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August 23, 2005

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» Maybe I am weird... from In Search Of Utopia
From Ezra: As for all this talk over guys getting freaked out by the delivery room view of their partner's suddenly giant, bloody vagina, I don't quite see the problem. If you're the sort of guy who thinks this'll haunt... [Read More]

» So, You Married a Man With a Virgin/Whore Complex from Feministe
Belle says it so I don't have to. Title credit: Scott Lemieux, whose last name has far too many vowels in a row.... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» Put on that teddy and high heels and strut around for me, stud from Pandagon
I didn't want to wade into the "are men who leave their wives alone to give birth total assholes or what" debate. It's obvious to me that the answer is yes. Also, men who feel free to knock women up,... [Read More]

» They Don't Like to Watch from No Tickling!
Some men are turned off by watching their wives give birth. Here it is in apologetic psychoanalytic terms (with the shrink/columnist more richly deserving of the term “asshole” than anyone else under discussion), and here it is in the boy’s [Read More]

» Find Me Sexy, PIG! from Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0
I'm a bit late to this party, but what the heck? I'm always willing to needlessly offend. The gist of the linked post is that men who have trouble becoming sexually attracted to their wives after they've witnessed the wife... [Read More]

» Find Me Sexy, PIG! from Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0
I'm a bit late to this party, but what the heck? I'm always willing to needlessly offend. The gist of the linked post is that men who have trouble becoming sexually attracted to their wives after they've witnessed the wife... [Read More]

» Find Me Sexy, PIG! from Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0
I'm a bit late to this party, but what the heck? I'm always willing to needlessly offend. The gist of the linked post is that men who have trouble becoming sexually attracted to their wives after they've witnessed the wife... [Read More]

» Find Me Sexy, PIG! from Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0
I'm a bit late to this party, but what the heck? I'm always willing to needlessly offend. The gist of the linked post is that men who have trouble becoming sexually attracted to their wives after they've witnessed the wife... [Read More]

Comments

dsquared

Hmmmm I have to say that it certainly makes me less enthusiastic about starting wars in Europe now that I know that when we turn to the Yanks to save our asses, they will all be like this guy.

I'll tell you something though; childbirth is just murder on the feet. Four hours my missus was with the last one and I was standing up most of the time. In my bloody office shoes too. Christ my feet were killing me. Nobody ever talks about that, and if you mention it you get no sympathy. My only advice to young men on the point of becoming fathers is, wear trainers for god's sake.

dsquared

oh jeepers comedy gold.

"And predicting which men will be vulnerable to them is nearly impossible in a social climate in which men who admit reticence about being present in the delivery room risk being labeled throwbacks."

yes indeed; the only thing more frightening than childbirth is the possibility of being called old-fashioned.

I think that these precious prenatal classes ought to include a trip to a farm at lambing time, compared to which a human childbirth will seem as April showers. Apart from the feet thing obviously.

Carlos

Why should any man (other than a medical professional) have to see a woman's secret parts anyway? I can't think of anything that would quench male desire faster than seeing that!

des von bladet

There was also the story that grossed-out first-time fathers are suspected of lobbying for Caesarians second-time out. (The original story is in Swedish, of course, so I'm linking my own translation.)

I lean currently slightly towards the view that the precise details of childbirth are likely to constitute Too Much Information, but I dare say I will be briefed on my official final position if and when.

Nancy Lebovitz

I believe people shouldn't be mocked for their emotions. If seeing births is having that effect on some men, it's better to know about it, and possibly take it into account.

dsquared

That's an admirable sentiment but to be honest I don't think that squeamishness or cowardice are really the kind of emotions that deserve this sort of respect. If there are men out there who want to pretend that children do not arrive in the world out of women's vaginas, covered in blood, then I don't really think that we should co-operate in humouring them. Anyone who's scared not only of childbirth but even of a little bit of mockery desperately needs to toughen up.

(I seem to remember that the chef Gordon Ramsay refused to be present at the births of his children because he feared it would put him off oral sex. He also regarded himself as genuinely brave for having the courage to admit this fact. It was about this point in history that I developed the opinion that our Gordon was becoming a little too fond of seeing his face in the newspapers).

dsquared

(ach, all I can find on the web is that Ramsay was "concerned it would affect their love life" but I am positive, absolutely positive, that this is cutesy euphemism and in the original interview he was referring specifically to cunnilingus).

belle waring

yeah, what if you were going down on a chick, and like, suddenly, a bloody infant head crowned down there, that would be totally fucking gross.

Glenn Fleishman

There have been a spate of articles in the US on breastfeeding after the idiot Barbara Walters, once a "journalist" and now even the quote marks don't help, expressing her distaste at a woman nursing her child next to her on a plane.

The basic issue is that a lot of people are uncomfortable with fundamental human issues, and they spend their lives trying to build a castle on the ground: one in which uncomfortable biological facts are hidden.

For both childbirth and breastfeeding, our society (U.S., not Singapore as far as I know) has sexualized and fragmented the elements of the female body that are involved. So frat-boy mentality urban men are now allowed to say, gross, nursing and childbirth, because it disrupts their precious view of the organs that were designed for their exclusive use.

With a one-year-old boy under my wife and my belts (figuratively), all I know is that anyone who critiques breastfeeding in public is saying, "lock woman in their homes."

Glenn Fleishman

Oh, and I was in the OR for my wife's caesarean, and I was proud as ALL FRICKIN' HELL to be there to support her. I got to hold my baby seconds after he came out of the womb. We did 60 hours of labor (and NOT doing the full-on natural childbirth thing; it's just how it shook out with progression). My wife was actually perfectly happy with getting a surgical removal, and she didn't mind being out of it when Ben was born because she was blissfully no longer IN PAIN. It was beautiful in a way I didn't know a C-section could be--even with machines sucking fluids and eight people working on her at midnight.

