The Coronavirus has affected how we live, how we work, how we congregate and how we experience touch and intimacy. The world at large has had to renegotiate the common norms of social intimacy with distancing measures that are increasing daily.
Meanwhile, couples are faced with a new reality: confinement at home, the need to keep children occupied and help them cope with stress and uncertainty, as well as provide comfort and reassurance to one another.
How do couples navigate their intimate relationships during this time? Midrashic sources point to several times in history where mankind refrained from relations in times of existential crisis , hunger and enslavement. On the other hand, it may be specifically during times of crisis that couples wish to re-affirm their vitality, comfort one another, or even simply relieve tension through sexual relations.
ויבוא נח ובניו ואשתו ונשי בניו אתו אל התבה מפני מי המבול.
Noah went in, and his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, on account of the flood waters.
Rashi on Bereshit 7:7
נח ובניו – האנשים לבד והנשים לבד לפי שנאסרו בתשמיש המטה מפני שהעולם שרוי בצער.
Noah and his sons – the men and the women apart from each other, as they were forbidden to have sexual intercourse because the world was enmeshed in agony.
צא מן התבה אתה ואשתך ובניך ונשי בניך אתך.
Leave the ark – you, your wife, your sons, and their wives with you.
Rashi on Bereshit 8:16
אתה ואשתך וכו’ – איש ואשתו. כאן התיר להם תשמיש המטה.
You and your wife etc. – Husband and wife together. Here [G-d] permitted them to have sexual intercourse.
Masechet Sanhedrin 108b
…ומנלן דנאסרו? דכתיב “ובאת אל התיבה אתה ובניך ואשתך ונשי בניך אתך.” וכתיב “צא מן התיבה אתה ואשתך ובניך ונשי בניך אתך.” ואמר רבי יוחנן: מיכן אמרו שנאסרו בתשמיש המטה.
…And from where do we know that they were forbidden [to have sexual intercourse]? As it is written, “You will go into the ark – you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” And it is written, “Leave the ark – you, your wife, your sons, and their wives with you.” And Rabbi Yochanan says, from here [the Sages] said that they were forbidden to have sexual intercourse.
Talli Rosenbaum, “Your Love Life in Lockdown”: