"Reclaim Your Wife"

Have you seen the recent ad campaign for Bittylab bottles?  Last week they tweeted to new dads:

The idea is that the bottle is so much like a breast that your baby won’t know the difference and you can get your wife “back.”

Um, ew.

As this blog post at Ms. so aptly notes,

When wives aren’t feeding their child, they shouldn’t be expected to be “reclaimed” by their husbands. Women aren’t property waiting around to be used by babies, husbands or anyone else.

Obviously, when you have a baby, your relationship with your partner has to readjust — as you find a new balance, there is less time for everyone.  And it’s totally normal for non-nursing partners to feel, among their feelings, some jealousy of the new baby, even some resentment at the lessened attention from his mate.  There are a lot of ways to cope with the big relationship changes that happen when you add a baby to your life.  

It’s just … ‘reclaim’?  Was she his chattel before the baby annexed her?  

Bittylab touts the bottle as “mom-invented” as though this undoes the annoying misogyny of the “Your Body And Attention Actually Belong To Your Dude And Your Baby Is An Interloper” message.  But the idea of a bottle as “liberating you” from your baby is all wrong — it sets up the mom as a slave to her baby, instead of what she is: an adult caring for him and calling the shots.  

I am not saying it’s wrong to use a bottle.  I’m saying the idea of the bottle as something that “sets you free” implies that breastfeeding is a kind of slavery.  You may indeed, sometimes, feel like a slave.  We all have our hyperbolic moments.  I suggest you keep these thoughts to a minimum and try to reframe it, and think of motherhood as demanding, but not demeaning.

And when we suggest that the bottle sets you free so that you can take care of your man?  

WTF year is it?!  

It reminds me of that essay last year by Erica Jong protesting the way that new moms get involved with their babies (rather than going to parties, as she apparently did after her daughter was born) and saying, reproachfully, that when a woman “breastfeed[s] at all hours” her mate feels that her “breasts don’t belong to him,” and this is bad. 

Your breasts don’t belong to your mate.  Your body is yours.  If you’ve chosen to have a baby, there are difficult moments and wonderful moments.  You’re entitled to find it hard or complicated; you’re entitled to want a break; you’re entitled to think creatively about what might give you a break; you’re entitled to try to design a life where you get what you need in order to meet all your responsibilities.  None of that is wrong or inappropriately selfish.

But don’t support a company that tries to get your money by telling you you’re a slave and that your real job is to service your man.

Bringing Sexy Back -- Study Looks At Sex And New Motherhood

One of the things you hear about sex after baby is that “you have to wait six weeks.”  A new study published online this month in the Journal Of Sexual Medicine, looked at when women resumed sex, what kind of sex they had and what motivated their timing.  It goes beyond the generic idea, and explores  why, when and how real new mothers have sex.  It found, (to no one’s surprise, I hope), that there are a lot of factors at play, and that it varies.

Before we get into it, though, can we just pause on the “Six Week Rule”?  Usually it’s expressed as something like:

You have to wait six weeks after having a baby before you resume normal relations.

Now, I ask you, what does any of that even mean?   Although we’ve all heard this “rule,” this is not some sort of medical canon.  In fact, as I understand it, there is no medical basis at all for a generic 6 week (or any!) proscription on sex.  Instead, this recommendation started with doctors giving their patients “permission” not to do it for a while out of some concern that the poor women otherwise couldn’t keep their husbands at bay.  

Can we look at all the assumptions there?  a. She has a husband.  b. He wants to have intercourse, obviously.  c. She doesn’t, obviously.  d. She can’t say no to him without a doctor’s note. e. The only kind of sex is intercourse.  f.  By six weeks she either should want to, or she should do it anyway, because for god’s sake we just gave her six weeks off, sheesh.

Doctors should not pretend there are medical reasons for things that have no medical reason.  

Also, what reason could there be?  No one ever spells it out.  There’s a kind of image that childbirth always causes a disfiguring gaping-wound trauma to your ladybits.  It is a Disaster Area that mysteriously requires no ongoing clinical care or medical attention, yet is so horrible that we cannot touch it, play with it, think of it or go there.  Vagina Zahadoom.

A normal spontaneous vaginal birth might leave you feeling sore and tender for a few days, but it’s not physical trauma that restricts your body’s normal functioning any more than some other kind of big workout.  Even for women who had stitches, the generic idea of avoiding all contact in the zone for six weeks is arbitrary (and tell me, how is an orgasm without penetration going to get anywhere near that scar?).  And what about the 33% of American moms who have a c-section?  What vaginal trauma do we think they suffered?  