Any man or woman who can't be man or woman enough to be there for birth hasn't paid the toll for parenthood.

PZ Myers

I'm a different kind of male jerk -- I found the birth of my kids to be wonderful and fascinating, and gee but my wife sure has some terrific plumbing. But then I'm not the squeamish type.

I do wonder, though...there was a lot of pain for my wife involved. Are there any women who show up at this doctor's office and say, "I can't bear to look at my husband's penis anymore--it reminds me of all the real suffering it caused me."

des von bladet

Any man or woman who can't be man or woman enough to be there for birth hasn't paid the toll for parenthood.

There is so very much studliness in the world of birthning spectatorship! But I, for one, do not entirely understand why such squeamishness particularly deserves disrespect either.

Taboos and squeamishness are for wusses, for sure, and I for one salute the many of you who have made videos of their childrens' conception to show them also that beautiful and very necessary moment in their life-cycle.

Personally I know very well how children come into the world, and I know very well what happens to the undigested remains of food, and I have a pretty good idea what happens in heart surgery, and I wish to observe or inspect precisely none of these occurrences first hand.

Jeremy Osner

"videos of their chilren's conception" are presumably the ones on offer to me from various emailers I don't know.

Jeremy Osner

PS. Does childbirth pornography exist? I have never seen or heard of it but there are a lot of warped desires out there being catered to...

apostropher

I was in the room and an active partner for the births of both of my sons (by different wives), the first a vaginal delivery, the second an emergency C-section. Now, I'm not remotely squeamish and certainly the only thing about childbirth that dampened my libido was the ensuing 8 months of sleeplessness. However, I can see how witnessing a C-section could be a really jarring experience for some, just like witnessing anything where a loved one is cut open and their organs placed atop them.

Honestly though, I found seeing an episiotomy being sewn up with a big shiny silver hook pretty damn unnerving. Didn't push me toward celibacy, but given my druthers I'd just as soon not see it again.

Arthur D. Hlavaty

I don't know if there is childbirth porn, but I have seen picture books emphasizing that the female participant was likely to give birth at any moment. The title that sticks in my mind is "About to Drop."

julia

If he's the same Dr. Ablow I found on Google, his specialty is forensic psychiatry, specifically murderers, gang members and sex offenders.

Perhaps the "other issues" his patient had were a little more serious than he's making it sound?

diddy

If it's not somehow a conflict of interest to win Comment of the Year for a comment on one's own post, I think we should close the nominations now because Belle's comment above totally wins.

John Emerson

I believe people shouldn't be mocked for their emotions.

I think that other people's emotions should be ridiculed or not on a case-by-case basis.

Charles A. Lieberman

Mr. Osner: There's pregnant-woman porn, so it stands to reason.

Andrew  Brown

friherre von Bladet's link doesn't seem to go anywhere but the top of this page.

theophylact

Yeah, I read that in Science Times this morning, and I thought, "Who the hell are these wimps, and why would any woman want to stay married to them?" I mean, what did they think those organs were for, anyway?

Maybe they're Creationists...

Timothy Burke

You know, I read that article this morning and had exactly this same reaction. I really almost rushed upstairs to post something: boo-hoo, you wimps. Now I grant you that seeing a c-section might be traumatic, as would any major operation witnessed up-close. It would also be unnerving to watch a loved one get abdominal surgery, open-heart surgery or brain surgery, sure. But that's got nothing to do with birth or sex, geezus. I was there for the whole thing, vaginal delivery + small episotomy and post-delivery stitching included. It was amazing, interesting, yes occasionally overwhelming for its bodily intensity, but the idea that this would affect my sexual desire just seems weird to me.

No, wait, not weird. Weird is what I'd call someone's emotional state when that state might make some sense but it's not my state of mind. This is more than that: it seems to me that it's about someone whose sexual desire for women is premised on the necessary maintenance of the idea that the vagina is secret, mysterious, unseen, a place where men disappear into the unknown. Which is like the whole stupid "women are mysterious" thing, which I just can't respect.

Geoffrey F. Green

Goodness, I was right next to my wife during her two (natural) deliveries, I helped her out throughout her 27-hour labor for the first child, and I held our little boys all sticky and gooey from birth, but I was squeamish about watching them come out, I didn't want to watch, I didn't, and all was fine. I'm not sure why there's so much animosity. I'm not sure what I would have gained as far as "not being an asshole" by watching the baby come out instead of standing next to my wife holding her hand. (Actually, I'm not sure why not wanting to watch makes me an asshole.) But we all have different expectations, I suppose.

Re: Glenn, my wife breastfeeds in public, and I'm very supportive. But it's a wee bit different. Apropos of another poster, I didn't want to watch the birth for the same reason that I turn the TV quickly when they show open-heart surgery.

Shamhat

I'm a labor and delivery nurse, and for those of you who haven't been into a C/sec, I can assure you that we put up drapes so that dad isn't gazing into a gaping hole. He's by Mom's head, holding the baby if everything is fine, with the anesthesiologist for company.

Vaginal births with episiotomies can often be just as disturbing--particularly to us nurses who didn't think they were necessary anyway. I can imagine a man worrying about hurting his wife after seeing all those stitches. Wait until she's sure she's ready, and it's a good idea to use lubricant. And for those of you who haven't used it before, the fun way to use lubricant is to apply it directly to the penis, rather than squirting it into the vagina like you would use Monistat.

Some men don't watch the moment of birth. Many orthodox Jewish men leave the room during vaginal exams and while their wife is pushing, standing just outside or behind a curtain davening. I try to think of it as a form of respect for the sacred feminine, rather that a fear of the inherent uncleanliness of women. Sort-of like I see the romantic aspect of "no man but my husband has ever seen my hair." When you see his tears as he hears the baby cry and the doctor shouts "mazel tov, you have a daughter," so he can hear in the hallway, it's just as beautiful as the father holding the baby while his wife is stitched up.

