Co-Sleeping And Intimacy

Recently, I had the pleasure to speak with Hallie Cotnam on CBC Ontario Today on the subject of co-sleeping and intimacy. The piece was produced in response to this article by Erica Jong in the New York Times, where she states, among other things, that women are hiding from their men in an ‘orgy of multiple maternity’ and ‘man-distancing slings.’

I suppose Erica Jong has done a lot of good things for women and the notion of a woman’s sexual freedom, but she’s never really represented my brand of feminism. She certainly wasn’t representing me when she said that the older generation (presumably, hers) discovered free sex, and that the younger generation (presumably, ours) are rebelling by fetishising motherhood and monogamy.

Her point, it seems, is that women these days are choosing motherhood and monogamy over sexual pleasure and freedom, and that the two are incompatible. She rallies that there can be no room for intimacy in a bed full of children, and indeed, that we have sterilized the notion of sexuality back to a 1950s ideal, after her generation worked so hard to turn us all into sluts.

My first reaction to the article, as I mentioned to Ms Cotnam in an earlier conversation, was that Ms Jong was simply on the defensive. She states early on that her own daughter is living and parenting in a very different way than she herself parented. Ms Jong patronizingly calls it rebellion, but I think a more accurate analysis would be that, in the mirror held up in front of her, Ms Jong sees her philosophies and values being rejected by her daughter, which smacks of disapproval of her own parenting skills. In other words, Erica Jong is afraid her daughter doesn’t think she was a very good mother, as evidenced by the 180 degree difference in their parenting styles. I'm not saying that this is indeed the case, but I know that if my kids do everything differently than I did, I might feel a little rejected.

I completely get it. When Jong had her babies, as when my own mother had hers, formula was new to the market and hailed as a feminist breakthrough. Mothers had the freedom to be away from their babies for as long as they wanted to be, now that they were not tethered to them by their breasts. It seems that Jong is angry that our generation is ‘undoing’ everything she did for us, as evidenced in statements vilifying women who ‘breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him.’ Gee, Erica, how forward-thinking.

What she fails to accept is the simple reality that times have changed. Instead of lashing out at all of us ungrateful puritans, she could instead enjoy the notion that her (gag) trailblazing led us to a place of choice, where we are all comfortable to make our own.

As for the question of whether one can be intimate with their partner while they co-sleep, I am almost insulted by Jong’s lack of imagination. Sex, only in a bed, only at night? C’mon Erica, is that what your generation fought for?

Then again, Ms Jong does speak from a place of expert experience – she’s on her fourth husband; I’m still on my first.



  1. AnonymousJuly 22, 2011

    zing! i like your fight kid. keep it up.

  2. It's such an important point that we can CHOOSE to do the things we do for our children instead of being expected and demanded to.

    I also find it weird and a little funny that such a free sexin' kind of gal would even bother to get married at all. It's okay to try to be monogamous and conform to the institution of marriage but trying to do what you feel is right for your children is not?

    that is all.

  3. Boom!
    Excellent rebuttal here.
    And haven't men changed too? Aren't there more male parents willing, and wanting, to be involved in infant care? My husband wore our son in a carrier at all hours and in all places, to give me a bit of rest. If I'm willing to "chain" myself to my child with breastfeeding it's because I have help, and options, available to me. In fact, I feel that because I committed to breastfeeding, and yes, we shared the family bed, my husband and I are even more aware of making and finding time for just us.

    And sorry, TMI, but our sex life has been fabulous post-baby. Sure, maybe not as frequent but quality ups quantity in my books.

  4. teehee! love those old feminists. Glad they fought for our right to make decisions. wish they were happier with theirs.

  5. blah, blah, blogJuly 22, 2011

    Well done.

    To your excellent rebuttal I would only add:

    And I have grown very weary of co-sleeping, child 'wearing', and breast feeding on demand being heralded as a new form of maternity when in fact these practices have dominated across cultures and throughout human history.

    Personally, I think the question that hangs in the air is more like, 'How many second babies were conceived with first babies present?!'

  6. This is great! I found the Erica Jong op.ed. piece really irritating at the time - it smacked of "motherhood as oppression" and as feminists, I thought the idea was to make women's lives easier and to give choice? If we all stopped having babies, LOL...

  7. I found Jong's piece just uninteresting, these feminist warhorses rehashing old ideas with a sensationalist spin to illicit shock and garner attention. Although I missed my breasts belonging to my male mate in all the women's studies courses I've taken. I was disappointed to find Jong's ideas of sexuality in women, in mothers, so narrow and her disregard for family dynamic (what if my breasts belong to a woman or to nobody at all then can I go on a breastfeeding bender?)and on PARENTING as a whole and its effects if any on sexuality. What would be interesting is to read some new dare I say current or at least modernish research/ideas about sex and parenting, from groups that are more representative of current parents, like from people who actually have children that they parent.
    *forgive any spelling errors I'm up early with the kids, my partner's still in bed probably having all kinds of sex now that the kids are finally out*

  8. mariah kvesichJuly 23, 2011

    I am not a feminist and feel that the feminist doctrine, while it may have opened some doors for us, really have closed many more. If having your kids in bed keep you and your spouse from intimacy, you have some serious problems, including lack of creativity. Of course, I'm sure that the cave families had their children in separate caves.

  9. You did a great job on the radio! I was glad to be able to catch it. I was actually ignoring my kids while they watched tv so I could listen. I wonder what Erica Jong would say about that. :-)

  10. It's already been said in the comments, but it bears repeating: Zing!

  11. Such a great response to a clearly very narrow minded article. This is my first visit to your blog but definitely won't be my last.

  12. Ha! I guess around husband number three, you experience true liberation? ;)

  13. I'm now not going to go read her article because I have enough annoyance these days... but if we were all so hell-bent on keeping our husbands away from us and our breasts, wouldn't it be easier to not have one in the first place?

  14. Great post! Thank you for the point that we are now living in a time where a woman has many choices and the right to choose her life.


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