Sunday, January 8, 2012

Orgasm During Childbirth? I call BS!

Everyone loves the movie Orgasmic Birth (now retitled Organic Birth, or something like that). At least, everyone in the natural birthing community loves it. Why? Because it communicates the fact that birth doesn't have to be horribly painful and scary. It can be beautiful and loving.

Birth is a time when our "love" hormones are at their highest levels - we will never experience that kind of high at any other point in our lives. So yes, a lot of women will get a "rush" as the babies head emerges, and some have even reported orgasmic-like feelings.
But seriously...I call bullshit. Not "bullshit, you didn't experience that" (because, who am I to deny a woman's experience?). But bullshit that childbirth will result in orgasms.

As one friend so aptly put it to me several years ago, "along with all the pressures women face in terms of their bodies, we now have to experience orgasm during childbirth AS WELL!?"

I agree with you 100% sister. Isn't it enough that I have to deal with (on average) 12 hours of knock-me-to-the-floor contractions (oops, sorry, I'm supposed to say "rushes")? But now I have to orgasm at the end of it all? Give me a break!

To all women out there - I can attest to the fact that natural childbirth is definitely wonderful. I think I re-live my labour/birth experience almost every day, and I am extraordinarily proud of what I accomplished. I wouldn't do it any other way.

But it hurt. Like, REALLY HURT. Here is how one woman put it when describing her water breaking:

Words cannot really describe the pain of my water breaking in that doorway, and the [babies] face dropping so fast, too fast, into my pelvic bones. They just can't. A too oft used cliche, but a true one. Like my mother's old 14 pound pink bowling ball being dropped on my pelvis?

If we tell women that birth is all orgasmic and stuff, aren't we setting them up for some serious disappointment if they experience something else? The majority of women do not experience orgasms in birth. Yes, there can be joyful moments, and some women report having painless childbirth - this is possible, but not the norm.

As doulas, I urge you to tread lightly when speaking to women about the experiences/feelings of childbirth. No one experience is the same, and when you talk too much, you risk your client coming back to you and saying "hey, it totally wasn't what you said it would be." Our role as a doula is to listen - to work through fears and concerns, and prepare parents for the reality of childbirth. And the reality is - it will probably be much more painful than expected. Chances are, if you skim through the book Hypnobirthing, you're not going to be moaning in pleasure during your contractions.

But does that mean that a positive natural childbirth is impossible to accomplish? No way! Our job is to encourage our clients in seeing their upcoming experience as a rite of passage - and an extremely positive one at that. Again, here is a quote from the same woman above:
There are moments that define us, that are written so vividly in our memories that nothing erases them, or overrides them. That moment, in the doorway, now defines me to myself, for it is always in my mind. In that moment, I knew I could face motherhood and everything that word encompasses. If I could get through that pain, that moment of the most unbridled display of emotion I'd ever had, when I was gripped in my partner's arms, screaming in his ear "I can't do this, what the hell is happening to me, this is too much" - if I got through that without crying Uncle, without the thought of drugs or asking for relief crossing my mind, I know I can manage whatever comes. Mayhap not gracefully, or quietly, but manage I will.

We can manage, we can conquer, and we can succeed.
But orgasm? No....sorry, not this time, honey. I have a headache.


  1. Interesting.......I talk about both extremes of birth (orgasms and highly medically managed) in my classes and then I tell them that my goal as an educator is to bring them somewhere in the middle. I also tell them that I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the chances of them reaching orgasm during labour is pretty low :-)Usually gets them laughing. We have a good solid, honest talk about fears and the reality of the pain of labour. I make it very clear how important it is to separate the idea of pain of injury vrs. normal pain of labour. We also talk about the fine line between normal labour pain and suffering. This helps women go into knowing that it is going to be the most challenging thing they may ever do on all levels (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually) but it isn't something to dread like being burned alive or tortured...Would you believe I have never watched "Orgasmic Birth?"

  2. It's actually a really good movie, despite that one scene! It's not like I'm against birth being ecstatic...I guess I'm just annoyed when some people claim that it can happen if you just "try." The best thing I liked about your class, Julie, was when you told us the pain between 0 and 100 would be 120 (or something like that). Helped me mentally prepare!!

  3. I'll tell you what my initial concern was, Misty, when I read this post.......
    I wonder about the woman who is in your care and who, perhaps, can get into that head/body space to have an ecstatic birth (that may or may not include an orgasm)......will she be inhibited when she knows that the person who she has hired for non-judgmental support, may actually be judging her? In my experience, as I grew and developed as a doula, I learned that whenever something made me feel uncomfortable or that I had an urge to ridicule, that the issue that needed examination was actually within myself NOT with the issue that I was ridiculing. Different strokes, for different folks (lol!!! Pun intended).

  4. P.S The "NOT" above was emphasized not to insinuate I was shouting :-).....I would have preferred to italicize it if i had the option.

  5. Very good point Julie. I have seen clients become very elated during their births, and it doesn't make me uncomfortable. I think what does make me uncomfortable is someone telling me that ALL women can have orgasmic births (or all women have the potential). I also joke with clients that if they have an orgasm, that would be amazing, but it probably won't happen (also brings about some laughs). I think I am definitely being judgemental here, and slightly prudish :) Thanks for your comments....always appreciated.

  6. I, too, have trouble with the 'all-or-nothing' stance (including unassisted birth, elective cesareans, drugged births, etc.).......I have always believed (and still do) that women decide what the ideal birth is for them and that decision is based on 100's of factors (reproductive history, fear, education, life experiences, to name just a few). What is great for one, may not be great for another. I also think that the purpose of "Orgasmic Birth" was to share the fact that birth has such tremendous potential to be an amazing experience (which my include an orgasm). I think this film was brought to the table to show a very different side to birth than the one we are bombarded with through rampant, horror story telling in our culture, the mass media, Hollywood, etc.

  7. Maybe my next post will be about the flip side - all the "Baby Story" shows our there that show birth as the horror story. The middle ground is always preferrable, right? Preparing for unexpected outcomes but also recognizing the potential for joy. I find it so hard to blog AND be a doula - I have strong opinions and want to express myself honestly, but I worry about the effect this has on future clients or my other doula friends and colleagues. I think at some point I may need to separate my blogging self from my doula self, and break off with a blog about a topic completely unrelated to birth!! :)


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