Thursday, September 01, 2005

When the Vagina Stops Being a Recepticle

Last week in the New York Times, a columnist wrote about the trauma some men undergo when they watch their wives give birth (I couldn't link to NYT without paying, so I provided a free link instead). No, they're not traumatized by seeing their partners endure physical hardship. Nor are they traumatized by the medicalization or impersonalization of a hospital birth. They are traumatized by the sight of their woman's, you know, "area" as it bulges, bleeds, cleaves to reveal their child's head and body.

Although no one seems to talk publicly about the problem, Josh is one of dozens of men who have confided to me that witnessing the births of their children has made it difficult for them to be attracted to their wives, at least in the short term. They seem to have trouble seeing them as sexual beings after seeing them make babies.

I have sat with this for a week or so, trying to be understanding. I can't. Frankly, I am repulsed. If a man watches his partner go through birth and somehow sees her as less sexual or less attractive, he had the wrong image of women to begin with.

If the sight of your partner's body arouses you, great. But if your desire to be with her is based on the sight of her, it seems you are missing the boat. At the very heart of a woman's femininity is her procreative capacity. This capacity includes tenderness, vunerability, malleability -- all distinctly feminine virtues, and largely represented by the woman's role in creating new life.

Our reproductive capacity also includes emotions and states that are less easily accepted as feminine. There is a self-reliance, a fierceness, a raw power that is equally a feature of women. We do not show this side often, but doggonnit it's there. And what better example of it then the sight of a woman crowning her baby at the entrance to the vagina?
"Honestly," one man, married for 12 years, told me, "I think one of the main reasons I don't feel attracted to my wife is that I saw her give birth three times. It's like I know too much about that part of her." The mystery is gone.

Honestly? That's unfortunate. I would hope that most women are partnered with individuals who want to know them fully, who would stand in awe of their strength as they bring life out from within them.


Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

This may be one of your most thought-provoking, well-written posts is so NOT talked about.

And, DITTO, by the way, 100%.


4:25 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Oh my god. Did you read the last paragraph?

"Women may want to consider the risks as they invite their partners to watch them bring new life into the world. Some of the passion that binds them together may leave their lives at the very same time."

Consider the risks??? Once again, we're supposed to put someone else's needs ahead of our own. Let's not have support while birthing because it might upset HIM???

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My apologies, I'm posting anonymously because I'm revealing something very personal here. :)

I've heard this other places (not sure, but I want to say Michel Odent, for one) and I don't like it, and I have a hard time understanding it as well as my own husband seems to have had no trouble with it, and I mean that very sincerely. The more empowered my births, the more primal my husband's post-birth attraction to me has become. In fact, in the last birth, which was unassisted, in other words he was the only one with me, as I moaned and groaned and bellowed and swung my hips around on hands and knees and directed his hands to help me, he kneeled behind me, pressed up against me (which was supremely comforting) and I'll be darned if he didn't have a hard-on. This wasn't about the baby, of course, and he doesn't have a birth fetish. It was about him being so fully in the primal, hormone-laden space with me, our bodies once again working together to bring about a desired result. Much has been written about birth as a sexual act for women; the same hormones are at work, and the woman's genitals go through much the same transformation, loosening, widening, lubricating. Some women even orgasm during birth, so intense are the sensations, although of course this rarely happens in a clinical setting, as orgasm during coitus would rarely happen in a clinical setting.

All that to say that I'm not really convinced that it's not at least partly an environmental thing for these men, despite what they say -- because even if a man is not specifically *bothered* by the medicalization and (essentially) bowdlerization of this inherently sexual process, that does not mean that it has not affected his perception of his wife as a sexual being.

10:35 AM  
Blogger : Joseph j7uy5 said...

This is something that may not have come to the attention of the traditional medical community.

I would be curious to see if anyone knows whether this is influenced by the type of childbirth preparation (Lamaze vs Bradley vs Nothing), and whether you see the same thing in home birth versus hospital birth.

It would seem that childbirth preparation classes could help reduce the incidence of this problem. But if the medical community is not aware of it, they won't study it or try to fix it.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

"I would be curious to see [...] whether you see the same thing in home birth versus hospital birth."

Anecdotally, from reading people's accounts of birth and postpartum on the internet, it does seem to be true that the more both the man and pregnant woman regard her as a sexually ripe being (rather than a clinicized container for making babies), and the less managed the birth (including at home,) the less likely his witnessing of the birth will affect their sex lives adversely.

I would love to see a study on this, because I think that people would appreciate knowing how certain approaches to birth could affect their later sexual lives, so that they could make informed choices accordingly.

12:30 PM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Good point Linda. A nice way to turn around the argument. Instead of "couples may want to consider the detrimental possibility of the husband's watching the birth," we have "couples might want to reconsider their birth setting and caregivers and the implications they could have on their sex lives down the road.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would just like to add that strictly from an evolutionary perspective this makes some sense, as it would be helpful to the child if the man was no longer focused on sexual conquest.

Also, sorry to say as I know this flies in the face of most western thought, but it also makes sense (from the same perspective) that a woman is weakened after giving birth and is therefor no longer viable as a healthy mate - prompting the man to seek others as mates. This is of course most likely a subconscious thing, and is notably a behavior that can be seen in many animals.

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well im only 14 and i have seen many births on the internet and im acually attracted to that stuff.i have a birth fetish and have had one for as long as i can the future when my wife has a baby i will not become any less attacted it might acually be good to marry a guy who is attracted to that stuff.

2:56 AM  

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