In general, if the man isn't planning to be in the room, it's a good idea to bring another companion to help hold Mom's legs while pushing and to help her hold the baby afterward.

Atrios

People are entitled to their squeamishness and entitled to be mocked for it.

Matt

A friend of mine was informed at one of the London hospitals that the "birthing pool" no longer allowed partners to be present because they tended to get too "overexcited".

Geoffrey F. Green

Mocking I get. Calling us "assholes" seems a bit excessive.

LizardBreath

I'm not sure what I would have gained as far as "not being an asshole" by watching the baby come out instead of standing next to my wife holding her hand. (Actually, I'm not sure why not wanting to watch makes me an asshole.)

Geoffrey-

No one, I believe, meant to call you or anyone else an asshole for not wanting to watch the actual emergence of the baby. Squeamishness is fine -- I'm squeamish myself. The mockery was for men who were so traumatized by what they did see that they lost sexual desire for their wives. It's a different issue.

Tim

Shamhat:
thanks for the reality check. As a first-time expectant father, the stories so far in this thread have been fairly uniformly terrifying, either to justify how "tough" dads should be, or to justify why squeamishness is fine.

Ralph Luker

I was there for the birth of both daughters. It's an awesome experience. It confirmed my respect for womanhood and my gratitude for having been born a male. I couldn't do it.

theorajones

OMG, could there be, like, ONE THING that we did as women did that we didn't have to worry about how it would affect our sex appeal?

This is beyond ridiculous.

Women don't get PTSD treatment for childbirth, which, I'm sorry is a HELL of a lot more traumatic than watching childbirth. If the pussy is too scary, then stay up at the other end, ya moron. Make it about something OTHER than your emotional needs for, like, a day. Can ya do that?

Had I ever once seen the NY Times write an op-ed about how men are worried that their wives no longer find them sexually attractive because sex with them resulted in 9 months of increasing discomfort, culminating in 24 hours of screaming agony and a month's recovery, I might feel differently. But this is ludicrous. Men should be taught that their proper role in childbirth is to support their wives in whatever way the wife needs, and not about wives needing to focus on helping their emotionally stunted man-child face the unpleasantries of life.

MQ

These guys were in therapy, which means they get to talk about WHATEVER their crap is, whether it's bullshit or not. We don't completely control what sorts of things have power over us emotionally. Everyone has some junk in there. Not too surprising that watching childbirth could be wrenching in various ways, and that watching physical agony, blood, and trauma could cause you to cross your wires sexually at least temporarily. Most of us do not find those things to be turn ons. It's not like these guys were writing newspaper articles saying that people SHOULD react this way, or that it was somehow their wives fault that they did, or that their wives should change in any way. They were confessing to a psychologist in (what should have been) complete privacy that they did feel this way.

dsquared

Mocking I get. Calling us "assholes" seems a bit excessive

If it's any consolation, if you'd been in the room, you would have got called a lot worse than an "asshole" when the serious business started.

These guys were in therapy, which means they get to talk about WHATEVER their crap is

No they weren't mate, they were in the New York Times, which means we get to talk about them as if they weren't real people, which they almost certainly weren't.

MQ

Yeah, perhaps the ire should be directed more at the rather sententious psychologist who wrote the article, seems like he's bucking for a guest shot on daytime TV. Leave his poor patients alone, I'm sure they would have had the good grace to leave this particular new "syndrome" in privacy where it belongs. That's where people toughen up their unfortunate but understandable weaknesses, in private.

Doctor Slack

Quoth Atrios: "People are entitled to their squeamishness and entitled to be mocked for it."

And in the Great Chain of Snark, the mockers are entitled to be called out in turn.

Luckily, there's nothing the mockers need to be mocked for. Nothing at all! I mean come on -- we all know how well "suck it up and be a man" has worked as an approach to dealing with male emotional problems over the years, don't we? Study after study has demonstrated it, following on Dr. Laura's ground-breaking "quit your whining and learn to be a real woman, you spineless little wench" approach to pop psychology for women. I for one am encouraged to see Belle take a hard line view on re-establishing the Shame & Mockery approach to male communication; hopefully we can put all the distasteful feminist nonsense about how men should "communicate" their "feelings" behind us once and for all. With any luck it can become a regrettable and best-forgotten chapter in modern history, just like Vanilla Ice's musical career or the final season of Dallas.

Picture it if you will: suppose that therapist in the NYT article hadn't been a weak-kneed liberal do-gooder worried about "talking" to his patients and "helping" them? After all, real men aren't patients -- what kind of wuss tries to "talk" to people about icky things like "feelings"? I wish that therapist had had the guts to just call them "emotionally-stunted man-children" and chase them out of his office... preferably right into a major street, shouting "limp-dick!" repeatedly at their retreating backs while brandishing a nine-iron. I'm sure they'd have arrived home better, stronger, manlier men and their wives and children would have been grateful.

Heart-warming, really. Hats off to you, Belle!

julia

um, Dr. Slack?

WADR, I was in labor for 36 hours. Some of it was astonishingly painful. If someone wants to make the case that watching such a thing is going to make them go all limp and stuff, they can of course do so.

Everyone else has an equal right to point out that their revulsion suggests a less-than-thorough understanding of what's involved in reproduction.

Newsflash: boys are involved in the babymaking process. If they can't cope with that fact past the point where they start wanting to go to sleep, they should be big enough grownups to stay at the head of the bed.

Gary

I am a 49 year old male. Most people would describe me as "masculine." My 4 younger sisters (and I) would say that the vast majority of males are pussies AND assholes, in one degree or another. If someone has a male in their life that does not exhibit one or both of these qualities in some form, that person is lucky indeed. And yes, regrettably, I exhibit both qualities at times.

joe o

Suck it up, doctor slack. Repression is underated. You can still "communicate" your "feelings", without being an "asshole".

