The feelings of pleasure during childbirth are rarely discussed among women today. Often when the topic of labour arises, mothers will mention how painful it is. Likewise women and girls who are not yet pregnant will remark how they are afraid of the pain associated with birth. Some will even say that they never want children due to this discomfort. Instead of thinking of birth as a catastrophic event, why not think of it more positively as a sexual experience? There will be some skeptics who will say that birth should not be sexualized. A baby is so innocent, it is wrong to even think of them giving the mother something as inappropriate as orgasmic pleasures. But sex and birth are two life events that most women experience. Both events ask us to become vulnerable and trust the people who we share these moments with. Thinking of birth as if it were a sexual experience will help women to not fear the pains of labour, but rather become excited for the sensations that they will feel.
The sensations that a woman feels whether she is having a baby or experiencing sex are very similar. A woman’s body produces the same hormones during both labour and sex in what is known as a positive feedback loop. The simplest way to understand the feedback loop is to first understand Oxytocin, which is produced and released by the brain of women. This hormone aids in many important female functions such as our menstrual cycle, contractions during labour, breastfeeding, and intimacy. During child labour, when the baby’s head presses against the cervix the brain releases Oxytocin. The more Oxytocin there is the more the uterus contracts, resulting in widening of the cervix. Since the cervix is more open, the baby is able to be lowered further through the cervix. Once again, because the baby’s head is pressing more against the cervix the brain releases more Oxytocin. From this point, the cycle repeats until the baby is fully born. As well, Oxytocin is used in the body as a natural painkiller. Similarly with sex, Oxytocin will trigger contractions in the vagina which in turn stimulate more Oxytocin release. Only once the woman reaches orgasm or the release of her baby, will the brain discontinue releasing the hormone. Since the hormone is no longer being used towards birthing the child, it is left in the mother’s system causing her to feel attachment to those around her. This is where Oxytocin obtains its name as “the love hormone.”
Since a woman experiences contractions during both childbirth and sex, it is possible for her to also feel the same release during birth that we often associate with sex: an orgasm. In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth select women described their births as “…riding waves of orgasmic bliss.” Many of these women also commented on how they did not expect to feel such strong sensations. They thought these sensations were strange and that they were the only ones to feel an orgasm during birth. But the truth is that strong sexual sensations during birth are more common than we believe them to be. The author, Ina May Gaskin, a Midwife from the United States, conducted her own survey among mothers she has encountered. She observed that around 20% of these women – whether they birthed at home with a Midwife or in a hospital with a Doctor – have experienced orgasmic-like sensations during their labour.
Not all women experience orgasm during childbirth, but it is possible for almost all women to feel some kind of pleasure. Even having your partner stroke your hair or hold your hand can feel very sensational. When we are surrounded by those who we love and trust, our bodies naturally release built up tension. This is what happens during a well-supported birth. A woman may have her partner and sometimes other family surrounding her, as well as Midwives and Doulas who she trusts. It is important for the birthing mother to feel safe in order to let her body release tension to become open for the baby’s passage. Having supporting figures help the birthing woman to allow herself to become vulnerable and open: both with her emotions and her body.
There may be times when a woman feels pain while in labour, however, it is a different pain than what one feels when they break a bone or have a headache. The sensations of labour are more similar to what one might feel during an intense yoga session. If a person feels uncomfortable with a position and wishes to stop, then they are not allowing their bodies to learn to accept the intensity of that pose. This intense sensation is important for adapting our bodies to become more flexible or strong. Especially if one is new to yoga, every position may feel like this at first. But instead of trying to “get through” the pose or intensities, the instructor may encourage you to embrace the pose. This is what labour will feel like.
One of my good friends has mentioned that having an orgasmic birth should not be considered the ‘ideal birth’ that a woman should strive for. And, if she does feel pleasure then she should see it as a pleasant sign that she is doing things right. Personally, I want women to know about the pleasurable sensations of childbirth rather than the ones we often see on TV (pain, stress, emergency etc.). The outcomes of childbirth will greatly depend upon how one interprets their sensations. With the proper support, a mother will not have to be alone in her thoughts wondering how her sensations should feel. Instead she will learn to welcome her contractions and allow them to help her body open up to have a beautiful baby.
**Side Note: This article was written in conjunction with “How to Give Yourself a Natural and Positive Birth Experience,” which offers advice on how parents-to-be can aid one another during the birth process. If you would like to read the other article you can find it here.
Gaskin, Ina May. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003. Print.
Orgasmic Birth: The Best Kept Secret. Dir. Debra Pascali-Bonaro. 2009. DVD.