Giving birth can be fun
When you think of childbirth, what comes to mind? I imagine a woman screaming in pain while breaking all the fingers on her husband’s hand as she holds it in a death grip. There is probably a lot of swearing, a lot of crying, and pain … an excruciating amount of pain. After all, a woman is squeezing something the size of a watermelon out of an opening the size of a grapefruit.
But apparently this is not the case for all women. Some women find the process of childbirth very pleasurable — orgasmic even.
The idea of orgasmic births gained popularity in 2009 when Debra Pascali-Bonaro’s documentary “Orgasmic Births: The Best Kept Secret” premiered on ABC’s “20/20.”Pascali-Bonaro is a childbirth educator and doula (birth companion), and the main idea she wants people to take away from her documentary is that childbirth does not need to be a traumatic and painful experience; rather, in the right environment, it can even be enjoyable.
In an excerpt from the documentary, participant Amber Hartnell is seen squatting in an outdoor hot tub surrounded by a group of midwives and her husband. She is in the middle of labor, and instead of a face contorted in pain, her eyes roll into the back of her head as she moans with pleasure.
“All of a sudden the orgasm just started rolling through and rolling through, and it just kept coming…and my whole body was just spiraling and rolling, and I was laughing and crying” Hartnell said in an interview with ABC. She claims that the orgasm she experienced is really not any different from a sexual orgasm, which might leave some readers a bit uncomfortable because when it comes down to it, essentially, your baby is getting you off.
But Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” says this is completely normal. In the same interview with ABC, Northrup says, “When the baby is coming down the birth canal, remember it is going down the exact same position as something going in … a penis going into the vagina to cause an orgasm. Labor itself is associated with a huge hormonal change in the body … way more prolactin, way more oxytocin, way more beta endorphin … these are the molecules of ecstasy.”
So how common is this?
In a survey published in “The Journal of Sexologies,” French psychologist Thierry Postel found that orgasms are experienced in about 0.3 percent of births. According to LiveScience, Postel contacted 956 French midwives and asked them to complete an online questionnaire about their experience with orgasmic birth. Out of the midwives contacted, he received 109 complete responses from midwives who had assisted in a total of 206,000 births. Out of those cases, the midwives reported 668 instances where the mother demonstrated an orgasmic birth.
But Pascali-Bonaro says that the number of women who actually experience orgasmic births is higher. She told LiveScience that by focusing on midwives instead of mothers, the survey lacked essential data.
Is this possible for all women to achieve?
Speaking with ABC, Northrup said “ones expectations change the way pain is perceived … whenever you expect pain you tense up, your muscles, your stress hormone levels go up and that increases pain.”
In an interview with LiveScience, Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey who researches orgasms, said that “there’s no reason to try to generalize. Different people have different pain thresholds. Different people have different attitudes. If a woman has a fear of sexuality, if she starts having a pleasurable sensation she may feel this is completely inappropriate psychologically, and that itself could be an aversive effect.”
Pascali-Bonaro told ABC that the hospital experience itself could make the childbirth process more unpleasant. She believes that the hospital setting limits a woman’s options. Instead of using yoga balls, hot water or the simple ability to walk around, “in the U.S. today, you walk into a typical hospital, you’re put in bed on your back, that in itself makes labor longer, harder and more painful,” she said.
However, Pascali-Bonaro doesn’t want women who watch the documentary to feel pressure that this is the only way that women should give birth. She told ABC that she simply wants women to know there are more options to make the experience of giving birth a more positive one.
So perhaps if a woman finds herself in the right environment with a mindset free of inhibitions, she, too, could achieve an orgasmic birth — making the process of bringing a child into the world even more joyful.