Do Women Consider Giving Sexual Favors Postpartum Arousing?

by | Nov 23, 2021 | gsr | 38 comments

How do you feel about advice that tells postpartum women to care for their husbands’ sexual needs?

I don’t write big posts on Tuesdays anymore, but consider this one a prelude to Thursday’s podcast (yes, we’re releasing one on Thanksgiving because it isn’t Thanksgiving for us here in Canada!).

I asked a while ago about how you feel giving sexual favors postpartum. I asked on Instagram as well, and had some fascinating responses.

I’m compiling them all for Keith and I to read through on the podcast, and I thought you’d all be interested!

Many evangelical books tell women they should satisfy their husbands in other ways when intercourse is off the table, and actually imply that women get aroused from this. How do women actually feel? Well, I asked.

A large minority definitely were, and they’d agree with these commenters:

  • I found sexual release greatly on my mind. I wanted him fully and had a hard time waiting for my body to heal.
  • Any sexual encounters I had with my husband soon after the births of our children were very intimate.

To them I’d say, More power to you! Go for it! I wish we all could be like this. And honestly, I think more of us would if it weren’t treated as an obligation. (But I also don’t think these women need books telling them to do sexual favors. They would have anyway.)

Most women, though, said that they were distinctly not aroused at all.

 

  • After 13 years of marriage and 5 births I can say that I have not once found it arousing to me. Not once – and I did it many times for his sexual pleasure and release. Honestly I felt like I had no choice – either take care of him or live with an utter grouch until I did.
  • Arousing? Not in the least. Not a single time. It’s an act of selfless love me. I don’t enjoy it- even when I’m not postpartum or on my period.
  • Somehow I learned that his needs superseded mine. Most of our sex was simply an obligation.
  • I was his sex slave and he would come begging for hand jobs and blow jobs when I was exhausted or sick and he felt like looking at porn.
  • When I was on my period, it was expected of me to give him “something” because he thought he would just die if he didn’t have some kind of sex in a week’s time.
  • No, it would not be arousing for me. I would feel used.
  • Even though I said no when I needed to, I felt horrible guilt and beat myself up. When I said yes to one sided favors, I felt like a whore. This damaged our relationship so much and created many, many hard feelings both ways: him feeling like he was missing out on something he should have ( but was not necessarily “owed”) and me hating him for the sexual pressure.
  • It’s always driven me crazy when books focus on how difficult the post-partum period is for men. Like, my body just GREW A HUMAN and PUSHED OUT THE HUMAN and is now FEEDING THE HUMAN but please, tell me more about how difficult it is for the man.

I’ll end with what this commenter said:

The first time I read something along the lines of ‘It’s so hard for a husband when a wife is bleeding postpartum or from a heavy period and she’s feeling terrible…’ I was expecting it to end something like ‘…because it upsets him to see her suffer’. But then it finishes with ‘…because he gets sexually frustrated’ ! ARGGGGHHHH!!!!

I agree. I find the emphasis so misplaced. The only advice given about the postpartum period in all the books we read was for wives to remember that husbands will get sexually frustrated, and you should give him something instead.

Why no admonitions for men to use this time to care for their wives and let their wives set the pace?

I had women on Instagram telling me that their husbands demanded something while they were still in the hospital, because it was her duty. This needs to stop.

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys this postpartum (again, I wish we all were like that), then I don’t think you need a book telling you to do this. We always have to ask: who is the advice aimed at? And in most cases it’s aimed at women who don’t want to do these things, but are being told God wants them to.

Rebecca (who currently IS postpartum) and I are reading through some postpartum advice from our evangelical books on this week’s podcast coming out on Thursday.

But I’d love to know what you think. Why don’t books ask men to honor their wives postpartum, when wives have just gone through the physical experience of childbirth? Why is it assumed that his sexual frustration supersedes her well-being? How can we change this?

The Great Sex Rescue

Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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38 Comments

  1. CMT

    I love what the commenter said about men feeling upset that their wives are feeling unwell. If he feels exhausted or ill, I take care of him, not the other way around. I don’t expect him to “man up” for me. And if I’m sick or on my period or postpartum, he does the same for me.

    I felt guilty about this early in our marriage. I would try to give “favors” and feel like there was something wrong with me that I mostly hated it. Like maybe I was just selfish or sexually repressed or wasn’t actually attracted to him.