I just hate the idea that we’re all carrying around this idea that birth is a vaginal explosion that turns your nether regions into Beirut.

So — if you want to have sex before you’re six weeks out, it is beyond unfortunate to be told a bullshit reason not to.  You’re a grown freaking woman; you’re allowed to have sex if you feel like it, it’s your body. Talk to your doctor and ask if there’s any reason *not* to.

And by the same token, if you don’t want to have sex, whether it’s been 3 weeks or 3 months or freaking five years, you don’t need a Fakey Mc-Fake medical excuse.  “I don’t feel like it now” is enough.  That’s the other thing about the Six Week Rule.  Do you know how many women I meet who feel unready for sexytimes after 5 weeks and six days?  Many.  Too often, I find, those moms  have interpreted the six-week thing as an affirmative injunction, like it’s mandatory to do it at six weeks, like by then they “ought to” want to “by now” because they had “six weeks off.”  Because their doctor said so.

No.  Your doctor has no idea what you like in bed, or when you like it, or how or where or why.  

(btw, I have never, in ten years of working with new moms, heard of a doctor who spontaneously had an actual conversation with a pregnant patient about this, asking what the couple’s sex life was like, and tailoring any future recommendation to their specific habits, desires and physical limitations, if any.)  

(btw2, What are “normal relations” anyway?  The Six Week Rule makes it seem like sex is just one thing — that everyone does it at the same time, the same way (and that “everybody” is a guy with a penis and a woman with a vagina and it’s all “insert tab a into slot b”).  Lots of folks dig intercourse, obvs, but it’s not the only way to get off.  Sex is supposed to be something that feels good, right?  And, as we grow, isn’t it normal that what feels good might also develop and change?)


Soooo, this study looked at what actually happens with sex after a baby.  And one of the first things they found debunks the idea that no woman wants sex initially: 40% of women were masturbating in the first few weeks.  


So, despite the “6 Week Rule” assumption that of course she doesn’t want it, apparently many women are at least into sex with themselves at first.

(you know what’s hard about blogging?  Everything I write I imagine how it could make someone feel bad.  So, I wrote that and now worry that someone reads it and feels guilty that she wasn’t getting herself off when her kid was 3 weeks old, like it’s one more thing on the endless perfectionist to-do list: have a perfect vag birth, breastfeed flawlessly, donate extra pumped milk to tsunami victims, lose all weight instantly, teach your child Mandarin and harp lessons while they are nursing, bake your own gluten free bread and do it all while masturbating!  So — NOT LIKE THAT.  Every one of us has to take some time to blend the newness of Being A Mother with the rest of who we were beforehand.  For many women, that means that the sexy stuff takes, temporarily, a back seat to the other projects.  For other women, though, being sexual never goes away, and that’s where that 40% figure becomes interesting.  My guess is that it has more to do with how she learns than with anything else — some women table everything else to immerse themselves in learning something new, others proceed more evenly.)

The study looked at what activities moms did and when they did it.  They also looked at the mom’s desire level. (I love that the study also separated out desire from what the ladies were doing and when they were doing it.  Because, as anyone who’s seen Girls, (or When Harry Met Sally) knows, it’s possible to engage in sexual activity without desire.  

They found that … it varies.  As to timing, “significant differences in time to resumption were found.”  They also found that not everyone was doing the same thing, duh!  Although a majority waited a couple months before intercourse, only 60% were having intercourse *at all* at 7 weeks.  Many women started with oral sex (giving) and masturbation before intercourse.

When identifying the factors at play in what activity women chose, and when, the study found the following factors were significant:

* good birth experience

* adequate social support

* mom felt the partner’s sexual fulfillment was important

* mom perceived partner had a lot of desire.  

* mom’s fatigue level

Results also suggested that postpartum desire was not  significantly influenced by breastfeeding status, vaginal issues, or psychosocial variables.  Desire was increased most when women had feelings of intimacy and closeness to their partners (shocker!).  Desire was lowered by fatigue, sleep issues and time constraints. 

One thing this study did not examine:  Was the sex any good?  Because isn’t that actually kind of the point?  I have a lot of clients and students whose main complaint about sex isn’t about what, when or how much, but that it’s lousy, dull, “different,” weird or even painful at first.  I’d love to see a study that examined sexual pleasure in new parents.  For now, if your baby is really young and you have resumed sex, it’s also not mandatory to do it a lot if it’s lousy.  For some folks, sex is not awesome the first few many times, for lots of reasons.  There are things that help.

