When we first wrote The Great Sex Rescue, and started talking about some of the terrible things that we found in evangelical sex books, we didn’t know which themes were going to catch on. I actually thought it was going to be Every Man’s Battle calling women methadone for their husbands’ sex addictions, or Emerson Eggerichs saying that “if your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have” in Love & Respect.
But over and over again, what comes up in private messages to me, and in comments on social media, is people very upset about Kevin Leman’s pressure on women to give husbands sexual favors during the postpartum phase. That’s what makes women’s blood boil the most.
Camden Morgante, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been a guest on our podcast and has written for us about purity culture, joins us today to talk postpartum sex and her reaction to Kevin Leman’s advice!
“Give him a hand job.”
That is the advice given to post-partum women in books like Sheet Music by Kevin Leman:
There are times for whatever reason that a wife may choose to make use of… ‘hand jobs’. A woman…who has just gotten through a pregnancy…may genuinely feel that sex is more than she can handle. But with a minimum of effort, she can help her husband who feels like he’s about ready to climb the walls because it’s been so long.
When I read that quote several years ago before getting married, I thought that sounded like a good compromise. A married man cannot be expected to go weeks without sex, right? That opens the door to temptation. Surely a hand job is a conciliatory act to tide him over until his wife can have sex again.
Fast forward to 2018 when my husband and I had our first child.
Amidst recovering from a C-section, dealing with breastfeeding challenges, trying to care for my daughter, and managing my post-partum depression, giving my husband a hand job was the last item on my “to do” list.
Fortunately it was the last thing on my husband’s mind too. He was also consumed with caring for me and our daughter by getting up during each night feeding, driving us to appointments since I couldn’t drive for a few weeks post-surgery, and cooking and cleaning.
What is missing from Leman and other male authors’ understandings about sex is that sex is not a need. Sex is a drive, it is an urge, it is a desire, but it is not a biological need. As Sheila, Rebecca, and Julia emphasize in The Great Sex Rescue, there is no 72-hour rule! And contrary to medical procedure, there is not a six-week rule for when a woman’s post-partum healing is up.
If we look at sex as just a biological need, there is so much we are missing in a biblical, holistic understanding of sex.
God created sex to be a whole-person, unifying, and connecting experience in marriage. If it were simply a biological need, God would not have created marriage as the only holy grounds for sex. If it were simply a drive or urge, God would not have asked us to reserve marriage for our spouse only. And if it were simply a desire, God would not have asked us to submit that desire to Him and steward our sexuality in a way that honors him.
And what the Christian books also misunderstand is that sex is not the only way to show love.
Instead, The Great Sex Rescue says:
Is it kind for a man for a man to ask for a hand job when his wife is unwell? […] Do we really believe that the kindness that flows from the Holy Spirit working in our lives would ask an exhausted, torn apart postpartum woman for a hand job?
Now, there is nothing wrong if she wants to give him a ‘gift’…But setting this up as the expectation—that she will provide release or he will sin, even if she is sick or unwell—is just not kind.
If sex is not about a physical release but about a holistic, intimate, and mutually pleasurable experience, then a hand job given out of obligation does not those requirements. It gives a physical release, and some women may choose to show love to their husbands in this way. But it is not a requirement, duty, or obligation. You don’t have to satisfy or pacify your husband for a lack of intercourse post-partum and “make up for it” with a hand job, like you would make up for a canceled birthday party for a child with a new toy.
Sex is one way we show our love, commitment, and intimacy with each other, but it is not the only or even the primary way. The post-partum period offers a beautiful opportunity for couples to express love in acts or demonstrations, in faithfulness and in service.
In The Great Sex Rescue, Rebecca shares her story of post-partum healing after a traumatic birth experience and a third-degree tear. Months after having a baby, she started initiating sex out of guilt for “depriving” her husband Connor. But Connor knew she wasn’t ready, and he gave her the grace to wait.
Connor’s self-sacrificial love meant that my fears…started to dissipate. He never pushed anything if I wasn’t feeling up to it but went entirely at my pace. In fact, he never even viewed it as ‘his’ sexual needs that were put on hold, but ‘our’ sexual needs. Making my physical recovery our priority proved to me repeatedly that he was not interested in a one-sided sex life. As a result, I had the space to recover not only physically but emotionally too. Because of how my husband handled this, sex stopped being something I dreaded. He took away all the guilt, all the fear, and all the unknown and replaced it with a true agape, 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love.
The post-partum season is not sexy. It is not romantic.
There are no hot tubs and champagne toasts. Instead, there might be birthing tubs and bottles. There are no helicopter rides and roses. Instead, there might be wheelchair rides out of the hospital and flowers sent by grandparents that get overlooked. But the expressions of love between a husband and wife post-partum are so meaningful, giving us a chance to demonstrate agape love to our spouse.
When I gave birth, I felt affection in the card my husband gave me “from our daughter” saying what a good mom I already was.
I felt romance in the way we sat together with our daughter and painstakingly worked on breastfeeding.
I felt tenderness in the way he helped me shower and dress for the first time after my C-section, when I was unable to pull up my underwear or put on my socks.
I felt commitment in the eight weeks of parental leave he took from work to be home with both of us.
I felt partnership in the additional four weeks he spent at home with our daughter when I went back to work.
Contrast this with a therapy client of mine whose husband and whole family went to attend a football game days after she gave birth, leaving her and her newborn home alone.
What many Christian sex books have wrong is the emphasis on sex as a biological, physiological need that carries with it the obligation to meet your spouse’s need—at all times, regardless of circumstances.
If sex is not mutually connecting, consensual, and pleasurable, then it ceases to be godly. Despite the promises of purity culture or evangelical books on sex, sex can take place in a marriage without being pure.
In a Christian marriage, we are supposed to treat each other’s bodies as our own. In our case, part of my husband caring for my post-partum body as his own was allowing time for healing and recovery without any pressure or expectation for sex. And he did not just give me space—he actively participated in my healing in physical ways, through serving me and caring for me and our daughter, but also emotional ways, by continuing to affirm and show me love.
The pressure for post-partum sex exactly six weeks after delivery is part of society’s perpetuation of the myth that women should “bounce back” after having a baby and that men’s lives should change very little.
The expectation of a sexual consolation—a “hand job”—offered in the waiting period is part of Christian culture’s perpetuation of the myth that women are solely responsible for men’s sexual needs without any consideration of their own needs or comfort level.
In reality, becoming a parent was a complete transformation for both my husband and I—and for this third entity, our marriage. Continuing to share expressions of love and commitment during this jarring time period solidified our co-parenting bond and strengthened our marriage. It also helped me feel less alone in my post-partum mood struggles and eased my transition back to work.
We all know you can have sex without love. But you can also have love without sex. Let’s normalize showing our spouse love and dedication in the post-partum period without the unrealistic pressure or premature expectation of sex.
Sheila says; Thank you, Dr. Camden! And be sure to take Camden’s free quiz: Which Purity Culture Myth Affects You?
Did you feel pressure postpartum to resume sex? Or was this not an issue for you? Let’s talk in the comments!
Psychologist, Writer and Speaker
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