A friend of mine has recently had a baby. Said baby is five weeks old and has a scrunchy face, marvellous lungs and quite the toxic bottom. Her dad’s current favourite term of affection for her is “you little bugger”. My friend, her mum, is blissful, exhausted, worried about the world her daughter will grow up in – and angry about articles like this one in the Telegraph, telling her how soon she should be having sex again: Apparently making new fathers wait more than a month or two after birth – you know, the minimum suggested by health professionals in order to let your body recover – could cause issues in the relationship. So, what, women whose bodies, emotions, *whole lives* are in serious disarray are supposed to lie back and think of England? My friend, I, and several of our mutual acquaintances, were unimpressed by The Bump Class‘s attitude, much of which is neatly summed up in the footer:
The Bump Class runs an antenatal course, starting in the final trimester. An 8-week course costs £450. Groups are small, not exceeding 12 girls, all of whom are due within a month of each other.
Leaving aside my issues with the clear class / demographic differences, I’ve got two main concerns. Firstly, what kind of fucked-up society tells women to submit to sex regardless of physical or emotional discomfort just because men can’t cope without it? This is the sort of Blurred Lines women-are-there-for-men’s-pleasure rape culture crap Kirsty Wark is so horrified to be seeing in the younger generation and on social media, and that a group of well-meaning South Kensington Yummy Mummies are advocating it is many kinds of wrong.
Of course there are men who are plenty intelligent and considerate enough to know that they’ve just got to bear with the situation. Straight off the top of my head, there are two stand-out examples among my acquaintance. One, a father to two fantastic little girls, is also pretty much the primary caregiver when he’s not in work. His daughters adore him and his wife is clearly appreciative. He’s as much *a man* as ever; if he were cloned there’d be a stampede for the resulting beings. Another, with a small son, said he and his wife didn’t have sex for a while and he didn’t push it, saying, “we were both too tired.” He also told me this, from Fatherhood: The Truth by Marcus Berkmann: “Good God, the very thought. You should be grateful you’re even in the same bed. Go and stick it in a tree.”
It was depression and prescription drugs that caused the death of my sex drive – and nausea and eventually a sense of total defeat when the subject was so much as hinted at – because even partners who are sensible and caring and considerate don’t always get that not only are we not feeling it right now, but that feeling pressured to do something about our disinterest only serves to make us feel less inclined and more defensive. It’s not that we don’t love you or feel connected to you. But there is nothing remotely sensual about being made to feel that sex is another duty we must fulfil, and it is definitely not something anyone in an influential position should be advocating.
Secondly, would this kind of advice be as much of an issue if people felt they could be more open about sex? For too many, sex is extremely limited in meaning, taking in some form of genital penetration but not much else.
And then there’s good old wanking. No, it’s not the same as sex with a partner, in the same way that toys are not replacements. But they scratch an itch and provide ways of getting off that don’t mean trampling someone else’s sovereignty.
If we felt more comfortable with our sexuality and all the many ways of expressing it, perhaps we’d be more imaginative in dealing with occasionally mismatched libidos, physical limitations, and impatience. If more of us felt it was okay to discuss sex – maybe not in the same breath as Eastenders, but certainly before the gulping down of a fifth Dutch Courage appletini, and way before we get anywhere near a misunderstood foot-rub or cuddle – would dealing with slumps, finding alternatives that don’t damage exhausted and fragile couples, preventing people from feeling rejected or used, be as difficult?