So what does that add up to?   Women aren’t generic.  Some will feel more muted desire and need a sexual hiatus as they transition to motherhood, others are ready to go right away, but what “ready to go” means varies from mom to mom.  Some stuff is clear, though:  when we foster appropriate education and support (great childbirth class, labor support and appropriate clinical care to improve birth experience, postnatal support and a mom’s group to provide social support, cultural and societal supports that foster the bonding and intimacy between partners and help new parents get rest), we are investing in new parents’ partnerships, and in everyone’s well being.

Get Your Chick On: How Sex Is Like Chicken And How Talking Helps

 So, recently I wrote an essay about a time I was given a sex toy, instead of cash, in exchange for teaching a class.  (Funnily enough, just around the same time, there was an article on TDB about sex toys not only going mainstream but even being marketed for Extremely Religious People.  Isn’t it weird how a topic gets into the ether?

 Now, my essay wasn’t an x-rated review of sex toys, nor was it in any way explicit about my own sex life.  Really, it was about navigating the way one’s identity changes over the course of a long relationship and after parenthood.  Nevertheless, the Surprise Guest Star of the essay was a vibrating cock ring, and in response to publishing it, I got a lot of reactions that basically boiled down to:


One of the reactions was from a friend who expressed concern that using sex toys would “desensitize” a person to “regular” sex, become addictive, and, generally, transform something that should be wonderful and natural into something artificial and bad. 

I found I had an immediate, visceral reaction to this, which was, just, NO. There are lots of things can be used in a harmful way, but that doesn’t make the thing itself bad or dangerous. 

I said to her, “I think it doesn’t have to be that way.  Like, usually, I make roast chicken plain, but sometimes I change it up and use lemon and oregano.  The fact that sometimes I use oregano doesn’t make me not like having it plain anymore.”

My friend looked at me like I’d just thrown the easiest out-of-the-ballpark homerun pitch ever and said, “Mer.  Sex is not like chicken.”

I thought about that for a long time.

I concluded that in fact sex is quite like chicken:

  • It can be really flavorful and almost embarassingly juicy, or it can be dry and tasteless.
  • Even though it really tastes good and almost everyone likes it, it can totally turn into the boring, expected default “we’re having chicken again,” as a substitute for something more inventive.  
  • It can be prepared endless ways.  There are whole books describing hundreds of ways to make chicken.  But I think most people spend their entire lives doing it the same two or three ways and only try it, say, Polynesian Style, on their honeymoon when they’re travelling, or when they go out for their anniversary.
  • The kind you get on your wedding night is generally not the best kind you ever had.
  • Some people like it bone-in; others prefer it boneless.
  • Some people like it when it’s free-range and organic and has a really sharp, distinctive, meaty taste.  Other people want it to be as bland as possible and not really have to think about the fact that it’s flesh.  Chicken is so diverse that all of these people can be made happy.
  • You can identify the kosher version because a tip of it is cut off.
  • When you buy it on the cheap, it is full of chemicals.
  • AND, when you ask a real cooking maven how to tell if someone is a good cook, they will say that the best cook in the world makes a simple, plain roasted chicken that is transcendant.

On the other hand, chicken is unlike sex in that you don’t have to do the whole eww-y salmonella-preventing handwashing thing after touching it raw.

 By the time the final version of my essay was written, I’d written the words “vibrating cock ring” so many times that they ceased to be shocking.  I had told versions of the cock ring story to many of my friends and a group of us started jokingly referring to it as a “VCR.” In fact, by the end of the revision, it was hard to remember what had been outre about it to begin with.

At one point, I confessed to my editor that I was worried that I sounded like a big rube, and that no one would get what had shocked me about the cock ring anyway (she laughed and said she didn’t think so, and she was right). 

Here is what I conclude from this:

1.  You can get desensitized to a word by using it.  That word could be “cock ring” or it could be something pertaining more directly to motherhood like, “breast-milk” or “breast” or “nipple” or “poop” or even “Mom” – all of which are words I’ve seen people flinch at in the early days. 

