Rebecca’s postpartum! So we thought it was the perfect time to look at the postpartum advice given in evangelical circles to women.
We found in our survey that sex lives can start to go off course with the way that sex is handled postpartum. Many people don’t recover a good sex life after having babies, even if they had a good one before. And from what we heard, it’s often because of how sex is handled. So we thought this was a good one to cover for a Start Your Engines men’s focus!
It’s the last Thursday of the month, so it’s time to talk to the guys. I know many of my American listeners are eating turkey today, but maybe you’ll have time to listen to this while you cook. Or maybe you can catch up on the weekend!
In this podcast, Rebecca and I read through the advice given in books ranging from Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat to Married Sex by Debra Fileta and Gary Thomas. And as we read these excerpts and talk about them, remember–Rebecca is who this advice is being directed to.
Rebecca, who just had a C-section; who isn’t supposed to walk up and down stairs very much; who shouldn’t be using any ab muscles at all–this is who this advice is geared towards.
And Keith joined too to give his perspective! We thought this would work as a Start Your Engines podcast, the last Thursday of the month where we try to give more of a men’s focus, because I think men need to understand these things.
So listen in!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
1:00 The Perspective of Postpartum
7:00 Becca joins, with special guest Vivian!
16:45 Dad’s are NOT babysitters
19:30 Expectations of sexuality postpartum
41:45 Are we training women to ‘fake it’?
53:25 Postpartum comments from FB
59:45 Reader messages
Main Segment: Why Do So Many Evangelical Books Prioritize A Wife Giving Sexual Favors to a Husband Rather than Husband Helping His Wife?
This seriously flabbergasts me. It was the main reason we wrote chapter 11 in The Great Sex Rescue–because women should not be burdened with giving sexual favors when they’re not feeling well and need to focus on healing. How is this loving your neighbor as yourself?
Keith and I start with the findings from a qualitative study in Italy about postpartum sex:
Most participants reported reduced libido, experienced altered body image, and recounted resumption of sexual activity before feeling ready. A common finding was fatigue and feeling overloaded by the demands of the newborn. Partner support was described as essential to returning to a meaningful relationship.
So most women are resuming sex before they feel ready, and their sex life is suffering.
On the other hand, with a supportive husband, things can go very well.
Our survey of 20,000 predominantly Christian women for The Great Sex Rescue found that 26.7% of women experience significant postpartum sexual pain.
Like this study, many feel as if they return to sex too early–and a lot is due to what we are being taught about what our priorities should be.
Rebecca and I read excerpts from a number of books, looking at what evangelical bestsellers are prioritizing about how a couple should navigate the postpartum relationship. And the emphasis? She should give him sexual favors.
Let’s start with Intended for Pleasure:
When you are not having intercourse as frequently as you were prior to pregnancy, you should offer manual stimulation to him—particularly during the period of abstention.
His Needs, Her Needs talks about how having to care for a baby makes the husband’s assessment of the marriage WORSE (though it doesn’t seem to affect her assessment.).
Then there was Kevin Leman:
There are times for whatever reason that a wife may choose to make use of what younger men affectionately refer to as “hand jobs”. A woman with heavy periods that last six or seven days, or who has just gotten through a pregnancy, or perhaps is simply not feeling her best, may genuinely feel that sex is more than she can handle. But with a minimum of effort, she can help her husband who feels like he’s about ready to climb the walls because it’s been so long. (p. 206)
And finally, Gary Thomas and Debra Fileta in their new book Married Sex. Rebecca had some issues with how Debra talked about how the breasts were for sex even while nursing, since that just isn’t feasible or desirable for many nursing moms, depending on their milk supply and engorgement. Some things may need to be off the table, but there was no acknowledgment of this.
Then there was the bizarre advice from Gary, which said that the reason men like it when women give hand jobs postpartum is because of how aroused women get (I’ve highlighted the bits saying she’s getting aroused):
Alicia wants to know why her husband, Aaron, loves what are commonly called “hand jobs”—manually manipulating him to orgasm. It doesn’t happen that often in their marriage, but when a heavy period, pregnancy, or post-birth situation makes penetrative intercourse prob- lematic, Alicia is surprised at how grateful Aaron always seems….
