The XX Factor

In a Sexless Marriage, the Marriage Is the Problem, Not the Breast-Feeding

Is this a turn-off, James Braly?

Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

For those who suspect that the trendiness of attachment parenting may be the result of women looking for a guilt-free way to terminate marital relations (pushing husbands out of the family bed, so to speak), James Braly’s piece about his wife’s aggressive breast-feeding in the New York Times this weekend provides new ammunition.

Braly drew a lot of criticism and even outright abuse for suggesting that a wife, running the romance out of a marriage for five-plus years in order to attend to extended breast-feeding, might make daddy resentful. And for suggesting that this could hurt children in the long run even if they enjoy being able to grab mommy’s boob whenever they want it now. Doug Barry at Jezebel, for instance, called the piece a “flurry of self-involvement, misogyny, and presumption.”

Braly frames his argument in the most sexist terms possible, claiming that his wife’s body isn’t her own but is an object that he used to own and now his son has stolen from him.

I know, most women think their breasts are theirs. … So to everyone chanting “My Body! My Choice!” I say, “Your Body! Our Nookie!” We are in this together, women and children, men—and breasts.

He describes a man as “king of the castle.” Actually bothering to get his wife’s opinion on the matter of sex doesn’t seem to occur to him. We have no indication if the end of sex is simply a result of his disgust with her breast-feeding or if she’s just as turned off by him as he is by her.

Braly never stops to take any responsibility for creating a marriage so child-oriented that sex has vanished from it. He simply wants to have his baby-making cake and eat his lusty evenings too. He frames sexual desire as something only men have, and sees women’s bodies as machines that serve the needs of men and/or children. The possibility that women could also be frustrated and unhappy when cut off from sex therefore doesn’t occur to him. Braly implies that the problem is more that his wife allows him to see the work that she puts into raising his children than it is about the actual work. He’s so personally repulsive, it’s tempting to leave it at that. 

It’s a shame, because the whole thing reinforces a prevalent sex-negative narrative in our culture that holds that anyone who is unceremoniously cut off from sex in their relationship, yet still expected to be monogamous, is a shallow monster if they take issue with it. Braly paints men in this position in Tim Allen-level broad brush terms, describing horniness as “biology for most men,” imagining that the only thing women could want as much is to breast-feed.

I’m a huge feminist, so of course I believe that no one should be having sex they don’t want to have, even to indulge a long-term partner. The flip side of that is that no one therefore should be expected to be in a relationship that’s making them unhappy for fear of being labeled shallow or sex-obsessed. Battles over sex vs. breast-feeding are all the more frustrating for being unnecessary. Find the right partner, and you can have both.