Doctor Slack

Everyone else has an equal right to point out that their revulsion suggests a less-than-thorough understanding of what's involved in reproduction.

Hey, I'm totally with you guys! What greater crime can a person commit than having a less-than-thorough understanding of reproduction? It's not like half your country has young men growing up in the grip of fundamentalist sects with fucked-up attitudes toward the body, right?

These people have no excuse. They should magically have acquired exactly the emotional and bodily reactions that your education dictates they should have, and if they don't, they must be mocked mercilessly lest they start actually trying to get educated, thereby inflicting their paltry ignorance on the more fortunate! It's bad taste, I tell you! It's un-manliness! It's much, much better that these poor, gormless bastards to whom we are all comfortably superior should bottle up their feelings, turn to drink or start running around on their wives, like in the old days when men used to "suck it up and deal with it." It was good enough for my grand-pappy, and dammit, it's good enough for me.

Tom Stearns

Oh good grief.

That shrink should just give those wimps a white feather and tell them to be a man about it.

Same same to the wimps who say warfare is too much to stomach and it distresses them. What did you expect, a picnic?

Timothy Burke

These guys are entitled to go to therapy.

That's very different from the o-so-fucking sensitive NY Times article suggesting that their reactions represent a form of social problem that requires some kind of generalized social understanding or sympathy.

People have all sorts of things going on inside their heads. Not everything going on inside someone's head is occasion for the suggestion that there is a generalized social issue represented by the thing inside the head that all of us must somehow sensitively negotiate. The general social expectation should be that men be there with partners and that they don't get their experience of birth confused with their experience of sexual desire. If they can't live up to that expectation, then therapy awaits. Should I happen to have a friend who is in therapy for said issue, I will be loving and sensitive to him. Should I be exhorted to be generically loving and sensitive to the entire class of men having said problem, I will say, "Get over it, girlfriends". The general social expectation than men under 50 will not confuse sexual desire with seeing the delivery of their child is a perfectly reasonable one. I feel no uneasiness that it is and should be the norm.

Doctor Slack

In a slightly more serious vein:

Not everything going on inside someone's head is occasion for the suggestion that there is a generalized social issue represented by the thing inside the head that all of us must somehow sensitively negotiate. . . Should I happen to have a friend who is in therapy for said issue, I will be loving and sensitive to him.

You would be loving and sensitive to someone you knew who had such an issue, but couldn't be bothered to show a minimal degree of courtesy to any larger group of people with said issue, because they are not "the norm"? Sorry, but that seems kind of small and mean-spirited to me.

Now, I don't remember the NYT article suggesting a "generalized social problem" that we must all "sensitively negotiate" -- I remember it suggesting a fairly small-scale problem about which it might be nice if men would speak frankly. Maybe I'm misremembering the article? (It's behind a pay wall now, so I can't check it.) If I'm not misremembering it, I don't see what was in it that would make to "Boo-fucking-hoo" reaction look at all impressive.

Timothy Burke

Yeah, I can't be bothered to feel a structured sympathy, because that suggests there is a coherent social legitimacy to the problem. It is a reasonable expectation that men will not have this confusion: those that don't have a problem. Individuals who have problems whom I know draw my sympathy; classes of individuals who want to claim a structured space that justifies or legitimizes their problem do not.

Russell Arben Fox

"Not everything going on inside someone's head is occasion for the suggestion that there is a generalized social issue represented by the thing inside the head that all of us must somehow sensitively negotiate."

As usual, Tim nails it. Of course sex and the body and pain and fear and guilt and sympathy and curiosity--all of which are mashed up together when a loving couple go through childbirth--can play havok with a person's equilibrium. There's no good reason for them to do so, but lots of things happen in our minds without any good reason, and the fact they happen isn't cause to believe someone has just failed the essential test of "manliness," or whatever. But the human pysche is not human society. Society is a product of norms: admittedly, shaped many numerous sometimes contradictory forces, but norms just the same. And the norms of childbirth today pretty clearly suggest that a healthy sexual life is not incompatible with a sharing of that most intimate and wrenching of physical functions, namely a woman giving birth to a child. I've no intention of shoving that norm down everyone's psychic throat, but neither do I care to be moved in the slightest by a bullshit article in the New York Times about the deep, complex problem posed by a norm which has easily embraced by practically every segment of our society. As Joe O. suggested above, repression is often underrated, apportioning one's sympathies in accordance with societal expectations is not always unreasonable, and "get over it" is not always a marginalizing answer.

Doctor Slack

Yeah, I can't be bothered to feel a structured sympathy, because that suggests there is a coherent social legitimacy to the problem.

Sorry, I'm not following you, or maybe we're talking about different things. I'm talking about showing common courtesy, not "feeling a structured sympathy." I don't need to feel "structured sympathy" for people with depression, or any other emotional problem or disorder, to know that it might just be a little rude and counterproductive to publicly mock them. I can show that minimal courtesy without fearing that any "coherent social legitimacy" conferred thereby might somehow undermine "the norm." I certainly don't see why a problem affecting a handful of guys and eliciting a mild article in the NYT Health section should pose such a threat to you.

carter

For most of human history men would not go anywhere near women when they were giving birth, the bizarre and pointless practice of the man watching the process is a recent ‘innovation’. So what is the origin of this innovation? My research suggests that the notion originated with and was propagated by a KGB psy-op during the Cold War, with the intent of causing exactly the type of trauma to the male psyche as described by the poor bastards in the NYTimes article.

And while it may be irrational for certain men to have “never regained the same romantic view of their wives that they had before seeing them deliver children,” romance is not terribly rational in the first place, is it? It is also irrational to risk damaging the romantic bond in order to do something that has no benefit or purpose.

