Unlike my husband and toddler, my love language is not primarily physical affection. I need to be near those I love, but I don’t necessarily need a whole lot of touch. Many nights in bed I naturally graviate to my own cool space once it’s time to sleep, but no matter what, both my husband and my toddler (who often climbs in our bed halfway through the night) end up naturally gravitating towards me. My husband understands when I kindly ask him for a little more room. But the toddler only scoots closer and closer. Now I’ve got another baby kicking from the inside and sometimes I feel a little of that modern feminist manifesto: hey! it’s my body!
But then I lay there and wonder, is that completely true? Or, more importantly, do I even want that to be true?
Because when I think about it, so many of the most meaningful aspects of my life have resulted from the times in which I shared my body. I think of the times I’ve held babies in my belly and even the time I spent in my own mother’s belly. I think of the times I’ve felt too tired to dance with my husband or turn into his kiss, but gave it a chance anyway, only to be surprised by so much tenderness and joy. I think of the times my son has fallen asleep on me and trapped me, forcing me to relax or pray or relish in his sweetness. I think of these nights when our bed seems a little cramped with bodies— but then I realize that it’s also cramped with happiness and peace. I realize that it’s often when my body is not completely my own that I’m less caught up in myself. I’m more attuned to and connected with those I love and with all that supercedes the physical.
Now, I know that the it’s my body movement stems from something very necessary. In too many times and places women’s bodies are used and abused like commodities, without any consent from the women themselves. While some women might endure such hardship heroically, it doesn’t make it any less horrific. Love is only love if it is given freely— this holds true for the love of the body. It cannot be forced out by the selfishness of another person. This fact needs to be drilled into children and women and everyone.
But there is a huge difference between between forced to love with your body and being asked to love with your body. Sometimes when we are asked to love, in all sorts of ways, we don’t necessarily want to. But we may determine that we should, nevertheless, and so we choose to. I think that because there is so much abuse of female bodily love we have become paranoid about any woman doing anything with her body that she doesn’t feel completely thrilled about. But this is simply unreasonable. It is impossible to have a longterm romantic relationship, or to have children, or to maintain certain jobs (like nursing,) or even to live with loved ones at all without sometimes loving physically in ways that we aren’t thrilled about.
We seem to understand this with a select few activities— breastfeeding is a perfect example. It’s widely acceptable to tell a woman, “you may not always want to breastfeed but it’s good for you and your baby.” On the other hand, it’s widely unacceptable to say to a woman, “you may not initially feel like being physically intimate with your husband, but it might be good for both of you to try. (Not to mention you might find you desire it along the way.)” It’s also widely unacceptable to say to a woman, “you may not feel like gaining thirty pounds over the course of nine months, but it might be good for your whole family to bring a new life into the world.” What really is the difference between these two statements and the one about breastfeeding?
Now, I’m not at all saying that wives should have a certain amount of sex with their husbands, or that all women should have babies, or that all mothers should breastfeed (I didn’t!) Sometimes a woman intuitively knows that sharing her body in certain ways will not be good for her or for those around her. Perhaps the action itself actually causes her immense pain. Perhaps it reminds her of past trauma. Perhaps she knows she doesn’t have certain skills or resources or strength to follow through with the consequences of the action. Perhaps she knows that the physical gift will only be a temporary bandaid over a much more serious problem and a way to avoid addressing that problem.
But those things are very different from simply not being thrilled about the love. Nobody is ever thrilled about loving every single time they love, but they hopefully realize that the choice is worth it. The choice to surrender the self is worth the relationships that that surrender allows for. We can always choose to covet ourselves, bodies included, until we completely feel like sharing, but that may mean a life without much real love. Because the reality is that all love requires some physical side. It may be as extreme as nursing a newborn around the clock or as plain as looking someone in the eye when you just don’t feel like it. We simply can’t fully love if we’re not willing to share our bodies. It’s my body might be a true statement for some women, but it’s also a rather lonely statement. Perhaps a better phrase would be the simple, respect my body. Sure, it doesn’t have that same sassy ring of cold indepedence. But why are we going for cold independence in the first place? Humans were made to love, body and soul. We were made to not be our own. And we shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of that.