Can a porn star be a mom? Can a breast do “double duty?”
These are some of the questions raised by Madison Young, the adult actress who recently gave birth to a daughter. Rather than discreetly hiding her motherhood from the public as many stars in the industry do, Young chose to challenge assumptions about the sexual and the maternal. As Salon reports this week, she’s launched a performance-art exhibit called “Becoming MILF.” The show forces her audience to deal with her both as an object of desire and a mother; at the premiere, “she served up self-made breast milkshakes and displayed a baby quilt made of burp cloths and ‘porn star panties.’”
A fellow pornographer, the notoriously anti-feminist Furry Girl, took angry issue with Young’s exhibit, suggesting that Madison was pimping out her daughter to pedophiles. A Twitter war erupted in which Furry Girl insisted that the breast (at least of a porn star) would always be an erotic image; Young responding that “[T]he only one sexualizing this image of me breastfeeding is you. Which makes me feel truly disgusted and violated.”
Furry Girl isn’t alone in her implication that a woman can’t be both openly sexual and a good mom. In 2005, psychiatrist Keith Ablow wrote a piece in the New York Times in which he reported that many of his male patients experienced permanent “trauma” as a result of witnessing their partners give birth. Unable to reconcile the visceral messiness of childbirth with sexuality, these men lost sexual interest in their wives. Ablow, like Furry Girl, suggests that men are incapable of doing the internal multitasking required to see the women they love as both moms and as objects of desire. His concluding line:
Women may want to consider the risks as they invite their partners to watch them bring new life into the world. For some of the passion that binds them together may leave their lives at the very same time.
As a husband and a father, I’m exasperated that Ablow (and Furry Girl) are each peddling a different variation of the tired old version of the Madonna-whore complex. According to the psychiatrist, men lack the sexual and psychological dexterity to be turned on by the same thing that gives birth to and nurtures a child. “Furry Girl” goes further, implying that any man who could do both is a pedophile, aroused more by the child than by the body of the adult woman who gave birth to it. What they have in common is a refusal to see men as adults capable of seeing women as complete, complex human beings.
Healthy male sexuality doesn’t need mystery to continue to thrive. Grown-ups don’t need to be kept from the normal human realities of things like childbirth, menstruation, or the inevitable explosive consequences of food poisoning in order to remain attracted to their partners. Men ought to be angry at those (like Ablow) who insist that our libidos are so frail that they can be permanently damaged by exposure to natural biological processes. We’re better than that because we’re more flexible and adaptable than all that.
Though we had planned to have a home birth, in the end my wife needed a Cesearean in the hospital. (Our daughter was wedged into a breach position, and few obstetricians will support a vaginal breach birth these days.) I was at my wife’s side during the procedure, holding her hand and whispering encouragement, while watching with great interest as the surgeons did their work—blood and viscera galore.
I got to see the amazing moment Heloise was pulled (butt first, of course) from my wife’s body. I was there when our daughter latched on for the first time to Eira’s breast. I was awed and humbled by what I saw. And though I wasn’t turned on by watching the birth and the 15 months of subsequent breastfeeding, witnessing my wife’s transition into motherhood did nothing to reduce my attraction to her. That doesn’t make me unusual or heroic.
One of the first times we had sex after our daughter was born, Heloise woke up and staring wailing just as things were getting really hot and heated. Later on, Eira and I would both laugh with mutual appreciation at how rapidly we’d each switched gears from lovers to parents, leaping from bed to go to Heloise’s crib. My wife nursed our daughter back to sleep, and once Heloise was down, we stumbled back to bed and picked up right where we’d left off. I know many other parents who do the same.
Madison Young’s point is not that all men need to drink breast milkshakes. Rather, she’s challenging all of us to do a better job of acknowledging that women can be both sexual and maternal. Her creative embrace of the porn acronym MILF (for a Mom I’d Like to F*ck) is a reminder that adult men really are turned on by the very same women who give birth to and breastfeed children. But as Young’s vicious critics make clear, for far too many the Madonna-whore complex still endures.
—Photo Orin Zebest/Flickr