate that with perfect use, pull-out, fertility awareness, condoms, IUDs, and hormonal pills are all approximately the same amount of effective. But do a google search for any of these methods. With fertility awareness and withdrawal, you’ll find articles about the methods, but under every article, you will find many women writing “I got pregnant that way”, “yeah, me too”. You won’t find such comments with pills, IUDs, and condoms. Of course, there will be the 0.01% that get pregnant on those methods and write about it, but those types of comments or articles are few and far between.

The problem is, of course, no one is perfect!! Professionals should not be counseling women to use fertility awareness because the chances are likely that a woman using that method will become pregnant. This is how accidents happen.

The other, more systemic, problem, is that when methods like the above gain such widespread notoriety, rabbis and other religious leaders can use this information to downplay the need to find halachik methods of birth control. No, you can’t use the pill or any other birth control forms, but don’t worry, there’s still a way to prevent pregnancy, just track your menses. It is the same problem with the availablity of reconstructive therapy for homosexuality–since it’s available, rabbis can use it to downplay the problems faced by homosexual individuals. No matter that the general mental health profession has dismissed such therapy as being completely ineffective–they just haven’t found the right doctor/patient match yet.

It is also troubling to me that I heard this from a yoetzet halacha. The Yoatzot program was designed to counter the problem of uninformed men discussing and ruling on women’s issues. It’s much harder to tell if blood is menstrual blood if you’ve never experienced menstrual blood. While the Yoatzot technically have male rabbis making all the official halachick rulings, women are trained to make¬†factual¬†rulings. The problem is, here was a woman standing up and telling all these other women that fertility awareness is a viable method of birth control. They are making the same mistakes rabbis make when looking at the facts and not the situation as a whole.

Fertility awareness may be appropriate for those couples in very insular communities that have completely rejected all traditional forms of birth control due to halachik issues, but in a society where rabbis are willing to consider the possibility of birth control, withdrawal and fertility awareness should not even be on the list.

SlutWalk DC

I got an invitation on facebook to SlutWalk DC.

SlutWalk is a march to protest blaming the victim in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases. The official SlutWalk DC website lists the demands that the protestors assert, essentially just that every DC resident should have equal access to reproductive health care (including abortions), every victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment should be able to receive treatment, and that all people should be able to report sexual assault/harassment without fear of other legal repercussions, such as deportation for undocumented aliens.

The demands are not so farfetched. I completely, one hundred percent support them.

Apparently, SlutWalk was started because Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto police officer, gave a talk to college women at Osgoode Hall Law School in which he said that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to avoid being victimized”.

It is true. Women and men should also avoid walking through inner city streets to avoid being mugged, children should avoid walking alone in order to avoid being kidnapped, and consumers should avoid using their social security number to avoid identity theft.

That being said, muggers should stop mugging, rapists should stop raping, and men (and women!) should stop thinking of women as sex objects. Of course. And, people that are victims of these crimes should certainly have the right and the security to report the crimes and get treated, if needed.

However, if your goal is to avoid getting raped, there are some things you can do to prevent it. Dress like you want to show off your brains, not your body.

Of course, sexualization of women in the workplace is all too common, and should be avoided. But lets be honest, is a bunch of women marching through the city scantily clad, showing off their bodies, and advocating for “sluts” really going to make chauvinists think any higher of women? I think not.

True Social Welfare

The long anticipated post on social welfare is here.

Working in an office which deals with cases of inner city child abuse and neglect on a daily basis has given me a completely new perspective on this issue of social welfare.

I have some pretty conservative leanings politically. I have always been a high achiever, and tend to have similar expectations for the rest of the world. A little unfair, yes, but so be it. If you want to eat, you have to work. Almost everyone in America has the ability to go to work. You’re a little disabled? Ok, get a job that your disability won’t hinder. You’re not the smartest key in the shed? Get a job that doesn’t require brains. You can’t stay sober enough to get to work everyday? You don’t get paid. Harsh, yes. Unfair, no.

However, there are certain aspects of social welfare which are really, truly, social welfare. I say that in comparison to what I call “personal welfare”. If one person can’t afford to eat and the State gives him food, that’s not for the good of society, thats for the good of a single person. Even if the state gives out thousands of benefits to thousands of recipients, these are all essentially lots of gifts that benefit lots of people individually.

Truly social welfare is different. It benefits society as a whole.

Every day, I interact with parents that have been accused of child abuse or neglect. One of the fundamentals in the field of domestic violence is “the cycle of violence”, essentially, an abused person is exposed to abuse for so long that they think that is how everyone acts, and they, in response, abuse others. Almost ALL of the parents that come into our office accused of abuse/neglect are already in the system as children of abuse. It’s a whole cycle. I probably have one client a week come in because they voluntarily put their child in foster care. These people live in a culture where many of their peers are in “the system” and they thinks its a completely responsible way to live. Find a guy who wants to have sex with you, get pregnant, stay with the guy even though he cheats on you/beats you/forces you to do things you don’t want because he says you’re pretty and that makes you feel good, get overwhelmed with being in highschool, having a baby, and dealing with your abusive boyfriend, decide you don’t want your baby being exposed to the bum baby-daddy, put the child in foster care, party, get clean, attempt to get your child out of foster care. Repeat.

The financial strain on our government from all this is infinite. The police officers that respond to the domestic violence calls, the State’s Attorneys and Public Defenders, the judges hired solely for child abuse cases, the foster parents, the medical care for foster children…the list in endless.

In many ways, the strain on our government budgets would actually be alleviated by providing birth control, sex-ed, health clinics, therapeutic centers, and state-funded education to underprivileged populations. Now, this may not be “fair” to the hard working people that actually pay for these things (and don’t be fooled by the recent law that requires no co-pay for birth control, you actually just pay more for your insurance premiums), but it benefits them as well. Crime is reduced. Taxes are reduced. More educated, achieving citizens are produced which in turn work and benefit their communities.

And that is TRUE social welfare.