Here’s the difference between a husband masturbating to take away sexual tension (something we don’t recommend) and his wife taking the initiative. It may seem to be the same thing, but it’s not even close. Wives, this is what your husband is experiencing:
- the sound of your moans and whispers
- the smell of your skin or perfume
- the way your hands feel so completely different from his
- the way your hair falls on his shoulder or chest
- your feet touching his
- the wetness between your legs brushing up against his thigh
- your lips on his neck, ear, or mouth
- your excitement as his excitement builds
- your breathing
- the anticipation of not knowing what’s going to happen next
- the way you can shift your body—your legs or torso or buttocks—and suddenly everything feels so different
Finally, we went in to what healing looks like postpartum, and how all of this advice is so tone deaf when you consider a woman’s actual body (which should matter.)
Some stories from readers
I want to end with what our readers said. When I asked on Instagram if women would rather give hand jobs postpartum or have their husbands masturbate, 43% said they’d rather their husbands masturbate–but then HUNDREDS of these women messaged me saying they needed a third option–NEITHER. They want the option to do neither. Many women said they chose “hand jobs” because they didn’t want their husbands returning to porn. But they’d rather their husbands have self-control regardless.
Can we please talk about this better?
I’ll let these readers have the last word:
Birth of my 6th child.
Baby is taken in distress directly to NICU.
I wake up in recovery and am then taken directly to my room.
I am allowed to shower before I’ll be wheeled to see my daughter.
Hubby needs a release in the shower with me.
This isn’t his fault. It isn’t my fault. Our Bible for marriage was Love and Respect and we honored that because we were told that is what was done. It never even occurred to me in that moment to wonder what the crap was going on. It never occurred to him to negate the wind blowing.
We were taught the wrong biblical principles and as a result we didn’t even acknowledge our own emotional response to what we now understand is often abuse. The church needs to do better.
I didn’t know it was wrong until you. We literally had zero clue until I began following your page. You. You showed me it is wrong and I showed him and instantly we changed our then 15 year narrative and began to heal.
I was raised in that toxic mindset and was made to feel incredibly guilty during my two incredibly rough pregnancies (and a traumatic postpartum) for how little I was having sex or “relieving” my husband. It makes me so angry now. I literally feared him coming to bed at night because I didn’t want to say no to him but just could NOT have sex during that time due to illness and incredibly high anxiety.My husband (who is an incredible man, just raised with the same garbage) and I have since deconstructed a lot of our beliefs. We practice a mutual marriage, we lead our family together, and as a result our sex life is SO MUCH HEALTHIER.
I’ve gone from never wanting sex to enjoying it immensely with him (even desiring to be there for him in other ways when I’m not 100% needing it myself). He knows now that I will NEVER do anything I don’t want to do anymore. And he feels relief. He hated the tension between us but didn’t understand the problem until we educated ourselves outside of what the church had taught. It brought us from me wishing I’d never gotten married if this is what it looks like to truly loving and valuing each other (and our sexuality). The church needs to do better. We almost missed out on all of this amazing intimacy (and if we listened to teachings in our circles we still would be).
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.
Things Mentioned in This Podcast:
- Our wonderful sponsor Femallay. Check out their vaginal melts, and their innovative menstrual cups that allow you to empty them while they’re still inserted.
- The Great Sex Rescue! Especially chapter 11 where we talk about postpartum sex and the advice given to women
- The Italian study Keith and I referenced
- The Facebook post where women shared their stories
- Plus we didn’t mention it, but please: Support us on Patreon for as little as $5 a month! And be sure to sign up for our Tea and Tent Pegs webinar that goes live December 6!
- Our previous posts on postpartum sexual favors and the podcast Rebecca and Joanna did about resuming sex postpartum
What do you think? Did any of the books’ take on postpartum stand out to you particularly? What’s your experience? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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