Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My husband and I used to enjoy oral sex (on me) and he’s amazing at it. However, since he saw my son being born (via ventouse), and he saw everything that was happening down there, he doesn’t want to go down on me anymore. Is there anything you can suggest we do that may help him work though this?
Missing My Oral
Dear Missing My Oral,
I have so many questions. First one was “what’s a ventouse?” and that was easily answered via a quick internet search—it’s vacuum-assisted vaginal birth. I even watched a few videos of it and, yeah, it’s nothing you’d describe as attractive, but that holds true for all forms of birth. Getting a human out from inside of its mother’s body is, truly, not sexy.
The moment of birth lives right up against death—when I gave birth I felt so sharply how death is also in the room, waiting, just in case something goes wrong. In that moment when a baby emerges you’re seeing two bodies stretched to their absolute limit. The mother is cracked open, as wide as she will ever be, both a person and a portal. The baby is being compressed, the pressure on its head so intense that it conforms to the shape of the delivery canal. I have a video of my son seconds after he was born and he has an honest-to-God cone head. Nothing that happens is what you’d like to see on the cover of a magazine. Which isn’t to say that it’s ugly—it’s quite beautiful. But the process of creating life is not cute, or nice, or sexy. It’s rough and messy and it gets the job done while yelling, “Fuck your feelings! Fuck your comfort!”
Having a baby is profoundly uncomfortable for both parents. There was a time in the 1950s where we decided it was so uncomfortable that no one who has any stake in it should be anywhere near the birth. We knocked out the mother and we restricted the father to a waiting room full of cigars and clichés. We told both men and women, “you really don’t want to see this,” and tried to shut everyone who wasn’t a medical professional off from witnessing the act of giving birth.
Our ideas of propriety have changed since then, but this idea that men shouldn’t see “it” still exists. When I was in my early 20s, I was hanging out with a guy friend one night when he started to go on a rant about how all women should have c-sections. “Birth ruins the vagina!” he yelled. “You shouldn’t ruin your vagina! There’s a better way! Promise me that you’ll have a c-section when you get pregnant, for the sake of your husband, promise me!” We were, obviously, drinking and I pushed back on him a little bit, but then just gave in and promised. Now I’d like to time travel back and talk about how demanding that women have unnecessary abdominal surgery just so our future male partners won’t have to experience a titch of worry about whether or not their sexual experience will be in any way changed is MONSTROUS. Because it’s an argument that can only be made by someone who’s never witnessed the aching and bleeding recovery from a c-section that happens while you are also taking care of a newborn on no sleep. You’re not going to sleep for the next two months, so given the choice, would you like to do that with a major abdominal wound or without a major abdominal wound? Wait! Your husband might have slightly better orgasms if you go with the abdominal wound! Change your mind at all?
We have an idea that men can’t handle birth, they can’t handle seeing a part of a woman’s body they associate with pleasure instead associated with birth—something much larger and cosmic and full of fluids and the slight, in your periphery, chance of death. Sex is the shiny, smooth tip of the iceberg that breaks the surface of the ocean. Birth is the hulking remainder of the iceberg that sits quietly in the dark, unnoticed until your boat smashes against it.
Your husband got to see your child being born, he got to see you becoming a mother, him becoming a father, your body opening up and allowing another life to pass into the world. He saw the blood and the shit and the piss and your baby’s head not quite able to make it out, stuck, flailing, and then he saw the vacuum, which was affixed to your baby’s skull and used to pull him into the world. He saw the stretching and the tearing and the placenta and the sewing. He saw your vagina in its most extreme state.
Has he told you “I don’t want to give you oral sex anymore because I saw a baby come out of you?” You don’t say that he said this, so I want to give your husband the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that this isn’t a matter of your husband not wanting to get close to your vulva anymore because he is now repulsed by it because he saw it being used for a purpose that was in no way related to his pleasure.
You say that oral sex changed after you gave birth, but a thousand things changed after you gave birth. My question to you is: Why is the oral sex the one that is sticking with you? Is this the only thing that has changed? Or is this the change you grabbed onto because it seems to be the sharpest, clearest sign that life is now a little bit worse?
I bet that when your husband was giving you frequent oral sex you felt loved, adored, wanted. And now you’ve had a baby and you don’t feel those things anymore. You feel like a new creature, a mother, someone who’s needed but not wanted. Your child needs you, your husband needs you, but when will you feel wanted again? When will you feel desired?
Are you still having sex, just without the oral sex component? Or has your sex life diminished overall? Babies and toddlers are designed, by evolution, to reduce the sex drives of their parents. A baby wants all of its parents’ resources—a sibling would create competition for those resources. They don’t want to compete, ergo they don’t want you to do it. Ever. Their demand and their crying and their insane sleep patterns help to ensure that you don’t want to do it very much anymore either.
I’m not going to demand that your husband resume performing oral sex on you because #consent. However, if he used to do it enthusiastically all of the time when you guys had sex, and now you’re back to having sex regularly but he doesn’t go down on you at all, then something is different. But I need you to assume positive intent with your spouse. Having a baby is hard for the mother, but it’s also hard for the father. You don’t mention the age of your child, so I’m not sure how much time has passed since the birth. Maybe he isn’t convinced that you’re fully healed yet. Maybe his sex drive is depressed due to the sudden and overwhelming lifestyle change that every newborn brings home with them. Maybe it’s because he was traumatized by watching you give birth, but for that to be true he has to be the one to say it. And, if that’s the case, saying it is the first step to working to get over it.
But I want you to be patient with your husband. You have a legitimate gripe, but your husband is also not required to give you oral sex. It’s a choice he makes and a choice that I’m sure you would prefer that he make willingly and enthusiastically.
I want you to talk to your husband. But don’t talk to him from a place of anger where you say things like, “You used to go down on me and now you don’t and it’s because you’re icked out by me giving birth and that’s bullshit.” I want you to talk to him from a place of vulnerability, where you say the feelings behind your anger, like, “We have a baby. Life is different. I want to feel the way I used to, before. I want to feel like our relationship, and our sex life, is still good. I want to feel like your wife and not just the mother of your child. I want to know that you’re still attracted to me and you still think that I’m beautiful, all parts of me. I want to feel that you still think my vulva is beautiful and not like it was ruined by having a baby. I don’t want to feel like we’re never going to be intimate again, not the way we were before the baby came.”
Having a baby is wonderful, but it also changes everything, and it can take months, or years, for those things to get back to where they used to be. Ask your husband questions and then listen, really listen, to what he has to say. That’s how you both work through it.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.