    Really, it’s just that duty sex isn’t sexy. My husband caught on to this a lot quicker than I did. Which makes me wonder what’s going on with the people who push this stuff. Hopefully they all just honestly enjoy it and assume that’s normal. Hopefully.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think many people who push this stuff don’t know the difference, because all they’ve ever experienced is duty sex. When you look at what they teach, it’s hard to believe they know what intimate sex is actually supposed to be like.

      Reply
      • CMT

        It’s really sad that thats what has gone mainstream in conservative evangelicalism. The whole thing gives me that feel these days. What is it about this belief system that pushes people to accept a stunted version of life as God’s will? And then trumpet how “abundant” and “joyful” it is?

        Growing up in this worldview I had no sense of boundaries in this area outside of “don’t have sex before marriage.” Also the belief that caring for myself was selfish and my instincts weren’t trustworthy. So it took me a really long time to trust that my feelings about obligation sex were valid. And as I said, my husband (raised without any religion) picked up on this before I did.

        Reply
      • Andrea

        I don’t think most evangelical marriage authors know what intimate sex is really like, it’s all too obvious from their books, and that’s just really sad.

        Reply
  2. Jo R

    Imagine a man suffering with a migraine or food poisoning (vomiting and/or diarrhea), or passing a kidney stone—or recovering from a vasectomy—and his wife comes to him and says, “You owe me sexual release, because it’s your duty. The Bible says so.” (Because he’s too ill or in too much pain to do anything that would also please himself sexually.) What would the husband’s response be?

    Yeah, exactly. 🙄🙄🙄

    Reply
    • CMT

      Exactly. Although to be fair I don’t think most teachers are directly suggesting that husbands should do this. In my experience the obligation message is usually aimed at women-“you’ll do this if you love him” rather than telling him “you should demand this as your right.” Of course even that does give ammo to immature or abusive men.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Sorry I botched placing my earlier comment, which was supposed to be responding to you! 🙄

        I’m not sure that the “standard evangelical teaching” isn’t worse, because it’s all so subtle and implied. It’s when the true underlying message is spoken in such explicitly “you owe me” language that the mask comes off and makes the statement’s horribleness and ridiculousness so obvious.

        Reply
        • CMT

          Hehe. Figured it out anyway.

          Agreed. Wrapping horrible beliefs in pretty language just makes the whole thing worse. Calling obligation “love” and routine one-sided sex “intimacy” muddles people’s understanding of the real thing.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Definitely. “intimacy” is the wrong word here when her needs are not considered. If her needs are not considered, she is erased. You can’t have intimacy when one person doesn’t matter.

          • CMT

            Yes, and for the record I suspect that more often than not, it isn’t the man doing the erasing! She has to matter TO HERSELF also.

            Obligation messaging can steal that self-worth from women and get them busily erasing their own needs themselves.

  3. Jo R

    “In my experience the obligation message is usually aimed at women”

    And that’s a huge part of the problem. It’s always the wives that need to adjust, never the husbands. Husbands get the free pass of “Well, that’s just the way men are,” and it’s women that always do the accommodating and the self-sacrifice.

    Reply
    • Anon

      What’s sad is that I think a lot of evangelicals don’t even realize (or don’t want to admit) that their treatment of men as sex-crazed, uncontrollable monsters is exactly like the misandrist view that permeates the secular culture. It’s like they want to put every guy out there on a Ted Bundy level, and it’s horrible.

      Reply
    • CMT

      Agree 100% it’s a huge problem. As you say it enables bad behavior on the part of men. I think what I’m getting at is that this isn’t the only bad consequence. Obligation sex messages erase women’s agency in the most vulnerable and intimate parts of our lives. That is harmful whether men take advantage of the “free pass” or not. My husband didn’t but that didn’t mean I was fine.

      Reply
  4. Marie

    Maybe this is why God declared women unclean at these times! So selfish men couldn’t ask for sexual favors during this time, and women got a real break!

    I was married to a selfish abusive man, but bless his heart, he would still never have asked for “favors” when I was post-partum!

    Reply
  5. Jane Eyre

    I think books push the idea that he is suffering, even after SHE is the one who want through pregnancy and childbirth, because it is the logical outcome of their principles.

    If you start with the idea that it is really, really bad for husbands to suffer sexually, but not wives, and wives are there to give sex, this is exactly the response you would expect.