I think it is also worth noting that I find myself in agreement with my old nemesis, Dr. Slack.

Doctor Slack

I'm someone's nemesis?

Cool!

I've changed my mind. I now find myself in complete disagreement with carter. Boo-frickin'-hoo, morons! You'd better watch that birth and have permanent wood within 24 hours! The Power of the Left compels you!

joe o

More ablow fun.

Doctor Slack

Just kidding.

Cala

This isn't hard, Dr. Slack.

Having emotions about watching your wife give birth that are upsetting or disturbing or interfering with your sex life are something that should be treated with sympathy and therapy for a small minority of men for whom it seriously shocks.

And if the article had said, 'Hey, some men have problems with viewing childbirth and here are some things that a man and his wife should talk about and/or expect so everyone can get a proper perspective and work through any issues in sucking it up', I think we'd be much less inclined to mock.

Instead, the article (esp. the last two sentences) takes this borderline legitimate problem as a justification for men not being able to deal with the very plain fact that babies come from vaginas and blaming that on women revealing too much of the mystery. They don't have a problem; it's their silly wives, the ones they took as a companions and allies, for asking them to be present at the birth (which will be painful, might be long, and might involve suddens cuts and surgery) rather than realizing they might be a little grossed out and might prefer to wait in the TV lounge so they can keep thinking of their wives as sexy. That sentiment is ridiculous, and that's what's being mocked.

someone, somewhere

The sentiment is not ridiculous. The purpose of the article is NOT to point out what is the right/socially acceptable reaction for the men; nor is it to decide who is to blame if that reaction is different. The purpose is to explain both to males & females that a statistically significant quotient of males DOES experience such problems, that many of men do not know in advance that they might experience that (because the reaction is triggered by whatever happens on a subconscious rather than conscious level), and that when a couple makes a decision on that both partners should take this into account and decide whether the obvious benefits of sharing the unique/bonding/romantic experience outweigh the uncertain risks of complications in their relationship afterwards.

Doctor Slack

So, the article is "blaming the women" for "revealing too much of the mystery" even when the bulk of it talks about the problem as one that couples could be more aware of, and because someone is quoted in it at one point assaying the heretical opinion that an overly clinical approach to labour coaching might not help matters. That's hanging rather a lot on two sentences, isn't it?

I mean, whatever. Far be it from me to ruin anyone's fun. But I see stuff like this and wonder how these guys should even register a blip on the outrage meter in the America of Rev. Fred Frickin' Phelps. Maybe a little perspective is too much to ask.

carter

"it's their silly wives, the ones they took as a companions and allies, for asking them to be present at the birth "

No one has yet explained why it is not silly for the father to be present at birth.

dsquared

Oh come off it. Call me the drill sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket", but the behaviour that we are attempting to understand and sympathise with here is a refusal to help your wife through childbirth, out of the selfish motivation that it might decrease your aesthetic appreciation of having sex with her. Even if it's Liberty Hall for cowardice, surely the simple selfishness of this ought to push it into the category of the shameful.

Mandos

I'm not sure if carter's line of questioning is tongue-in-cheek, but the reason why fathers now want to be present at birth is that we are also trying, at least psychologically, to blur some of the lines in the division of male/female labour. So that the man is not just lord of the household, and woman it's caretaker and reproducer, but they're both participants. So if men are to be supporting partners at times, it makes sense that many of them would want to (or have mothers want them to) be at their children's birth.

Of course, you could ask why we would want to blur the lines of division of labour...

carter

It's neither cowardly or selfish to wish to preserve the attraction one feels for a woman, it's sensible, in particular when there is no good reason for the father to be witnessing the birth anyway.

carter

So Mandos, what you are saying is that husbands should risk damaging the attraction they feel for their wives in order to make a political statement? I find that absurd.

joe o

How do you preserve your attraction to strippers.

MQ

Doctor Slack is kicking ass here. Everyone who actually took birthing-induced impotence seriously as a social problem, you have too much time on your hands. Of course, that's true of all of us by definition cause we're posting in a blog comments section. Or writing a blog, as the case may be.

des von bladet

The missing link. http://piginawig.diaryland.com/050815.html#8

Sorrie, hoor.

AlanDownunder

I guess psychic dependence on magisterial rogering fantasies could predispose some blokes to deflationary shock and awe.

Fantasist or no, 10cm is mighty impressive.

julia

Oh please.

Where on earth did you get the idea that an undefined number of the patients of a man who specializes in sex offenders and violent criminals represent a "statistically significant" sample of manhood?

Something for the couple to deal with indeed. Perhaps he'd like to carry the baby on his bladder for a few weeks while she thrashes it out? Or, you know, maybe since she's been walking around building a person for the last nine months and she's about to push it out of a very small hole with a set of muscles she may never have used before, he can just stay at the head of the damn bed and hold her hand without making an announcement about how, you know, squicky he thinks it makes her vagina look? Because he's not really doing much of the heavy lifting at that point. I think he can be asked to handle that much.

I am kind of amused at the wild indignation you feel on behalf of the less-educated based on your presumption that the less-educated are who we're talking about here. Based on their being able to afford therapy, I'd have assumed that the people we're talking about were at least middle class, which it's becoming far harder to be unless you have a prett decent basic education.

Doctor Slack

Over at CT, Dan Kervick puts the point much more concicsely than I did.

kevin

"I'm not sure if carter's line of questioning is tongue-in-cheek, but the reason why fathers now want to be present at birth is that we are also trying, at least psychologically, to blur some of the lines in the division of male/female labour."

Well, no. My wife wanted me with her, so I was with her. Its a long, painful, sometimes frightening process for the women and you pretty much owe it to her to do whatever meager things you can do to help her through it. And if you are squeemish then concentrate on your wife's face.

Its not about politics, its about love.

