Updated: Jul 11, 2022
You’re standing there watching it all unfold.
Your partner in pain.
In the throws of labour.
You’re wanting to do something.
Help in some way.
Not sure how.
You have never seen her like this before and it’s frightening.
You can feel your heart pound but you know that this moment isn’t about you.
She’s the one who’s been carrying the baby.
She’s the one who is going through labour.
But you feel your heart racing and at the same time, feet bolted to the floor.
Trapped inside your own body as though you’re watching the scene in front of you through someone else’s eyes.
The medical professionals talk directly to your partner. Directing her. Supporting her.
And you watch on. Not feeling a part of it.
A contrast of emotions brewing inside you.
The love for your partner, the want to help her. But at the same time a feeling of needing to escape.
It’s too much.
As the labour progresses you are invited to support the birth of the baby. You look down to your partner’s vulva, a place for you of pleasure.
The scene that meets your eyes is horrifying. Faeces which is being wiped away, your partner’s vulva swelling to make way for the baby’s head.
Shock at what you see.
You can feel your body reacting to what your eyes see, pain, discomfort, the need to run to the bathroom for a bowel movement.
The baby comes out and it’s all over.
The baby is here. Brought to the breast to be encouraged to breastfeed.
It’s all over.
Everyone is safe and well.
A beautiful new life begins.
But for some men…
Birth trauma is frequently talked about among women, on social media, at parenting groups, etc. Many women have experienced a certain amount of trauma during the birth of their baby and although they may not always get the help they need, help and support is out there.
What I would like to bring to your attention today is those in society I like to call 'The Forgotten Father’. On my website I talk about the dynamic and feelings going into parenthood that men experience so I won’t go into too much detail here about the emotional aspects. Today, I’d like to cover the affect birth can have on intimacy and sex for a man.
The scene described above, many men can relate to, even if their partner didn't have a vaginal birth and it was a caesarian. The feeling of powerlessness watching their partner in labour and in pain. Many men are able to move through the emotions that arise during the birth, they process them and their body remembers the arrival of the baby. And in time, the memory of powerlessness can fade as they begin to bond with their child and watch them grow.
For many men however, this is the start to a completely different journey entirely. What I am about to share, is vulnerable for a man to acknowledge, and brave if he recognises it in himself and decides to get support. Many men can come out of the birth situation with their own trauma.
They can feel disgust to their partner’s vulva, to the partner herself. And then shame. Shame for feeling this way in a situation which is perfectly ‘natural’. Shame for the fact that they can’t express it to anyone without fear of judgement. Shame for even having those feelings.
Now before we go any further, I want to explain what happened during the birth at a somatic level (body/nervous system) to give you some context and also compassion for the men going through this. So that your reaction is less likely to be ‘grow up’ and to actually listen to what they need to express. I discuss the importance of giving people the space to be just witnessed in this article here, Don’t Talk, Just Listen.
During the birth the man’s body will have been experiencing a variety of sensations. The brain predicts and makes sense of these sensations based on previous experiences and also with the information there is in front of it. The man is watching and feeling stressed because he is unable to help his partner, he will have stories in his head about not being good enough. He will be looking at the scene in front of him while hearing simultaneously his partner in pain. And what is happening is, the brain is linking the sensations and the discomfort to what is happening between his partner’s legs. He begins to associate his partner’s vulva and in some situations his partner herself, with the uncomfortable sensations he is experiencing in his body.
Vulva = uncomfortable sensations and feelings.
And what does this mean? This can have an affect on the man’s ability to desire his partner and in some cases even be intimate and sexual with her. It can cause the man to lose his erection at the thought of entering her or be turned off by giving her oral sex, something he used to enjoy.
Now I want to be really clear here that this isn’t the man ‘choosing’ to feel this. It’s not something that he can just think himself out of. It is his body wired in a way that the default mode of behaving when presented with his partner’s vulva or even her is potentially; disgust, shock, fear, helplessness… all those same emotions that he felt during the labour.
If you are a woman reading this and think this might be your partner, please know that this isn’t about you. And it isn’t about your vulva. It is a reaction that your partner’s body has created as a safety mechanism to protect him from further scenarios where he might experience the same sensations. Our bodies are clever like that and it’s a way to make sure that if we get scratched by a tiger once, we never get close enough to the tiger again for it to happen twice.
It’s just in this case your vulva has become for your partner’s nervous system, ‘the tiger’.
So if you're a man, how to move forward in this? Firstly, counselling and therapy to work through what happened. To process it. To give yourself space to fully feel it all without shame. And secondly, while you are doing that, through somatic coaching, create a new narrative with your partner’s vulva and maybe even your partner herself. Working to rewire the nervous system to establish a new nervous system response.
One that brings pleasure.
One that brings intimacy.
One that brings you back to your authentic sexual expression of self.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.