    Congrats to women who find this arousing. I would argue that some if it is luck of the draw, and some of it is the rest of their intimate life. If you have a generally equitable sex life, a few times of unequal pleasure are NBD, as the kids say. Same as anything else. But when sex is chronically lousy, there is nothing arousing about watching your husband enjoy sex.

    Reply
    • M

      For me – we had intimate times soon after the birth as you said due to the rest of our intimate life… it was not one sided.., I don’t think…. If it was it was always one sided to my advantage … he was super super tender gentle and sweetly non-selfishishly intimate. I can’t really explain it and no we didn’t need a book. The book would say serve your wife no strings attached. No demands. All for her. None for you! -at this extremely difficult, painful, life altering time for her.

      Reply
  6. A2bbethany

    So my 1st pregnancy, my mental health and physical was shaky. But we rolled with it and still maintained a vibrant sex life.

    This pregnancy is very different. Im getting sick less, but im barely able to do anything sexual, even if I really want to! I have a fragile stomach balance and I lost my ability to kiss(other than closed lips). Thankfully I already learned to not feel guilty. Now we are just learning to live with my body’s self imposed limits. I’d say it’s not a question of wanting to be together, but a very big deal put on my health.
    We both remember how bad it got last time, and it wont stop until birth. My body just doesn’t operate well while growing something.
    This is a period where we’re both feeling lonely for each other, and I’m glad we had a good foundation.

    Reply
  7. Wild Honey

    Why don’t books ask men to honor their wives postpartum or during her period? Because they are written by immature men or martyr-complex women.

    I wonder if the tide is slowly shifting on this, as it becomes more common for fathers to participate in pre-natal appointments and the delivery process. Even a well-intentioned man cannot “get it” like a woman who has literally gone through a traumatic delivery or mind-numbing period cramps, but at least witnessing it directly in a loved-one provides more empathy. I know after my husband took a work-from-home job and actually witnessed what I do as a SAHM when he’s unavailable to provide back-up, he told me he didn’t realize before how much mental and emotional labor goes into managing through the everyday meltdowns and squabbles of a (then) toddler and preschooler. I heard a couple fellow SAHM’s echo this sentiment from their husbands when their husbands started working from home during covid lockdowns.

    And I wonder whether “masking” contributes to this. Painting with a broad brush, but we conservative evangelical women are often told to just muscle through and pretend like we don’t have periods or pregnancy difficulties, not to add to the stress of our poor hardworking husbands (because we aren’t working hard, too?), and pretending to be Super Woman can become an issue of pride. With the result that our husbands don’t know what we’re going through because we hide it from them. Personally, I always announce to my husband when I’m having cramps, period fatigue, sciatica issues (thank you, last pregnancy), etc., because he can’t “do better” (to borrow from Maya Angelou) if he doesn’t “know better.”

    I’m not trying to victim blame in relationships where the husband is a legitimately immature and selfish jerk. That man doesn’t deserve a wife. Just reflecting on how we can change the messaging towards husbands who are well-intentioned but mis- or un-informed.

    Reply
  8. Donna

    My husband was great about waiting until I could participate fully. We enjoyed work-arounds. What no one ever talks about is that post-partum , nursing mothers have fun new toys! I’m just saying that babies aren’t the only ones who can enjoy those big breasts, and that can lead to all sorts of fun!

    Reply
  9. Codec

    So this gets me wondering. I dont really know how I would even begin to talk to a woman about this. If i ever wanted to help I do not want to be flummoxed. How do you talk to a woman about post partum and periods and such?

    Reply
    • Hannah

      Hi Codec, it really depends on your relationship. So the most important woman to know about these things for is your wife. All women have different symptoms and experiences, and the same woman can experience different pregnancies differently. If you ever get married, get into the habit of really caring about how your wife is doing, let her know she’s not expected to fake continual strength and good health, pick up the slack when she’s ill with generic human illnesses (flu, stomach bugs, etc.) and periods and postpartum will fall into that. She’ll tell you what’s going on. Listen to what she says. When friends have babies, ask in general terms how both Mum and baby are doing. They’ll give as much or as little info as they feel comfortable giving. (E.g. not able to get out of bed yet / up and about / still in a lot of pain) For factual info, a book on pregnancy and birth for new mothers might help. I didn’t realise how tough postpartum is until my friends started having babies. Care about your friends and how they’re doing. Close friends are likely to share personal details more, if people don’t want to share details, that’s fine. Don’t ask specifically about postpartum symptoms, ask how they are, and be ready to hear whatever they tell you.

