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Breastfeeding and Sex: Is Latching On a Turn-Off?

Extended breastfeeding, the current scientific thinking goes, offers significant health benefits for the child, and probably for the mother. But what about for the father? Is what’s good for the gosling and the goose, also good for the gander? And why does it matter?

I know, most women think their breasts are theirs. I’ve been hearing this since I was a toddler being cautioned, “Don’t touch!” But most guys just want to touch. Most girls, thank God, eventually make some guys lucky. One thing leads to another. And here we are, discussing the consequences of a touch too much: children. 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.

So any conclusions about extended breast-feeding must consider the impact on the whole family. And I would argue, based both on anecdotal evidence and personal experience, that the impact on the man in the family, eventually, is negative. A recent (if highly dubious) study of Brooklyn families linked helicopter mothering with philandering. The argument: a mother who hovers over her little prince or princess too long leaves the former king of the castle feeling increasingly powerless, and likelier to seek a queen on the side.

Other men — me, for example — might be driven to engage in something even worse: sexless fidelity. Mine crystallized in Central Park one evening, while watching my wife sit under a tree with my older son, a five-and-a-half-year-old young man with a full set of teeth and chores, stretched out to roughly the size of a foal, suckling. By the time they strolled back to me and my already-nursed toddler son on the picnic blanket, I had lost my appetite — and not just for the smoked salmon. There are some things in life most men cannot share with first-graders, and two of them used to be called breasts. Now, my first grader called them boobalies, and history is written by the victors.

The complicating factor for me was, I loved my children. And the most challenging part of love, for me, is empathy. Seeing my wife’s breasts through my boys’ eyes…given the choice, I knew I’d do what they were doing. Before they came along, I did. Which at that heartbreaking moment made it impossible not to support their mother’s choice to breastfeed — as their father. As their mother’s husband, however, I was dry-heaving — and bile is not an aphrodisiac.

Lest you think sex is a private matter, I would argue that the decline of a couple’s sex life can have significant social consequences. A man’s loss of appetite for his companion can undermine his partnership, his family and ultimately the society of families. Even the environment takes a hit: suddenly, the divorcing couple needs a second house, an extra car, another set of Ziploc lunch bags off-gassing plastic fumes into the ozone, and on and on.

To those of you who believe breast-feeding a child who can blow out all five of his birthday candles is a totally natural behavior to be regulated only by the mother without considering the effects on the father, I would ask, should sex, a totally natural behavior, be regulated only by the father without considering the effects on the mother? For what man in a committed relationship has not considered having sex with someone other than his breast-feeding partner? Someone he knows or — if he’s a sports star or a politician — a waitress at the diner or a videographer who tells him he’s hot. Considering such liaisons is biology for most men. Considering breast-feeding a toddler may be biology for increasing numbers of women.

But a family man who wants to keep his family knows to say no. The positive effects of a sexual encounter on an otherwise monogamous man are outweighed by the negative effects on his companion, and consequently on them. Similarly, the positive effects of extended breast-feeding should be considered in light of the negative effects on the marriage. In other words, sex and its consequences are a family affair.

So to all nursing moms, except perhaps those who used a lab technician, I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.