LizardBreath

And it is a huge deal from the woman's perspective (at least it was from mine). Childbirth is scary -- what I vividly remember as the worst moment of my second labor was a 90-second period when my hisband was out of my sight. I have never been so glad to see anyone as when he came back.

sara

Oh good grief.

That shrink should just give those wimps a white feather and tell them to be a man about it.

Same same to the wimps who say warfare is too much to stomach and it distresses them. What did you expect, a picnic?

It's most objectionable when the husbands are cool and happy with -- nay, cheer for! -- solely male bloodshed, as in combat.

Euripides' Medea said "I would rather stand in line of battle three times than bear a child once."

She did bear two children (and killed them, but we won't get into that).

This was, of course, back in the day, when a woman could very well die in childbirth, and when many cultures (including the Greeks) viewed women as made unclean by childbirth.

dsquared

I just remember from reading a book about Ruskin that he never got over the fact that on his wedding night he discovered that his wife had pubic hair and that her genitalia were in many other ways unlike those he had seen in classical statuary. He basically never had sex for this reason.

It is for this reason that I've never got beyond page 18 of "Ruskin's Political Economy". I've heard it's a really good book but I really can't take the man seriously.

Doctor Slack

I've heard it's a really good book but I really can't take the man seriously.

Because it's unheard-of for a prominent thinker to have funny ideas about sex? I wonder just how much of my bookshelf would become a no-go zone if this was a make or break criterion for me...

Jasmine

Even the guys way back in my seventh grade science class felt more empathy with a woman in labor than the man who wrote the original article.

"Trying to push something the size of [the shortest kid in the room] through a hole this big?" one of them demanded, holding up his fingers in illustration. "It's GOT to hurt."

Or words to that effect.

hampope

Julia, your findings via Google are making me shudder.

Apostropher and des von bladet, I think what's most bothersome about the feelings described by the men in that article is not that they were squeamish, but that their squeamishness apparently had such a far-reaching affect. I mean, most of these guys no longer wanted to be intimate with their wives. Look, I'm not excited about seeing an episiotomy either--or having one, for that matter.

Belle Waring's comment about the bloody head is funny.

This article has really bothered me, and I have to admit that the word "fraternity" did enter my head...and I apologize for having that thought, because I know better than anyone that not every member of a fraternity is the usual negative stereotype, but... still, it came to mind.

hampope

maurinsky

My husband is completely squeamish - he is terrified of needles, he must leave the room if discussion of bodily fluids of any kind occurs, and he visibly shudders when I say "I've got my period".

But when I was in labor, he was my rock, and even though he thought he was going to pass out, he watched each one of our daughters emerge from my body. He was overwhelmed with emotion, but it wasn't fear, it was wonder and amazement.

However one feels about the father being present at the delivery, at the very least, if a guy has a problem, it's not the woman's fault for removing the mystery. The author of the NYT article reminds me of that prig who was horrified by people eating in public. Some people are just too sensitive to live amongst other human beings.

Sylwia

I think it works like that: A woman is supposed to be a pricess and be begged and eventually give. In that circumstances no wonder she insist on sharing consequences of love. But once a woman consider herself as the one loving sex and the one who takes there is logically no reason to tire the guy with the view of labor if he minds. But it is VERY hard to go over stereotypes. And good, at least the history of men constantly runing wars seems to make some sense.

Clancy

I've been reading the comments here, at CT, and at Unfogged, and it seems to me that there's more at issue than the "libido doesn't listen to reason" argument. But just to get that one out of the way, while libido often does not subscribe to social norms, that doesn't mean the new norms in the case of birthing aren't good and warranted, a point Timothy Burke makes very well. Or maybe different social norms are influencing the postnatal repulsion.

Whether it's intended by apologists for the contra-attitude or not, I for one am hearing, especially in the appeals to practices of other cultures (the "sacred, mysterious feminine," the "it's sexiest when something is left to the imagination"), a wish for a free pass. "Is it really necessary that I'm in the room?" "What purpose would I serve there? I'm no medical expert." "Wouldn't it be easier for everyone if I'm not there?" "Just in case this might have an effect on my sex drive, shouldn't I be able to opt out of being in the room, free of guilt, for the sake of our marriage/relationship?"

It's that underlying wish for a pass (and what sounds like resentment at the expectation to attend the birth, to be frank) that's annoying me, Belle, LizardBreath, and many others. Of course if some man enthusiastically attends the Lamaze classes, attentively times the contractions, pushes on the woman's back for counterpressure during labor pains, cuts the cord, and anything else the woman asks without any complaints, THEN is later shocked to find himself unable to get aroused, that's more beyond his control.

This whole thing makes me think of an essay by anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd. The particular quotation:

The hormone (oxytocin) that flows through our bodies to stimulate labor is the same hormone that flows through us as we make love with our partners and breastfeed our babies, showing us that these biologies have more in common than we knew and teaching us as women that, like having orgasms, the intense and stimulating sensations of giving birth and breastfeeding are integral parts of our biosexual birthright (Newton 1973, 1977). Women I have interviewed who know this for a fact often ask their husbands to make love to them throughout labor: nipple stimulation increases oxytocin levels and makes labor more effective, clitoral stimulation provides islands of intense pleasure in an ocean of intense pain!

A stalwart libido, that.

*In Robbie Davis-Floyd and Joseph Dumit, Eds. Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots, p. 269-270.

Doctor Slack

But just to get that one out of the way, while libido often does not subscribe to social norms, that doesn't mean the new norms in the case of birthing aren't good and warranted, a point Timothy Burke makes very well.

Mostly, people seem to have conceded that slagging off the guys for seeking therapy, as Belle initially did, isn't really justifiable. That's progress of a sort.