      Reply
    • Jo R

      Hannah gave some great ideas, and I’ll add just a few more.

      1. Use proper terms for body parts. Don’t use pretend terms, and I’d steer clear of pornographic words too. Just use “vulva” and “perineum” and “bladder.”

      2. Be direct, and ask her to be direct. Women are culturally not expected to be forthright and straightforward, as that as seen as “aggressive” and even “abrasive” (whereas a man would just be called “assertive”). You may have to really assure her that it’s OK if she shoots straight from the hip, as women are not expected to talk about bodily functions, especially to a man who isn’t her doctor.

      3. If you are talking with your wife, you’ll have to assure her that her truthfulness and forthrightness will not affect how you view her—and you’ll have to try very hard yourself to make sure that that’s true! So, for example, if she’s been pretending a bit that sex has been good or even great when it’s actually been a bit unpleasant or even painful sometimes, that revelation will require that you love her even more, not pull away, especially emotionally. Will it be easy for you to hear that things haven’t been as good for her as (presumably) they are for you? Of course not. But it won’t have been easy for her to have lived with less-than-great sex for all these years, either. Or maybe she’s been hiding from you the fact that most months her periods have been horrible with lots of cramps and nausea, but she hasn’t wanted to “bother” you with the truth. Again, you may feel a bit betrayed and lied to, so don’t let that aspect of it affect you, except in a positive way so that you take a real, loving interest in how she feels that week each month.

      Be patient, be considerate, care, and let your behavior in the future show that your newfound knowledge has led you to change your own attitudes and behaviors.

      And thanks for genuinely wanting to know!!!

      Reply
    • CMT

      Oo this is a good question.

      If you’re asking about talking with a partner about periods, it’s not complicated, IMO. Her cycle is part of your life together, so ask her things like “what is it like for you? what helps you feel better? What could I take off your to do list for you that week?” and listen when she tells you. If she’s not open to talking about it, give her space but let her know you’ll be happy to have the conversation if she changes her mind.

      Sample size of one period-haver here, so ymmv, but I think most women would be glad if their partner brought this up proactively. It’s not weird or taboo in that context, it’s caring and considerate. And if that openness and consideration around periods is already built in to the relationship, then when pregnancy/ postpartum becomes relevant, you’ve already laid the groundwork for handling those changes too.

      Reply
      • Codec

        I did not expect this mush positive feedback.

        It is nice.

        I have never put myself out there romantically. I just want to try and help out. I honestly appreciate all of this.

        Reply
        • Nessie

          Wrote a comment but I think it deleted when I replied, so apologies if it shows up twice…

          Codec, thank you for being a man that wants to learn, that cares. You are already more insightful and loving than most men writing about/pushing these ideas.

          I’d start with small things and work up from there. I have a teen son and have been talking to him about his body/sex, etc. It started out being incredibly awkward. We were both blushing, etc., and I told him honestly it felt very awkward but that it really shouldn’t be because God made our bodies, and those we love dearest are privileged to know more about them than most people. Sometimes we just have to push through the awkward stage in conversations. The more we have talked, the more comfortable we have become with it. But I definitely had to push my comfort zone a bit to get through to this side of things which is much more open, relaxed (mostly), and he now knows he can talk to me about things he felt too awkward to mention before.

          Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Sheila, this is definitely an issue in our marriage, and I desperately want things to change. Does your book “Great Sex Rescue” address this for only women or also men? Has your husband written a book more specifically geared towards men? My husband and I have come a long way from our fundamentalist upbringings, but our bedroom still causes lots of hurt and frustration.

    Reply
  11. Nessie

    There are times when giving “favors” is arousing, but none of those were during a post-partum time for me. I was far too desperate for sleep (I was getting less than 3 hours of sleep collectively in any 24 hour period for a few months and had no one to help me.) I was also openly suicidal due to PPD, but my husband would wake me up when he was aroused… that action was anything but loving.

    I think the men that have this area right are the ones that can hardly grasp the idea that other men don’t love their wives the way they do, so they don’t see the need for writing/talking/preaching about it. Or if/when they do realize it, are so humble that they don’t feel other men will put much stock in what they have to say so they don’t bother? I wish the good men would speak up more.

