Much discussion of men who can’t handle seeing their wives give birth.

It’s one thing to have a hang-up and want to work it out in therapy and all that. If I know you and you’ve got that hang-up, I still think you’re a fine person, no judgement. But it’s another thing to publish in the NY Times a suggestion that there’s some kind of social problem, a group or class of issues that deserves some kind of structured sympathy. As a general response: suck it up, guys. Which does not cancel out my specific sympathy for some specific individual who may have a problem–but sympathy is not endorsement. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect that the norm should be to distinguish between your partner giving birth and your sexual desire for your partner, and that those who experience a moment of emotional vertigo should just get over it.

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4 Responses to Non-Issue

  1. joe o says:

    I agree 100%. The good thing about being at childbirth is that your wife really wants you to be there. It is nice to be able to help that way. And it is nice to see the baby.

    It wouldn’t be that big a deal if social norms were different. But given that social norms are the way they are, you would be making a statement that you really don’t want to be making if you didn’t show up.

  2. “But given that social norms are the way they are, you would be making a statement that you really don’t want to be making if you didn’t show up.”

    Well put, Joe. These norms aren’t universal, of course, not even across our own society and social strata. (In the thread at John and Belle’s, a midwife talked about orthodox Jewish men who withdraw just before the birth, when their wife is presumably most vulnerable, as a sign of respect.) But they are broadly accepted enough, and supportable enough, to make it, not mandatory that they be adhered to, but somewhat perverse to insist that adherence to the norm is at fault for a social problem.

  3. marty wiener says:

    I frankly dont understand your view on this (it actually seems remarkably “Victorian”). Surely, sexual feelings are not subject to deliberate will. Just telling someone to “get over it” about something that seriously takes away his sexual interest in his wife is like contemptuously telling someone who is afraid of heights to get over it, they have no business being afraid of heights.

    One must deal with people as they are, not as one thinks they should be. It seems perfectly reasonable for a woman to ask herself if she wants to endanger a nice marital sex life for this moment of togetherness.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    Sexual feelings, it seems to me, may not be ruled by will but neither are they invulnerable or immaterial to conscious intent. The idea that we are helpless before our feelings and desires is an assertion that a child molester could make as easily as a man who can’t feel desire for his wife after witnessing birth. Anybody could: “I can’t help it, it’s the way that I feel”. I think most of us scorn that statement when it leads to some action that we clearly view as immoral. We do feel at that moment that you can and should govern your feelings, control them, and indeed, feel differently than we do. (Or seek therapeutic help to assist in feeling differently). I can’t see how anyone could maintain, as a blanket statement, that people are as they are, and feel as they feel, and that is the way that it is and must ever be. There are circumstances under which none of us accept that. So this discussion about this particular case has to be about this particular case. We’re not privy to what any given individual’s feelings about witnessing childbirth might be, and as I said, if some particular individual is struggling with his feelings, ok. But the notion that there ought to be a social recognition of a likelihood or possibility of that kind of feeling in men generally, and advice to women to not potentially “endanger” their sex life for this moment of togetherness, seems profoundly wrong to me. As a general proposition, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask men to master or grapple with their feelings in this case, in part because people can do so. You do have some degree of conscious input into your desires; you can rule, or rethink, desires that lead to actions which are hurtful, immoral, or which break a kind of contract or partnership with a spouse or partner. People do all the time. It’s part of being a man to do so, in my opinion.

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