Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When the 'other man' is a baby

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach – the host of TLC’s "Shalom in the Home" and author of "Kosher Sex" - contends in a Beliefnet essay that breastfeeding’s benefits to infants aren’t worth their costs to a marriage. During a recent show, he advises that a mother’s obsession with breastfeeding created a carnal sin in her marriage, which he claims was putting someone else before her spouse - her son.

Boteach sidesteps the fact that breastfeeding isn’t the same as adultery by insisting that it doesn’t really matter, as the feeling of infidelity is similar when a woman takes her breast from her husband to give to a child.

"The crisis we face in America isn’t undernourished children it’s undernourished marriages," he states in the essay, affirming nursing babies should be secondary to nursing carnal relationships.

Boteach says what we refuse to admit is that breastfeeding de-eroticizes the female body, specifically as it pertains to public breastfeeding.

He suggests that women cover up, not only when they are in public but also at home so that husbands don’t witness "one of the most attractive parts of her body serving as a utilitarian rather than romantic purpose."

He further suggests that men shouldn’t watch the birth process itself too closely lest the romantic nether regions be reduced to a "mere birth canal."

So much for the miracle of life.

I’m sure there are a lot of people waiting in the wings with pitchforks after reading such incendiary sentiments. I’m not really one of them.

He is, after all, a controversial guy. He's a rabbi without a synagogue and a man whose livelihood and popularity depend on television ratings, which usually means controversy.

Did I mention he's got nine kids to feed?

Not that that really matters.

In some small way he’s not wrong.

Women do have to stop and make time for men. They often have to do so mindfully. Lactation doesn't make women better parents than men, and it doesn't give them a free pass to ignore the family, which INCLUDES the man.

Marriages do change (some say "suffer") after the birth of children. These tiny versions of humans require a lot of care and attention. And no matter how much they are loved and wanted, these little packages aren’t always what we expect. It can throw everyone for a loop. Women can feel overburdened with their new roles and men can feel replaced or potentially unnecessary. Communication can break down and be difficult to repair. All true.

I just find it hard to believe that breastfeeding (or any single event after the saying of vows short of actual infidelity) is the likeliest culprit of marital demise.

And if it is, I would guess the real problem tracks more directly to the fact that the woman married an exceedingly immature guy.

For me ...

and this next part can be wedged into the Too Much Information category so be forewarned …

… breasts have NEVER been located in an erogenous zone. The fact that men have on occasioned looked at them in lascivious ways doesn’t make me aroused in the least. Not to mention the pre-baby pain of cysts and other tenderness? Hands. Off. Please. But that’s me, and I suppose Boteach doesn’t really care what I, or women like me, think or want.

When I had children my breasts changed – physically and philosophically - in ways that were not only meaningful but also beautiful. And that changed how I felt about my body and its evolving purpose. I can never see them in such a sophomoric way again.

Also time, regardless of childbearing, stands still for no one. It ravages bodies.

As Boteach counsels men to not look at their wives when they give birth or when they nurse their children, he’s not really protecting their manhood or their marriage; he’s merely protecting an over-inflated sexual ego, something that may not be as real and the baby it helped produce.

He's also ignoring future pleasures of the flesh. What about when she's thicker around the middle or not as firm? Will this man who needed to avert his eyes from the miracle of life be there when the prospect of death is near?

It seems to me that anyone who has to protect eroticism from its natural results rather than adapt to new pleasures, is unlikely to be able to go happily or gracefully into old age.

At the very least, it would seem as if the good rabbi is protecting the male of the species from having to rethink his purpose in life.


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