    I don’t know of m(any) men writing books on how to love wives well post-partum much less beyond (would the men that need to learn that bother reading it anyhow??). For my part, I actively speak to my son on subjects like this now in hopes it makes life better for him and his wife one day, God-willing he marry. He already better understands things my husband is just now learning, and that gives me hope.

    Reply
    • Codec

      This gets into something about all this that I find troubling.

      It is allready a lot on a woman to give birth wether it be a C section or not. I know women who had blots clots and needed stitches after giving birth.

      If I was a wrestler and I broke my arm no one would tell me I had to wrestle. Jake the Snake wasnt told to compete after Stone Cold wound up breaking his arm before doing the now famous Austin 3:16.

      So why expect sex?

      What is more isnt there a baby in the equation now? Babies are super needy. They can not take care of themselves. I mean I have never been in a relationship or been married, but i have looked after babies and it can be a lot of work.

      I just find it all really weird.

      Reply
  12. Kat

    Evangelical authors that say that women should give their husbands sexual release while on their periods or postpartum demonstrate a lack of understanding of other denominations/sects within Judeo-Christianity not to mention various cultures throughout history. Orthodox Jews do not engage in intercourse while a wife is on her period and for seven days after. This practice can actually increase the desire of both the husband and wife for each other and they will feel like they are experiencing their honeymoon all over again after this period of time is over. In addition they have an opportunity to build emotional intimacy during this time. When trying to avoid pregnancy, Catholics who practice natural family planning avoid intercourse during the wife’s fertile window. During this period of time they can focus on other aspects of communication with each other including spiritual, physical (hugging, kissing, etc.), intellectual, communicative, and emotional (these aspects are referred to as SPICE within Creighton Model Fertility Care System, one method of natural family planning). Note, for both of these religious groups, use of masturbation or condoms is not allowed, which I mention here for the sole purpose of saying that the expectation of men in these religious denominations is that they can go without intercourse and sexual favors for 1-2 weeks and that doing so will not only honor their wives but improve overall marital satisfaction. In college I took a class about Connecticut history in which I recall learning about Native American women who would separate from their families while on their period (intercourse/sexual favors was not happening for their husbands). If other religious denominations and cultures have this expectation of men, then the reasoning given in evangelical marriage books for wives giving sexual favors while on their period is completely flawed.

    Reply
  13. R.R.

    I have a genuine question that I’ve been wondering for a while. I am a 35 year old single female, never married. What exactly is meant by “sexual release?” Does it mean that if a man doesn’t orgasm and ejaculate he will DIE? How are single men supposed to survive? (And do women not NEED the same “sexual release?”)

    Reply
    • Codec

      I dont think release is just ejaculation.

      It is painful to become aroused and not have that, but it is totally liveable.

      Men will not die if they do not get off.

      I think a lot of men feel for the lack of a more appropiate term manly during the whole arousal process. In many ways I think folks are scared to be vulnerable.

      Reply
    • Laura

      For centuries, men (not all) have used the excuse that if they don’t get sexual release (to me, that means ejaculation via any means) then they experience frustration or blue balls. I’ve been celibate for almost 20 years now and while I experience sexual frustration at times (it was very frustrating throughout my 30’s), I have never needed “release” of any kind.

      Reply
  14. CB

    After my first baby I had a really rough time because both I and my husband were expecting me to be better and all ready for sex by the 6 week mark. When that didn’t happen I thought something was wrong. When we tried it for the first time post baby I was in awful pain (it was quite traumatic, honestly.) I had to take several doses of ibuprofen afterwards. I also had the fear that he would look at porn if I didn’t “help him out.” It was horrible. I talked to my midwife who said that some women take 5 months or longer to heal from giving birth to where sex doesn’t hurt. (I wish she had told me that before!) The second and third time I had a quicker recovery and more realistic expectations. I think postpartum hormones also make things a lot drier down there which can cause more pain. I am 4 months postpartum with baby #3 and the amazing thing was, without my husband pressuring me and feeling super intimate after an intense birth experience, I felt so close to him and like I wanted to be naked with him and give each other intimate touch. I really attribute that to God working in our relationship, as well as my husband better understanding my needs and me realizing that the porn problem he struggles with off and on is 100% a spiritual issue, not because he has “blue balls.” Lol. We have also realized that we should not settle for mediocre sex, but should save it for times that we can be fully present with one another. At this point it only happens once a week or less, but it’s about quality and not quantity!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yay! That sounds so amazing, CB! I’m so glad. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply

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