Answer: Cultural Myth
A reader writes:
“…My husband and I… have never really had issues in bed other than my insecurities about my post-baby body.
He is so kind and genuine and has always told me that I am the most beautiful woman in the world and I try so hard to believe him, but I still can't see how he cannot be totally turned off by the extra weight I've put on.
Because I feel this way, I've been reluctant to be with him more than once a week, but I decided to put my faith in what he was saying and I made an effort to initiate sex more often. It was great until about a week ago when I surprised him when he came home...
Without being too graphic, we had sex, but he never really got fully hard and I was left feeling humiliated like he wasn't able to get as hard as usual because he was turned off by seeing me during the day…
I can't believe how many horrible thoughts have run through my head because of this, like maybe he has to trick himself and picture someone else in his mind in order to be turned on…Or I just disgust him and he wasn't able to fake his way through it.
These thoughts are conflicting with the thoughts I have that I know Satan is trying to destroy something sacred and beautiful, but then I keep coming back to the fact that my husband just did not seem attracted to me because he didn't seem physically turned on.
I would love it if you would be so kind as to walk me through the process of what goes on in a man's head when it comes to sex. And I realize that you can't speak for all men, but with men being such visual creatures, is it really possible to see a woman with a stretched and saggy stomach as beautiful?”
~ Post-pregnant and unsure
Thanks for reading…
A trip through a man’s head will be a journey to a foreign land, as you’ve no doubt already discovered. The same is true from a man’s perspective. It’s my belief that one of the reasons the Lord commands us to marry is to learn to live and love someone who is so different than us. It’s very challenging, and when you face and accept that challenge, also very rewarding.[i]
We may speak the same language, but the two sexes’ thought processes are not even close. Even after twenty years of marriage, I still shake my head at my wife’s perspective, and she doesn’t claim to understand me fully either…but we are getting better at walking in each other’s shoes as we learn to understand the other gender’s point of view and gender-specific language and meaning.
I haven’t spoken to your husband, of course, but I feel fairly confident that you can believe him when he says he still finds you attractive, even after the baby’s born. There are several reasons for this.
When a woman looks at her body, it’s with a microscope and a critical eye, enlarging every flaw and feeling terrible about it.[ii] If you do this yourself, I would recommend that, in the words of Dieter F. Uchtdorf, you should ‘stop it’[iii]!
The media in our society feeds into this female mindset. If you pick up a magazine at the store, you see a parade of skinny, airbrushed women that often don’t even look like themselves anymore[iv]. This then is held up as the standard that women try to compare themselves to. It’s an unfair and unrealistic comparison, and it’s hard not to feel bad about the stretch marks, bruises, freckles and wrinkles that you can’t Photoshop away.
Our culture at large is tempting women to become more masculine – to work outside the home, to go to the gym and get rock-hard bodies because (they’re told) that’s what turns men on. If that’s not what the woman truly wants, they’re then subtly shamed into feeling bad about themselves.
Years and years ago, things were precisely the opposite in many societies, including the one ours was born from. Thinness was a sign of poverty, not plenty. The beautiful women were the ones that were soft and round and at least a little bit on the heavy side. May I suggest that you be aware of this current cultural mind-set, and examine your own beliefs? There are healthier and more realistic ways of relating to the sexes.[v]
The reality of the matter is, your body is amazing. It’s a gift from God that works for you and most of the time you don’t even have to think about it. You can abuse it with impunity for years, and yet often it continues to work for you. If you make even small token efforts to take care of it, you receive rich rewards in return.
Think about all the good it does – all the nurturing of children, friends and family. Weren’t you amazed at the process of the baby developing and of birth? It’s such a miracle. Your body can make other bodies for spirits in heaven that are eagerly waiting for them.
If you are a temple-going member (as I hope you are), think about all those spirits who are able to progress because you give service with your body where they have none. Your husband is probably extremely grateful for the sex you give him, and also probably doesn’t mind a little extra cushion. Men enjoy their comfort, and when they’re tired after a long day, a sweet, receptive and nurturing soft body to hold themselves against can be the most desirable thing a man can imagine.
How can you re-frame your current beliefs to help you feel sexy again? Think about this…
Astrophysicists tell us that our bodies are made of the same materials that the stars in the universe are made of.[vi]
Have you ever looked at your arms or legs – at all the scars and freckles and moles, and noticed how it looks a little like the night sky? Each mark and freckle looks like a star that makes up constellations in the cosmos that your body is made from.
Would you rather look at an empty night sky, or one that’s full of stars? There is beauty that a husband can see that is beyond the superficial standard that the media portrays or want you to believe that a husband can see. I find that most men are not that shallow. Give him a little more credit than that.
If you have stretch marks, have you noticed how much they resemble the beautiful stripes of a tiger? Or, maybe a laurel wreath, like the kinds that were given to Olympic champions in ancient times?
My wife bore me four beautiful children, and she wears those stretch marks like a laurel wreath of honor. To me they look so beautiful, because I know I helped give them to her and it’s something no other man can claim. To me they are a symbolic mark of the bond we share, the fulfillment of our temple covenant, and the children we bore and raised together. She is my queen and priestess, and she wears a laurel crown no one can take from her.