Unfortunately, the shift of focus to the supposed undertones of the article isn't much more convincing. At the very best, the article's author can be accused of taking a mildly controversial position on an aspect of labour coaching and of overreaching slightly in the importance he assigns to the phenomenon he's describing. Sorry, that's rather weak tea for a call to the barricades defending the new "norms."

Let's face it, it's not as though we're talking about a lengthy diatribe about how ridiculous it is to have men helping their wives through labour or how absurd the new "norms" are, or how women are to blame for their husbands' discomfort, or even a coherent thesis on the "mystery" of the "sacred feminine." At most we have an article about an unusual syndrome experienced by a group of men the article itself describes as not being numerically vast, and one that suggests that couples -- and then, at one point, women -- might want to think about this.

I don't see the nefarious agenda underlying this that you do, but if it's something that you think needs objecting to, all well and good. But the problem is just that the article is way too thinly-developed to support all the coherently and aggressively patriarchal sentiments that are being hung on it, and we're a far, far cry from making the high dudgeon that kicked things off in any way defensible (especially as applied to the article's subjects, who can't be accused of sharing any of the author's sentiments).

I'm all in favour of men being in the delivery room, myself, just as I like the relatively "new" conceptions of fatherhood that regard male partnership in child-rearing as the rule rather than the exception. I'm confident enough in their worth that I don't need to feel threatened on their behalf by any oblique suggestion that some minor aspect of them bears thinking about. Moreover, I've never viewed liberalism or progressivism as an exercise in kneejerking and then retroactively excavating the subject of my ire for something to be offended by -- and that's what I see happening here. It's the sort of behaviour that contributes to the worst sorts of stereotypes, and I would love to see less of it.

W. Kiernan

I've got to say that after I delivered my youngest two kids (midwife was late, twice)(wow, "delivered," sounds like I actually did something beside stand there with my hands out) I was too freaked out to even think about fucking for a few days. Let's say "too blissed out." I still get all smiley and spacey remembering it.

dsquared: ...It is for this reason that I've never got beyond page 18 of "Ruskin's Political Economy". I've heard it's a really good book but I really can't take the man seriously.

Read "Unto This Last," it's terrific. Try to put that sex business out of your mind. I mean we respect what you write, "English-style Love" and all.

Western Dave

Doctor Slack,

I think the problem here is most of the people slagging the guys don't really believe that seeing their wife give birth is what is causing these guys to lose wood. I'm of that school. The guy might think, "Oh, I saw my wife give birth and now I no longer find her sexy so there must be a causal relationship there." But it would seem the job of the therapist to say (in a much gentler way than I am about to), "that's pretty much bullshit so let's find out what's really going on." As others have pointed out, you can be in the room without watching. With my second, my wife found herself in an awkward position on her side and she had her head buried kind of between my stomach and armpit so she could "smell me" (more likely our laundry detergent) and I couldn't have seen the baby come out if I'd been plastic man from Fantastic Four. These guys don't want to be in the room which seems to me to be about evading the actions lead to consequences part of the equation our youth culture in particular often ignores.

Doctor Slack

But it would seem the job of the therapist to say (in a much gentler way than I am about to), "that's pretty much bullshit so let's find out what's really going on."

Could be. Wouldn't know, not being a therapist myself. I'm giving Ablow the benefit of the doubt in terms of being competent enough to know the difference; if he isn't, that's a whole other thing.

These guys don't want to be in the room which seems to me to be about evading the actions lead to consequences part of the equation our youth culture in particular often ignores.

Ummm, being in the room is fine, but I don't see how it would correlate directly with "evading the actions lead to consequences part of the equation."

c.

Look, we're talking about sexual desire here. You can't force people to find this or that sexy or not. For example, would you say to a woman, "You have to find your husband sexy and have intercourse with him all the time! If you don't, you're a jerk!" No, of course not.

This, "get over it, jerk," stuff is easy and exhilarating, but it's just wishful thinking to pretend people can just decide what their feelings should be.

wbb

Over at Crooked Timber they've shirked the issue, I notice. At least here the comments haven't been closed down. With the horror of the real world in Baghdad and Lagos continuing, I can't believe our collective middle-class ennui amd sheer gutlesness.

Himani

Yeah, this article pissed me off, too. It seems that too often men are excused from a lot of things pertaining to women and its usually chalked up to really weak excuses.

"It should be a mystery" is one of the weakest, most pathetic excuses ever. Who wants to keep sex a mystery? That usually involves little or no sexual gratification for the woman. I don't know about other people, but myself (and the few friends that are more verbal about their sex lives) have never found a guy who could MYSTERIOUSLY do the job in bed. He had to know his shit, he had to be able to look, see, touch, and taste to get the whole mojo working.

And, then one marries them and gets pregnant and that's it? The guy in the article seemed to be saying that. Like, "Look, we get this whole 'feminist' crap, and we'll do it, but it's on YOUR head if we're assholes instead of men, so maybe it's better if we just don't help." It's almost like he was suggesting that the husband's job should be over once the wife gets pregnant. "OK, now I knocked you up. Don't come to me for 9 months, until the kid's popped out."

So annoying.

Doctor Slack

wbb: I can't believe our collective middle-class ennui amd sheer gutlesness.

I agree. For instance:

Himani: It seems that too often men are excused from a lot of things pertaining to women and its usually chalked up to really weak excuses.

It seem that too often people spend time trying to mine outrageous attitudes from texts that only weakly support their interpretations, when there are far more important things they could be worrying about. Pretty much every single gripe about Ablow's article thus far, including Belle's original post, has had to make up things he or his subjects "seem to be saying."

Doctor Slack

Italics off.

Richard Vidaurri

weewee weewee... bitchbitchbitch

Why would a man put up with any of you except for immediate, and repeat, gratification?

You want reproductive rights? Choice? A husband ("partner") who still breathes hard for you after the second anniversary? Good. Then don't get pregnant.

