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Can we, may we, talk about blow jobs? I don't mean the semiotics and social history of blow jobs those are cool, but were well addressed by Christopher Hitchens last year in Vanity Fair, in which he made an amusing if not entirely convincing case for the blow job as the quintessential American sex act. May we speak, then, not of symbolic blow jobs, but the kind we actually give and receive?
A few weeks back I was laying out my secret plan for getting your sex life back after having a baby and breastfeeding (or while still breastfeeding, for the ambitious) and ended with the postscript "A blow job wouldn't hurt" (2/28/07). I thought it was funny but have since had several exchanges and conversations about the blow job and whether or not it could, in certain situations, hurt. Well, yes, of course it could, but we weren't talking about that kind of blow job; perhaps I ought to have been clearer. I should, for instance, have made pretty damned sure that nobody could interpret "A blow job wouldn't hurt" to mean "Oh, throw the poor old dog a bone; maybe that way he'll shut up and let you sleep." Just because that sentiment happens to represent the antithesis of everything I believe about how we should speak of and, indeed, treat our partners, doesn't mean nobody thought that's what I was saying. If you thought so: hell no, and sorry.
If there's a flaw in my postbaby sex-life-saving program, it's that it can only work in the context of an essentially solid, loving relationship. I do have advice for people in the sort of relationship where "maybe he'll leave me alone now" sex is common and expected, but it's all pretty similar in that it tends to involve suitcases and real estate and the occasional plane ticket out of town.
Here's what I really meant: sexual contact surprise! is good for your relationship. It makes you feel closer and cuddlier and more, you know, coupley. And if you've read that column (or anything else) about oxytocin and prolactin, you'll recognize that there's a strong biochemical aspect to this. There are reasons why a decent sex life is considered one of the most crucial components of a good marriage, and it's not just because people like to have orgasms. Vibrators and weird Japanese comic books can produce orgasms, but they don't make you feel all bondy and melty or if they do, you have a problem. So, even if you're postpartum and don't have your sex drive back yet and feel yucky about your body and unsure whose breasts those are anymore, you can still get some of those good bondy melty prairie voleish feelings going between you and your mate. You can do it even if you don't want him to touch you much, because it's likely you still love him and think he's hot and can still enjoy touching him. With your tongue, if you want. It's really that simple.
The blow job may not be magic, but I have more faith in it as a postpartum marital aid than I ever could in that standby of lazy self-help writers: the weekend away. The weekend away is like New Year's Eve in its inability ever to live up to the promise of funfunfun, so why bother? Plus, the good sea air and a continental breakfast, while lovely, are probably not enough to get your hormones back in order. Nursing mothers can't exactly waltz off for a long weekend away anyway, and not many even want to.
I don't really believe in any of the self-help fixes when it really comes down to it. Cleaning lady? Great, send her on over, but it won't fix your sex life. Pampering, time alone, romantic dinners? Yes, please, but it won't fix your sex life. The nongestating partner may be equally exhausted and distracted, but his libido will be fundamentally unchanged. (This is all very heterocentric by necessity, but it could apply to lesbian couples too, as long as one of them actually carried the child. Don't write to me about adoptive or male breastfeeding. Seriously, I mean it.) As soon as he gets a good night's sleep, he'll be good to go.
Postpartum women cannot be so easily cajoled back into the fold, and you don't want to give anyone false hope and high expectations just to have them go flat like those postpartum beers which might, sadly, fail to taste anything near as good as you imagined they would back while you were stuck with ginger ale all those months. (Not that I'm bitter.)
What does work, as I said, is sticking together; telling the truth instead of skulking, hiding, and pretending nothing's changed ("I just don't feel that sexy yet, hon, sorry," or "I don't think I've got all my feeling back yet. That's why I'm not coming"); sharing information (it's hormonal!); and being patient. Oh, and, of course, the occasional blow job.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she's one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com  to view her previous columns.