2.  You get desensitized to the idea that something is outrageous when you get familiar with it.  This could be a change in your sex life.  Or it could be the very idea that your sex life changes over time.  Or it could be something much more mundane, like the initially outrageous idea of a baby sleeping in your room, or milk in your breasts, or a pump that removes the milk, or that you’ll cope patiently with colic, diapers, tantrums, or the notion that you’ll survive not having time to blow your hair dry or get to the gym every day.  Familiarity makes things seem not strange anymore.

3.  Talking to other people makes even weird, crazy things seem a lot less weird and crazy. This is also a kind of desensitization.  I think it’s desensitization to your own ego, and its so important.

But no, I don’t think that a sex toy is going to desensitize you to sex if you liked sex in the first place.

Now, go subscribe to Brain, Child:  The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.  And register for a new moms’ group, where you can come talk about this kind of thing. 


The Best Time I Ever Got A Sex Toy In Lieu Of Payment

So yeah, once I was teaching a class about what happens with sex when you become a mother, and they gave me a cock ring — instead of money — for payment.  And then I wrote about it for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers,* and now you can read about it on Huffington Post — here.

*Do you know about Brain, Child?  It is the only literary magazine out there that publishes thoughtful, smart essays and features about motherhood, and it is so good, and also funny.  You should subscribe immediately.

Plan B and the Choice To Become A Mother

Here’s a good post from The Feminist Breeder about the Plan B pill.  The short story is that the FDA was set to approve OTC sales of Plan B, but at the last moment the Secretary of Health and Human Services intervened, making it impossible for young women under age 17 to get Plan B without a prescription.  The issue is now before a federal judge.

Becoming a mother I think creates more nuance in one’s feelings about reproductive decisions, and this is an issue people have strong feelings about.  The topic might not seem immediately relevant to a blog about motherhood.  But it is.  I think we’re all getting this stuff wrong when we frame discussions about reproductive liberty in terms of “choice” to have an abortion or not.  In fact, I think the word “abortion” distracts us from the alternative.

I think the discussion should be from a different angle. These are the real choices:  

Are you prepared to saddle yourself with the profound physical changes and logistics of managing a healthy pregnancy?  Yes or no?  

Are you ready to be responsible for the care of your body during a pregnancy?  Yes or no?  

Do you have access to health care and a place where you can get good, caring, evidence-based prenatal, puerperal and postpartum healthcare and education about childbirth?  

Are you prepared to turn yourself inside out to meet the physical and emotional challenges of labor and childbirth?

Are you prepared to use your body and time and sanity for the care of a creature who can’t talk, can’t walk, can’t even move, and relies on your bodily fluids for her very survival twenty-four hours a day, and are you prepared to undertake this in a culture where your school or job aren’t required to even give you some time off to begin to deal with it?  

Are you prepared to reinvent yourself in the role of caretaker, guide, mentor, educator, and shepherd a new human being from tiny baby into adulthood, and are you prepared to educate yourself about how to do this in a way that she turns out happy, well-adjusted and a contributing citizen?  

Are you prepared to handle the hassles and the disappointments and the frustrations and the time-suck and the logistical nightmares that go on for years and years, and the way that society denigrates you and stops taking you seriously when you’re a mother, and the hurdles you will face in your career because you’ve got a kid?  


What kind of world is it when we say to someone:  even if the answer to all of these is NO, you have to do it.  Choice is the only civilized option.

People Are Still Having Sex; they always will.  It is what adults do, for pleasure, for self-expression, for love; not just for reproduction.  It is delusional to imagine that there could ever be a world in which adults don’t have sex for pleasure.  

But sex can lead to pregnancy.  And becoming a mother is an enormous, serious undertaking.  Whether the person confronting these questions is still a child herself, or is over 17, it is wrong to force her to do it when she knows the answer is “no.” How can we say she is too young to make this decision but also say she is old enough to become a mother, the biggest responsibility of all?

If Plan B is safe enough to be available over the counter, it should be available over the counter for anyone who needs to purchase it.

Was it good for you, too?

Great piece from Jezebel about a woman who wanted to get her freak on a lot while pg.  I had one pregnancy like this, and one that was really not like this, and now, since I’m all pseudo-scientific, I always think about what that meant — does it have anything to do with the kids’ personalities?  Or with how much weight I gained or what my milk supply was like?  

How about you?  Did you dig it while you were preg, or not so much?

Erica Jong is a Cranky Grandma

Recently I had dinner with a friend, who told me, in rather elegant detail, how she and her husband had recently got their freak on in a cab.  Date night, FTW!  We also talked about her new business venture and about my work, and about a recent Supreme Court decision and a few other things. 

