Sex, Men, Marriage and Breastfeeding: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
July 24, 2012
© Reggie Casagrande
There’s a weird rumor circulating that breastfeeding is bad for your marriage. I won’t say he started it, but when James Braly blogged for the New York Times’ Motherlode a few weeks ago, he shared some, uh, interesting views on the subject. In a nutshell, he blamed his wife’s breastfeeding the couple’s five-year-old for the death of his sex life. It should be noted, however, that it died due to lack of demand, not lack of supply: Braly’s wife, at least as far as his piece divulges, didn’t stop putting out in favor of feeding her children. Instead, Braly was turned off by her breastfeeding and opted out of their sex life himself. Yet somehow, still, she got the blame, both for his lack of nookie and for… the destruction of the entire planet. No, really, read this:
He writes, “Lest you think sex is a private matter, I would argue that the decline of a couple’s sex life can have significant social consequences. A man’s loss of appetite for his companion can undermine his partnership, his family and ultimately the society of families. Even the environment takes a hit: suddenly, the divorcing couple needs a second house, an extra car, another set of Ziploc lunch bags off-gassing plastic fumes into the ozone, and on and on.”
His final conclusion? That women should abstain from extended breastfeeding for the same reasons married men should turn down solicitations for extramarital sex. That these are comparable scenarios. And that, if one poses the chicken-and-egg question around breasts’ original purpose, the obvious, logical answer is that breasts are first and foremost meant for men’s enjoyment (before, you know, keeping small human beings alive), because attraction leads to babies… and definitely not the other way around. Thus, Braly has spoken. And he sounds like kind of a d**che.
In related news, this past weekend, a start-up bottle company, Bittylab, launched a couple of lines into the Twittersphere hinting at similar sentiments. One read, "New baby? Reclaim your wife. Meet BARE™ air-free.” The Tweets were meant to promote, according to the company, bottles designed to help pro-breastfeeding families who find they must supplement with bottles, but the attempt to appeal to dads came off as totally mom-unfriendly (read more on the play-by-play here). Wrath was incurred, apologies were issued, and we’ll see if the startup survives, but this, along with Braly’s piece, raises an interesting question that, most likely, has as many different answers as there are different types of people, and relationships, on the planet: is breastfeeding bad for marriages? Is it, secretly or not-so-secretly, hard on husbands?
Given that many of the parents who took offense to the ‘Reclaim Your Wife’ tweets were fathers, I think it’s safe to say, in a great many cases (hopefully most), the answer is no. Lots of men are entirely supportive of their wives breastfeeding their children, and aren’t in the least bit turned off by the sight of it. My husband wanted me, and urged me, to breastfeed our son, and his interest in my breasts did not decline at all when I was doing so (in fact, we both thought my milk-filled breasts were pretty fun, for their very, well, fullness). As the BARE tweets (and a recently failed Huggies campaign) brought to light, most men are offended by the outdated assumption that they’re secondary decision-makers with respect to their children, that they don’t know how to care for their babies, and that they see their children as barriers to sex. Hooray for the ‘50s being long over!
Of course, some men do maintain these attitudes, and this is seriously unfortunate. Specifically, for their wives. Breastfeeding is not easy. Its success requires support, from – as the AAP recently reported – all of the institutions and social structures in which women circulate (which is, of course, all of them). It should go without saying that spousal support is the most crucial factor of all. I have several friends who didn’t breastfeed simply because their husbands didn’t want them to (they regretted this decision later); this is flabbergasting to me. Nobody quite knows what’s hit them when they first arrive home with a newborn, but I’d think most everyone would realize by now that the world turns into a tornado of sleep deprivation, poop, and general disorientation for a little while. It’s a fun time, too, but you’ve gotta go into it together, as a couple, and probably not planning on having a lot of sex (or similar activity) right up front. Why deny breasts to the baby when you’re not going to be in the mood for foreplay, anyway?
That being said, I’ve known moms who didn’t want to have sex for many, many months after having babies. This is understandable; breastfeeding or not, being a mom is exhausting, and a total loss of personal space comes with it (so being touched more isn’t necessarily a turn-on). It’s also understandable how a dad might feel a little lost, after the initial infant phase, and might wonder where, when and how sex fits back in. Moms might wonder this, too, actually… In my experience, attending to one’s sex life goes a long way toward taking care of one’s marriage-- though it’s certainly not everything -- and towards keeping things upbeat and on-track relationship-wise. This is especially true when poop becomes a frequent topic of conversation — not exactly romantic. Sex keeps things balanced! But I get that these are real issues that couples face, and must find their ways through. (In light of this, I’ve recently pooled real parents for their pointers on not only getting back into the mood, but also on figuring out nookie’s new logistics, post-baby. Study up!)
Had Braly written that his wife, five years post-baby, didn’t want him to touch her breasts because she was still breastfeeding, that would be one thing, and that would make for a very interesting conversation here; I’d sympathize with them both. But, differences between breastfeeding a baby and breastfeeding a five-year-old (and, granted, there are some) aside, his subsequent lack of nookie was still self-inflicted. And his attitudes toward women – and our breasts – are still totally backward. Honesty is awesome, sure, but if your honest opinions are entirely un-evolved, you’ve only outed—not redeemed – them through sharing them publicly. Said and done, I think the Bittylab bottle peeps just honestly messed up -- but for Braly, I’m not sympathetic at all (except for his wife).
What do you think? Do you feel Braly’s pain? Did breastfeeding have a negative impact on your marriage? Do men have a ‘right’ to women’s breasts as much as babies do? Would you stop breastfeeding if your husband asked you to? Have you made breastfeeding decisions with your husband’s input? Is your man supportive of breastfeeding? Did your sex life take a hit post-baby?