Saturday, September 4, 2010

Culture Matters! ~ Sex and Marriage.

Doing a baby check this week on a 11 day old baby, I was happy to see that both mom and baby were doing great. I asked her about her bleeding postpartum and she explained all was normal. So, I encouraged her not to start having sex again right away but to wait at least until the bleeding stops and/or 6 weeks postpartum.

She just giggled - as did my translator.

I asked what I said that made her laugh, as I was sure that I’d done some kind of social blunder. John (my translator) explained that Dinka women don’t start having sex until about 2 or 3 years postpartum. They wait until the baby is completely weaned.

I was told this was the case... but I had forgotten. John added that in Northern Sudan, (in the Arabic culture) women wait 40 days before they start having sex again, but not the Dinka women.

It got me thinking. Why?

John explained, (as if he were talking to a little kid that didn’t know any better), that of course they can’t have sex. The man’s sperm will go into the woman’s body,  reach her breast milk and spoil it. Then the baby will have stomach trouble and can die. Duh!

Then it was my turn to smile. I explained that in America, women start having sex again once the bleeding stops. And that it doesn’t hurt the baby... but, I wasn’t suggesting she do that. Heaven’s no! She can have sex again once she is ready. We all smiled and  moved on with the check-up.

Here’s the thing:
I’ve been mulling over this conversation for a while now. And I’ve drawn a few (very rudimentary) conclusions. No sex for several years makes sense in this culture -- especially in relation to marriage and babies. In fact, it’s devilishly brilliant!

Dinka women are the lowest on the totem pole. They don’t have a voice. They are given in marriage when the family decides. They have absolutely NO SAY in who it will be. The men in the family choose when it will be. Some marry as early as 12 years old. They go from being the property of one family, to being the property of another family. It’s a simple business transaction. Nothing more.

Within the family unit, the first wife is the main wife. As she conceives and delivers she is given the position of authority in the house. The second wife in a sense becomes her slave/worker. The new wife does all the grunt work until she conceives as well. Then she can have help from any subsequent wives that are brought in. Thus it continues.

Naturally, if a husband cannot have sex with his wife for years after the birth (culturally that is), it stands to reason why he’d take a second and third wife.

Also, if a woman is not ‘in love’ (in the western sense of the romantic notion) with her husband, why would she want to have sex with him - especially if he’s 40 yrs her senior and missing most his teeth!

From what I can tell, a woman needs a baby/pregnancy to be able to refuse her husband sexually and have social prestige in the marital pecking order. No wonder so many women want to be pregnant. It’s their only means of advancement and worth. Sigh.

If I were Dinka, I’d be a huge proponent of this social more. I’d be insisting on it. All I’d have to do is deliver a baby and I’d be left in peace for 3 years! Also, I get to boss around the newest wife and make her my scullery maid. Sounds too good to be true. 

Conclusion: Dinka women are brilliant! Of course, you can’t have all this sperm causing our milk to turn sour! That just will not do! Men stay away! Far away!
(Ha! Ha! Jokes on you!)