Get Real

I think you might want to consider the flip side: if men were sitting around getting TURNED ON by childbirth, declaring it to be the last sexual thrill-seeing your wife in total pain thanks to your sexual prowess and fertility, then women would be griping about THAT as well. The fact is that we are programmed to think this way: well, I got her knocked up, where is the next biological frontier? No offense to the ladies but being attracted to a woman is not really a macho thing. The REALLY macho thing, from a genetic point of view, would be to have already banged a few eighteen year olds while you are out of action.

Get Real

I should also point out that we know three couples that split after the male witnessed birth. I have been through two and felt bonded. But I hate the way we are expected to have a never failing libido when you gain weight and have kids, while being criticized for being horny all the time and objectifying women by feminists.

Lynne

Labor is a very long process. I don't see why a husband couldn't support his wife during all those hours of contractions and then leave during the relatively short time it takes to push out the baby. It's what my husband did and I was fine with it. I would not have wanted to have him watch our daughter come out because he would've just vomited and that would've grossed ME out. For that matter, if someone had videotaped the birth *I* would not have wanted to watch it either. Let's be honest, here. Pregnancy sucks, and childbirth is painful and bloody. Yes, it's natural - but so is poison ivy and ebola. On the other hand, the men who said they didn't want to have sex with their wives because of it - well, that sounds a bit extreme but maybe they just need time to get over it. I mean, most women don't want sex right after giving birth either!

Lynne

I forgot to add something. There were a few posts asking why the husband should be there at all. I'm surprised the answer isn't obvious, but here goes. Because it's a long, painful and scary process for the wife, she needs her husband there for emotional support, to hold her hand, to talk to her and distract her from the pain, etc. If he loves her, he should WANT to do this even if he does have to turn his head away or leave the room during the last moments of birth. (An aside -pregnancy is even worse than childbirth because it lasts so much longer. It's important for husbands to be supportive all along.)

Russell Arben Fox

In case you were wondering about the renewed interest in the thread, Belle, you were liked by Slate here.

Rollo

Are homosexuals "assholes" if they feel no desire -- or worse, if they feel revulsion -- at the sight of a woman's vagina?

Does this make them "wimps" or misogynists or oppressors of women? Should they feel ashamed? Does anyone have a right to demand that they control their desire in order to be normal?

If your answer is no, then why is it acceptable to cast judgement on people who feel a dimunition of libido for reasons beyond their control?

Ultimately, you are defining the boundaries of "acceptable" human sexual desire according to your own political agenda -- which is little more than another strain of good old American sexual Puritanism.

Jim Treacher

Does this mean our wives and girlfriends have to be in the room during a particularly difficult dump? Just kidding!

lastangelman

No my dear friend, you are not married to an asshole, it is you who are the asshole, an rather unfeeling asshole at that. Scratch an enlightened feminist and you'll find an enraged unforgiving manhater who has no empathetic ability for the other sex, who would like nothing better to castrate and berate males than actually promote co-operation, love and understanding and celebrate both the similarities and the differences in each gender. Do the human race a favor, buy an island in the Caribbean or the Pacific and move there with all your other destructive ilk and create your own utopia away from the rest of us, who could do without your venom and poison.

Jim Treacher

By the way, when my first child was born, his mother asked me to be in the delivery room with her. I responded the way any responsible father would: "How did you get this number?"

dsquared

Scratch an enlightened feminist and you'll find an enraged unforgiving manhater who has no empathetic ability for the other sex, who would like nothing better to castrate and berate males than actually promote co-operation, love and understanding and celebrate both the similarities and the differences in each gender

God I love blogs.

Keith

If men are required to not be squeamish about childbirth, then women are required to not be squeamish about mice.

Doctor Slack

Meghan O'Rourke's Slate article is very good.

Clancy

O'Rourke writes: "The squeamishness of the men described in the Times article may be immature and even selfish."

Yes. A little over a month ago, Dale wrote a post that I think is relevant. Quoting liberally here:

Our bodies open, as they grow older. Become less secretive. Doctors open them up, and pry here and there. The doors and windows of our souls fit more and more loosely. The vulva blossoms, a red-coral-purple flower opening. Our breasts and stomachs and buttocks spread. There's some slack. We don't need to hold the fiction quite so tight, that all our parts fit together. We know they don't. We even lose some of them. Ovaries, gall-bladders, uteruses, appendixes, breasts; here and there a tooth and a toenail. Various tubes get tied and cut. Hair comes out. Scars expand. Veins reveal themselves at the surface. We get used to workarounds for the joints that don't quite work as they're supposed to, and the eyes that don't quite see what they used to.

It's just a body, she said. And that becomes clearer, all the time. It's not a mystery, not a tightly-wrapped bud. It's a blowsy, smelly, gone-to-seed creature, a lumbering mammal, kin to bears and orangatans.

When she was young, Martha says, she wondered how middle-aged people had sex. They couldn't possibly be attracted to each other. So how did they go about it?

Apparently we manage. Not in spite of the spaces opening, but because of them.

I don't really miss the tight-wrapped buds, the smooth-functioning bodies. They always pretended to be doors into other countries, and they seldom were. But these bodies, these shameless flowering temples, they really are doors.

A breath of cool air. Come on.

In the CT thread, dsquared's argument for a compassionate, mature view of the body was confusing a few folks for some reason; maybe they should read Dale's post. The point being made is pretty simple.

Doctor Slack

In the CT thread, dsquared's argument for a compassionate, mature view of the body was confusing a few folks for some reason

An argument for a compassionate, mature view of the body was not the problem. The self-satisfied, frankly obnoxious presumption that this should be inborn and that those for whom it is not are bad people was (and is) the problem. I liked dsquared and all, but he went and tried to compare such people to racists, dude. Not on.

Doctor Slack

I liked dsquared ...

Oops, that shouldn't be in the past tense, sorry.

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