When it was time to leave, standing on the street corner outside the restaurant, I said, “Oh and how are your kids?” 

There was a pause and then a lot of laughter at the irony.  A decade ago, she and I met not for drinks and sex chat, but for playdates.  Back then we discussed night-weaning and infant slings, and whether “time out” was a good discipline method and the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup.  I remember several lengthy conversations about the color of our infants’ poop.  It made us both happy, then.

Isn’t it interesting how things change? 

 It’s this that makes me feel so weary of Erica Jong.  The famous sex-crazed ‘feminist’ writer, last fall, wrote a ham-handed polemic against young mothers who, she thinks, care too much about breastfeeding and holding their babies and don’t go to enough parties.  This week she has an essay claiming new mothers are too apathetic about sex.  She wants moms to get a life. 

The thing is, she’s so close to a real issue:  our culture tells us that “good” mothers are merely vessels to serve their kids, not adults in their own right.   The new moms Erica Jong knows are into attachment parenting; she sees them erasing themselves in a whirlwind of breastfeeding, helicoptering and sexlessness.   But there’s the other end of the spectrum, too:  all those parenting books and “experts” who tell moms to control their children’s sleep, food and behavior are also saying:  Mothers Exist Only To Serve Their Kids.

All that stinks.  It’s bad for moms; it makes no one happy; it even suggests that you’re not supposed to be happy.  We all have to stop buying into that.

But Jong’s essays lump the whole lot of it together in the most cantankerous and judgy way, somehow criticizing the moms themselves, sounding awfully like a Cranky Grandma.  

This is not the encouraging reminder that moms are human beings who deserve self-care, that their own needs are real needs. It’s an attack on the moms themselves, trivializing their earnest dedication to motherhood.  She criticizes new moms who:

wear [their] baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him…. With children in your bed, is there any space for sexual passion?

Lets get a few things sorted out:

  1. Your breasts don’t, actually, belong to your mate.  Whether you are lactating or not, they belong to you. 
  2. No one likes that babies get hungry “at all hours,” and feeding them can absolutely interrupt your sex life and other things.  It would be less of an interruption to have your kids raised by a governess/wet nurse.   Or not have any.
  3. There’s nothing un-feminist about being, for a while, consumed with the mothering role.  Mothering is a female thing to do — why should it be the one thing feminists aren’t allowed to really dig? As you make it part of your identity, motherhood will fold in with the other aspects of you:  woman, worker, artist, activist, whatever.
  4. There’s nothing feminist about the idea that All Women Must Indulge Their Maternal Feelings Only On Erica Jong’s Timetable of Grandmotherly Wisdom.

So, how about this, instead, NewMoms:  if you dig breastfeeding and carrying your baby and thinking about your baby, that’s OK.  It’s more than OK, it’s awesome.  And it’s appropriate, especially if you’re dealing with a kid who’s not even walking yet.  But hey, NewMoms, that doesn’t mean you should never do things for yourself, either.  In fact, you really need to.  Check in with yourself from time to time and think about what you’d enjoy doing, just you, not for your baby.  And then go get some of that.

And speaking of getting some, NewMoms, if you’re sharing a bed with your baby and attending to his needs and consumed with the newness of it all, and that leaves you feeling a little blah about sex, for a while, that’s OK, too.  It’s more than OK, it’s totally appropriate.  Temporarily.  But do make sure that from time to time you check in with your own needs.  Adults need physical love as well as emotional sustenance.  If your dose is low for a while, that’s fine, but don’t ignore it entirely.  

My own kids are out of babyhood, but not so far out that I’ve forgotten it all.  A decade ago, a friend told a bunch of us, “We used to have sex and I’d think, ‘that was so great!’ and now if we do it, I think, ‘that was so great for the marriage!’” 

 “So true, so TRUE,” we all groaned wearily.  

Now we’re sharing our raunchy stories over drinks. That transition didn’t happen in a week, but it did happen.  Looking back, all of that seems like a season we all passed through, not a place we got stuck living in forever.  It was like a very, very cold winter that was in some ways unpleasant, and which I don’t want to return to, but was after all just one season.  We all worried a little bit that spring would never come, but when we could stop fretting over how freaking cold it was, we could see that it was also shockingly beautiful, unlike anything else.  And after a while the sun came out and flowers budded again, and that’s beautiful, too.