Our Gemara records a seemingly bizarre practice of Rav and Rav Nachman: When they would travel to a foreign city without their wives, they would seek a temporary wife, so as to save them from temptation.
Needless to say, this Gemara runs against modern sensibilities. But not just for the moderns, Ben Yeyohada also cannot accept this Gemara literally as stated. He finds it repugnant that anyone, let alone rabbis, could behave in such a coarse manner. He suggests it was a specific theatrical act to rebuke aging bachelors in those particular cities, as if to say, “I can get married, why can’t you?” It is a difficult peshat.
The Gemara raises its own series of questions on this odd practice, and eventually concludes they did not necessarily marry these women, but rather made arrangements that they COULD marry them, if they chose (see Tosafos for more details). Regardless, this Gemara comes close to validating what would sound to our modern ears as the objectification of women. As if to say, the fear of having a lustful thought or a seminal emission is so great, that a substitute “pinch hitter” wife must be procured. Indeed, some people use thinking like this to pressure their wives to be sexual with them, otherwise, it would be “their fault” for causing their husbands to sin.
I must say, I am not confident about what this Gemara is saying. However, I can be confident about what it is not saying. Ben Yehoyada tries to come up with a workable interpretation, which it is up to you to judge whether or not it works, but he certainly could not accept the simple reading. The reality is, that it is disgusting and repugnant to use a woman in this way.
Now, of course there is a concept that having a fulfilling and mutual sex life will help mitigate lustful and sinful behavior. However, that is different than giving a wife a guilt trip expecting her to take responsibility for your own mismanaged impulses. The Gemara (Pesachim 49b and especially Tosafos “Mah”) considers a person who engages with his wife sexually out of coercion, instead of arousing her through romance and love, to be like a beast.
Men out there, while you might acknowledge that it is your responsibility and role to have children, how would it feel if your wife said to you, “I need you to make children for me!“ Would you feel valued, or objectified? It is interesting, that one of the few times in the Torah where we see the forefathers become angry is in Yaakov’s reply to what appears to be Rachel’s demand to make her pregnant (see Bereishis 30:1-2). In fact, I have noticed that the one time that stereotypically men feel used sexually and unable to perform is when there are fertility issues. Most people would say, generally speaking, men do not need as much foreplay to become aroused and ready to be sexual. Most men would usually not complain to their wives that they feel used and objectified. However, when there is a fertility issue, and there is a requirement to perform at a particular time or hour, there are many men who suddenly become impotent and feel objectified and pressured. It is important to understand that regardless of what one’s role and responsibility is, no one wants to be treated as an object.
Please folks, use common sense and don’t allow misterpreted Gemaras to rationalize beastly behavior.
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria