I opened up a huge can of worms when I posted recently about breastfeeding in church.
Originally on Facebook, we were just talking about weird atmospheres in some evangelical churches where some guys refuse to even look at women because they may be dangerous and the men want to stay pure. So the women are ignored and feel like they’re dangerous, which is a terrible feeling.
In the comments, several women told stories of the shame they felt when breastfeeding, which led to a rather amusing comment which I turned into a graphic:
Well, that led to a ton more comments!
This week we’re looking at how the message “all men struggle with lust; it’s every man’s battle” hurts both women and men.
We stared off with the podcast, where we talked about how most men don’t actually lust, but we’ve taught them they do because we’ve conflated lust and sexual attraction. And as we’ve been having this discussion here, I’ve also been talking about this on Facebook, and breastfeeding came up. I’d like to share some of their comments today
One thing I want to say first is that many women said that they had never had any issues with breastfeeding in church at all.
That would also have been my experience back in the 90s. I was at a downtown Toronto church, and I usually breastfed in the nursery, but sometimes I’d take the baby into the last pew in the church if I wanted to hear the sermon, because the nursery area tended to be quite loud with lots of conversation going on. But I can’t remember a single negative reaction by anyone.
So problems in church are not universal; many churches are great. And I hope we can get all in that category! I had many, many stories like this one:
And some awesome men chimed in, too:
Yeah, this is not a thing. Normal adult men can handle being around breastfeeding.
Then there were stories like this which weren’t about breastfeeding per se, but about the general feel of the church when it came to lust:
I don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding in the sanctuary. I usually go to the church office or nursery. Some men in the congregation already look at me a little too closely.
Most stories, though, were of problems specifically with breastfeeding, in and of itself.
And as I talked about yesterday in my post on how churches can create a culture where lust is less common, normalizing something like breastfeeding I believe is a large part of that. Breasts are not just sexual. Normalizing that breasts could be used for feeding babies without causing men to lust I think is an important part in this journey.
So listen in to these stories, and share your own, and hopefully we can make these things less common!
“I was told breastfeeding in church would cause men to lust”
When my last child was born I intended to take her along to youth group, where I lead a small group study. I fully intended to feed her there, with no intention of using a cover as I believe that reinforces that this is an inappropriate act that will cause men/boys to lust. I go to a church that is unfortunately very conservative about these things. In anticipation of complaints either from leaders or parents, I talked to the youth minister about it. He said he understood where I was coming from but he has also known men that this is a big problem for in a bible study setting and we need to be loving towards those people. The conversation finished by him saying he trusted me to make wise choices and I said I would compromise by sitting off to the side of the group (in the same room) and not actually leading the study while breastfeeding.
It ended up not being an issue because my baby refused to eat in a place with all that noise!
Fast forward a couple of years and a friend disclosed that he had serious issues with women breastfeeding in his growth group so he stopped going. He talked to leader about this issue and the whole thing simultaneously saddened and maddened me. My friend felt uncomfortable not because in any way breastfeeding causes him to lust but because he is so afraid of the perception from the others in the group that he IS looking and lusting that he didn’t know what to do. When he spoke to that leader he was offered a lot of sympathy and they talked to the women and it was decided they would either cover or leave the room because they didn’t want to make him uncomfortable or have him not come. Other friends also reinforced this, saying it was entirely inappropriate for these mums to be feeding in front of men.
I said to the friend, “actually, no one thinks that you are being gross by simply being in the same room while someone feeds their baby. Those women clearly feel comfortable to feed in front of you and do not think you are checking them out or they wouldn’t do it. Breastfeeding is not a sexual act, you know that and they know that. Just continue to treat them like a person. Do not avoid them or avoid eye contact. Just be normal and before long, the whole situation will feel normal to you!”
He said, “Geez, why didn’t I speak to you 12 months ago about this, it would have saved me a lot of heartache.”
I still feed so sad about this. Someone who did not even grow up in the church has been seriously affected by this teaching and it’s heartbreaking to watch.
The pastor pulled me aside and said I had to stop bc there was a camera in the nursery for safety, and it fed to the sound guy’s booth and he could see. I. Had to stop. Nursing my baby. In an empty nursery. Because the sound guy couldn’t look away. I have never been so simultaneously embarrassed, humiliated, and angry in my life.
I’ve had worse said to me, but not at church… 4 babies and a combined total of 11+ years of breastfeeding and I’ve learned not to care one whit what others think of how I feed my children!
“I was relegated to a tiny/gross place while breastfeeding in church and was lonely and missed out.”
So many women expressed some form of this. Why am I showering and getting dressed to go to church, only to spend the whole time sitting alone in the nursery where I can’t even hear the service anyway?
“I was told it was inappropriate/gross to breastfeed.”
I was told that I shouldn’t breastfeed in church because people knew what I was doing under there. I responded that I’d been doing it for months and no one had ever even noticed. I was also told I should go to the nursery to nurse and I refused. I rarely got out of the house and if I’d showered and gotten real clothes on me and my baby and got to church, I wasn’t about to go sit in the nursery and miss out on the service because it might make someone uncomfortable.
I was also told that I should cover up because it was more discreet. God created my body to breastfeed and there’s nothing indecent about it. Our youth pastor used to make jokes about it when my baby was first born because he was obviously uncomfortable. The more I nursed my baby around him and others in our friend group, the more everyone got used to it and it wasn’t a big deal anymore. This is why nursing in public is important!! The more we normalize it, the less people will think it’s gross or weird.
So on the whole–I think it’s getting better than it was. Most people who had had trouble had had it because people were uncomfortable. The more we make breastfeeding normal, the more that comfort level is likely to rise. And I think that’s a good thing!
We’re doing our first Facebook Live in our Book Ambassador Facebook Group tonight!
One quick announcement: Our new book The Great Sex Rescue launches March 2, and if you want to be part of our book ambassador team, it all gets started tonight!
To be a book ambassador, all you have to do is:
- Preorder the book and send us in your receipt (all the information is here!) and you’ll get an invite to the Facebook group
- Agree to write a heart-felt review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever
That’s it! You don’t have to have your own blog or anything. And then:
- You get access to the book right away (you don’t have to wait until March 2).
- You get Facebook lives where you can ask us questions (tonight we’re talking about that scorecard you got as a pre-order bonus!)
- You get a chance to win some great prizes
(And even if you’re not on Facebook, you can still be part and get the book early!)
So if you haven’t pre-ordered yet, don’t miss the fun!
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
What was your experience? How can we make this more positive for everyone? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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