Many men are private and taught to stuff their feelings, so it’s no surprise that it’s nearly impossible to consider talking about their inability to get childbirth images out of their mind. Dr. Lynn Wicker offers her expertise to help.
A few years ago, a male friend of mine in his early 30’s made a comment that at first shocked me beyond belief. After I had time to digest the whole conversation, it caused me to start wondering if his point of view was more common in men than I realized.
What I found is that many men struggle with exactly the same problem.
His very attractive wife had given birth to their second child. He was going on and on about how he was having a hard time being physically attracted to her anymore because she had gained weight.
No doubt about it. I’ve heard that one plenty of times before from men.
But he didn’t stop there.
Reason number two he gave for the drastic decrease in his sexual attraction to his wife is what really got my attention. In his mind, there was something even worse than all her extra pounds.
He went on to explain what I never expected.
He had been present in the delivery room and had witnessed the birth of both of their babies. As part of that experience, he watched the doctor perform an episiotomy.
He just couldn’t get the image of that entire experience out of his head. No question, seeing the baby born was a miraculous and special event. No doubt about it. But something else quite different happened at the same time.
Those graphic images of his wife delivering the baby, including the rest of her physical trauma to her private parts, seemed to flood his mind when he was in intimate contact with his wife and make it difficult for him to maintain arousal.
He shared that when he realized what was happening to his thoughts, he felt ashamed and mortified. On one hand, he knew the physical sacrifices that his wife had gone through in the pregnancy and child birth process and he loved her for her strength and toughness.
But on the other hand, he just couldn’t seem to get beyond those disturbing mental images that had created this block in his senses.
He felt like a complete jerk for even admitting that he’d had these feelings, but was completely helpless to know what to do about it.
If this guy was struggling with these feelings, I was pretty sure he wasn’t the only one. I started doing a little research of my own and discovered that this experience is pretty common, but few want to admit it.
To make matters worse, many guys would never even consider talking about it to a friend or a counselor and certainly would never mention it to their wife. I think we all can understand why that might not go over very well.
There’s just no way to have that conversation without sounding like a complete self-centered jerk.
But there is something else you can do.
At the risk of getting overly “academic” there are two terms I’d like to discuss.
The terms are sensate focus and sensate blocking.
The terms were originally introduced by Masters and Johnson. Sensate focusing refers to a set of specific exercises that couples can use to increase awareness of each other through their senses.
Sometimes during these exercises, these senses can get derailed or blocked. This can happen when a mental image or previous negative experience comes to mind.
Sensate blocking is more than just not getting turned on. In reality, the conscious or subconscious is working against you sensing arousal.
Maybe you find that during intimate times, you are confused because what should be a pleasurable experience, isn’t.
Maybe you’ve never been able to understand what is going on because you love your wife and can’t think of any reason why you are having this response.
Cue the mental images of the baby birthing experience.
Once you are aware that these particular mental images are blocking you, there are some specific things you can do to reduce their negative impact.
You cannot simply remove a negative mental image, you must consciously choose to replace it with a positive one.
Just trying to use mental willpower to block a negative thought or image will simply not work. It may even reinforce the bad image and make it even worse.
- Instead of focusing on the negative mental images, as you hold your wife close, allow yourself to experience gratitude that she and your child are both healthy.
- Purposefully choose to exchange the negative image in your mind to black and white from their color images. Surprisingly, this reduces the vividness of the image in your mind
- When you find yourself focusing on only the physical mental images that were so distressing, exchange them for a focus on the spiritual and miraculous event of the birth of a child and all that means to you.
In reality, both men and women experience a variety of things that can be sensing blockers.
Chris McCluskey, author of When Two Become One : Enhancing Sexual Intimacy in Marriage, provides an approach to addressing this blocking issue for couples. In Chris’s book, he encourages both spouses to do this exercise together.
- Each person writes a list of all five senses— sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.
- Next to each one, write down everything you can think of that cues you for arousal. For example, for smell it might be the scent of a particular cologne or perfume. For hearing, it might be a particular song that brings back a pleasurable memory.
- Next, make a list for each one of the senses that turn you off. You may come up with some obvious ones in the beginning like body odor for smell or too much body fat for sight. But keep thinking. There are often other things that are more subtle that are just as big a turn off. List those, too.
- When you feel comfortable enough to do so, share your lists with each other. Compare them and you may find some similarities or many differences. You may find that the list of turn offs is much longer than the list of turn ons.
- What do you do with those lists? The most important take away from this exercise is to learn more about each other and begin to incorporate more of the turn on list and work to reduce anything on the turn off list.
Of course, this all requires a lot of transparency and honesty, but well worth the effort if deepening your level of intimacy in your relationship is your goal.
Once you’ve been brave enough to go through this process, ongoing intimacy is simple.
Rinse and repeat.
Photo credit: Getty Images