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Biblical Breastfeeding and Personal Responsibility

WBW2015

 

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, which aims to normalize breastfeeding, I’d like to address the idea that exposing men to the sight of breastfeeding somehow tricks them into being unwitting victims of their own lust.  Lest I be accused of fabricating this stance from my own errant feminism, I’ll stick to the words of The Man Himself.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  Matthew 5:27-30

Guys, I want you to carefully and thoroughly read that quote.  Write it or type it out if that’s what it takes to fully commit your attention.  When Jesus speaks about a man lusting after a woman, He does not place the blame on the woman for exposing the man to lust.  OUR sinful nature shifts that blame.  OUR corrupt culture does that.  The World says it’s the breastfeeding mother’s fault for doing that in front of you.  Jesus says “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  In *HIS* heart.  Not their hearts, not her heart, but his heart.  He has done that.  Without her participation, consent, intent, will, or knowledge.

As a woman, I am absolutely aware of the ways I can entice or invite sexuality into life.  Our sex-crazed culture has certainly done a thorough job of educating women on that.  But when I went to the doctor last week, I did not cause him to sin or stumble by discussing my health and body with him or allowing him to evaluate and consider my physical form. Context matters.  Intent matters.  Consent matters.  In the context of breastfeeding my child, my breast is not begging for the gaze or lust of a man.

We have spent decades (longer?) telling men that they cannot control themselves in the presence of a woman. That the mere sight of her is so powerful as to overwhelm and overtake his own will.  This is not true.  Jesus does not say that the woman has forced the man into a submissive position of lust.  Jesus does not say the woman has violated the man’s will or intent.  Jesus says “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.”  He doesn’t instruct men to get women to cover up or leave the room if their breasts causes men to stumble.  He doesn’t say women should cover up.  He says YOU should gouge out YOUR OWN eye if it causes you to stumble.  It’s on you, men.  This is on you.  You can do this.

This is not an instruction to be taken literally with kitchen utensils.  Jesus loved a good story, and for reasons that fully elude me, He had confidence that we would be able to understand the concept of a metaphor.  Jesus is telling people to be responsible for their own body, for their own wills, and for their own sins.

If you see a woman with a baby (or toddler, or small child) start to fiddle with her shirt or bra strap, she is probably going to feed the baby.  This is where your volition comes into play.  If you suspect you’re going to feel aroused, be tempted to let your mind wander into dangerous territory, or otherwise turn a baby’s breakfast into something it should not be, look away.  Just use your neck muscles or eyelids, and don’t watch.  I’ve yet to meet a single person who is incapable of not looking at something that do not want to see.

If you are unable to override your desire to watch a baby have breakfast get all lusty, get some help.  There are so many mental health professionals, pastors, accountability buddies, programs, clubs, groups, and online support for men seeking to get the upper hand over their base desires.  You can do this.  Babies need to eat, you do not need to lust, you do not need to stare.

The more common place this becomes (thanks to concepts like World Breastfeeding Week), the more desensitized we can all become to the sight of a hungry baby having a snack.  Which only leads us back to Jesus.  Back to being responsible for our own sin, loving our neighbors, and making room for the little children to be present in our communities.  Like church.  Right now, I am very tempted to start a long rant about the importance of not evicting babies and children from church to appease the refusal of grown men to control themselves.  But I too can resist temptation.  I can feel the urge to do something, and simply choose to say “no”.  And save that discussion for another day.  Because I have a baby who needs lunch right now, and his need is more important than my desire.  My desire to say/do/think something else can be subordinate to my will, and his need.  See how that works?

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Let’s Flesh This Out – Breastfeeding and the Bible

Aliza nursing in her early days 

There is a line of thought common to Christians that breastfeeding is sexual.  Or, breastfeeding might not be sexual per se, but it’s still something that should be done out of sight and possibly/preferably out of the room.

I disagree.

In my effort to double check my theories against the bible and God’s theories, I did some research.  The bible has a LOT of references to breasts.  A lot.  They’re all over the place.  Most often, the word breast is an anatomical reference.  The right breast for a sacrifice or the growth of breasts to symbolize puberty.  Then, there are the sexual references.  All seven of them.  Four in Song of Solomon, one in Proverbs, two in Ezekiel.  How many times does the bible reference breasts in the context of breastfeeding?  14.  Plus 10 other references to nursing and drinking mother’s milk.  Twenty-four times the bible references breastfeeding without shame.   Without hesitation.  Without hiding it under a blanket or in another room.

Breasts are used for feeding and comforting babies twice as often as they are used for the ‘comforting’ of a man.  And the authors of the bible (talking about the penholders here) referenced breastfeeding in a way that is so tender.  There’s almost a longing or reminiscing about the days of being comforted at their mothers’ breasts.  Because breastfeeding is so much more than food.  So much more than simple calories.

God designed women (and men!) to have a biochemical response to babies, particularly to breastfeeding babies.  Not only do women let down their milk as a result of an oxytocin release (a hormone that provides feelings of bonding and love) by men are physiologically impacted by the continued presence of a lactating woman.  A man’s estrogen level increases as his primary female partner (aka wife) nears the end of her pregnancy and this hormone level remains high for a period of time after the baby is born, suppressing his libido.  This isn’t an accident.  God didn’t let this slide as a side-effect of our design.  Breastfeeding stimulates feelings of love and attachment, and those feelings are recalled throughout life by members of both sexes.

But love does not have to include sex.  A man is perfectly capable of loving a lactating woman without being either turned on or turned off by her milk.  Just because a man sees a woman breastfeeding a baby/child does not mean he is enticed to lust.

Breastfeeding is not enticement.  Even though breasts may or may not be visible during breastfeeding (even without a nursing cover, there usually isn’t much to see), the simple presence of a breast is not enough to encourage a man to lust.  Each person’s lust is wholly within themselves; as Christ put it: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed lust with her in his heart.”  The man doesn’t need the woman at all.  He can lust without her knowledge or consent. And his lust is fully within himself.

Hiding breastfeeding does not help a man to avoid lust, either.  Hiding breastfeeding (in another room or under a nursing cover) only furthers the separation of that man’s experience with breasts and the true function and purpose of breasts.  Further entrenching him on an inescapable island of helplessness.  If/when men only see breasts in a sexualized way, the sexuality is reinforced with each exposure.  When you start to temper that extreme view, you desensitize him to his incorrect notion that breasts are only for him.  Only for his own selfish pleasure.  Breasts are first and foremost for the nourishment and care of small children.  Only as an addition can we consider the sexual qualities of breasts.  And if men were seeing breastfeeding twice as often as breasts as sexual toys, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion at all.  Breastfeeding, uncovered, in the presence of men is the only way that I can help a man gain control of his lust.  Not because I expose him to something sexual and give him the opportunity to control himself, but because I expose him to something decidedly asexual and give him the opportunity to understand that.

 

I wonder if that’s why breastfeeding is a more common biblical context for breasts than sex.

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