It’s very natural for a married woman to put on a few pounds after marriage – it’s part of psychologically relaxing into the relationship. Putting on a moderate amount of weight during childbearing can be protective for the baby’s development. As long as your health is good and you feel good, it’s nothing to be concerned about at all.[vii]
Women of a not-so-petite size are also models; they can be outright gorgeous. Would you say the singer Adele is not sexy, or Queen Latifah? I think many men would disagree with you if you don’t. How about Kate Winslet? She’s not super-skinny, and (post-baby) is still considered by many as one of the world’s most beautiful women.
How do you feel when you look at your body? Have you ever looked in a mirror naked, and considered all the things your body can do? How it can hug, and tickle, and arouse? How its different parts can comfort a baby, or a friend, or a husband? May I suggest thinking of what you like about your body, and focusing on that? Ask your husband what he likes about your body – he’ll probably find several things if you can’t. Write down 10 of these and, like a mantra, recite them to yourself each morning.
Every morning when you get dressed, think about those parts of your body that you like – not just what they look like, but what they can do. Make friends with your body. Talk to it. Thank it for all the good things it’s done, and continues to do for you. Ask it what it needs from you. You are an eternal team, not adversaries. Learn to work together with your body, and you may find yourself starting to feel more sexy over time.
Are you familiar with Laura Brotherson? I would recommend her book to you if you haven’t read it yet. It’s called “And They Were Not Ashamed”. She’s LDS, and her book is a great resource for women who struggle with issues of married sexuality.
She quotes a Dr. Michael Farnsworth, who is a professor at BYU-Idaho:
“Your sexuality is the relationship that you have with your own body. How you feel about it. Your femininity…Your affection. Your acceptance. It is not about the other person…it is about you.”
The simplest way I can walk you through what is going on in a man’s mind when it comes to sex is this: a man tends to look at his wife like a woman looks at a slice of cheesecake. He sees comfort, pleasure, happiness, joy, stress relief, and feels his senses get excited. It doesn’t matter what the cheesecake looks like, only what it represents to the primal, sexual part of his brain.
When his cognitive and spiritual part of his brain sees you, he sees a woman that he loves very, very much - and his deepest way of expressing that love is through sex. In his mind, he’s thinking you feel the same.
I also believe the negative thoughts you were feeling about yourself were from the Adversary…no doubt about it. He’s found a way into your emotions through the sub-cultural beliefs you are carrying…beliefs that say your body has to be perfectly toned and taut in order to be attractive to a man.
May I suggest re-examining those beliefs? Where do they come from? What would be a more supportive belief you could develop? I hope some of what I’ve said here might help you do that.
In closing, let me offer this recent remark from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
“A woman not of our faith once wrote something to the effect that in her years of working with beautiful women she had seen several things they all had in common, and not one of them had anything to do with sizes and shapes.She said the loveliest women she had known had a glow of health, a warm personality, a love of learning, stability of character, and integrity.If we may add the sweet and gentle Spirit of the Lord carried by such a woman, then this describes the loveliness of women in any age or time, every element of which is emphasized in and attainable through the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[viii]
All of that sounds pretty sexy to me. I don’t see why your husband wouldn’t see that as well.
I recommend patience with yourself. Take care of yourself, mentally, spiritually and physically the best you can; don’t overdo it. Do your best to enjoy your young family and your husband, and work on building and growing your relationship with them.
It sounds to me like you’re doing great. Once your children have all come and had a chance to get a little more independent, you’ll find that (if you wish) you’ll have time to get your body into the shape that makes you and your body feel good. No need to be in a hurry. Life is so very short and your time with your husband and children is fleeting and precious.
[i] “The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females was needed to enact the plan of happiness. “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). The man and the woman are intended to learn from, strengthen, bless, and complete each other.” – David Bednar, “We Believe in Being Chaste”, April 2013 General Conference. Also see Mark Gungor’s blog, “The Divorce Myth Part II”, http://www.laughyourway.com/blog/the-divorce-myth-part-2/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+laughyourway+%28Laugh+Your+Way+to+a+Better+Marriage%29
[ii] “Dear sisters, many of you are endlessly compassionate and patient with the weaknesses of others. Please remember also to be compassionate and patient with yourself.” – Dieter Uchtdorf, “Forget Me Not”, October 2011 Conference. Also see Laura Brotherson’s comments on body image acceptance, pg. 237-238, in her book, “And They Were Not Ashamed”
[iii][iii] Uchtdorf, Dieter. “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”, April 2012 General Conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-merciful-obtain-mercy?lang=eng
[iv] Bonari, Alexis, “Even I Don’t Wake Up Looking Like Cindy Crawford”, Imperfect Woman, 30 Mar 2011, http://imperfectwomen.com/%E2%80%9Ceven-i-don%E2%80%99t-wake-up-looking-like-cindy-crawford%E2%80%9D/
[v] Rabbi Shumley Boteach, Kosher Sex, 2005, Fisher Brothers Media
[vi] Tyson, Neil deGrasse, as quoted in AwakenedAmerican.com, http://www.awakenedamerican.com/content/we-are-all-made-star-dust-we-are-all-one
[vii] Sifferlin, Alexandra, “Can You be Fat and Fit, or Thin and Unhealthy?”, Time.com, 5 Sep 2012, http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/05/can-you-be-fat-and-fit-or-thin-and-unhealthy/
“Gaining Weight Safely During Pregnancy”, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/healthy-weight-gain
[viii] Holland, Jeffrey R. “To Young Women”, October 2005 General Conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2005/10/to-young-women?lang=eng