I went to an awesome performance of the Vagina Monologues (the amazing play written by Eve Ensler) last night, which was a fundraiser to raise money for the NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
One particular monologue is written by Eve about witnessing the birth of her granddaughter. She begins the piece by admitting that her original version of the monologues had left out the subject of birth completely–something that her experience with her granddaughter helped her to reconcile.
Birth is obviously quite connected to our vaginas, but also our sexuality, a fact that I feel gets overlooked and purposely erased. Childbirth and sex? Childbirth and orgasms? Yup. You heard right. Need proof? Here it is:
The chemical that is produced when a person orgasms is called oxytocin. Both men and women release this hormone–but women also release it at another time: during labor. That’s right folks…the same chemical released during orgasm is also released during childbirth. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of the pleasure/pain divide. Now I’m not trying to say that the majority of women, particularly in US hospitals, are orgasming during delivery. On the contrary–its probably a minority, and the women who do feel pleasure during the process probably feel ashamed or confused by these feelings, particularly in a culture where the overwhelming sentiment about childbirth is how horribly painful it is. There have even been cases of women whose children have been taken away for confessing feeling sexually aroused during breastfeeding.
Doctors, technology and medicines are also instrumental in wiping out this connection–how could anyone feel sexy in that environment? Not to mention that being numbed from the waist down by an epidural definitely isn’t going to help you cum.
The great thing about oxytocin is that it has also been shown to help with maternal/child bonding, as well as bonding between partners. “In the brain, oxytocin is involved in social recognition and bonding, and might be involved in the formation of trust between people.” Now that explains those post-coital feelings… It is also secreted during breastfeeding and nipple stimulation.
I personally think that part of the reason that the sexuality of birth has been kept secret is that we as a society love to desexualize mothers. We cannot handle the idea of a mother as a sexual being (just think about how middle-aged women are portrayed) and are particularly frightened by any hint of a sexual connection between mother and child as it is automatically seen as incestuous.
An awesome group of midwives and doulas (including the woman who trained me!) are working on this topic, and even making a documentary about it. Check it out here.
I went into the NAPW conference hoping – and expecting – to learn a lot. But I had no idea that I would hear of something as cool as orgasmic birth. I had no idea such a thing existed, I think in large part because, as you point out, the women who do experience this may often feel ashamed. And because they fear the consequences of admitting to such pleasure. Which is why we need to get the word out more about this (and why I can’t wait to see the film). I can honestly say that learning about this not only helped make me a little less fearful of birth (I’m not pregnant but maybe someday I will be), but also demystified it a bit. I knew it couldn’t be all pain, and know I am starting to understand the other side….
Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂
Yes- i had this experience when laboring and delivering my son four months ago. I even fought off the epidural and pitocin they repeatedly tried to administer. And despite their attempts and intentions, i delivered completely naturally. Imagine my suprise when my baby was sliding out, a distinctively orgasmic feeling overwhelmed me! I felt like Mother Eve bringing forth life from the Fire Tunnel of Light and Dark, i felt empowered and enlightened! But alas, i also felt shame and guilt and embarrassment for these sexual sensations coursing through my body! I had no idea this would happen. No one warned me, as they did about passing stool on the delivery table… You would think someone would have shared this with me, being that it was Quite Suprising- and wholly wonderful! Now i understand this, how it seems a gift and a reward for labor. How it feels an incentive to keep going, and for me makes me feel ever more womanly and powerful. And i believe doctors are desperate to rid women of these feelings.
I had no idea. Wow!
I admire the women who can. I tried a natural birth with my daughter, Erin, when she was born 3 years ago, but it was so intensely painful that the doctors said I was about to go into shock…which, ironically, shocked me. While I did feel alot of pain, I didnt think it was as dangerous as it ended up being, although I did have some complications during pregnancy. The doctors may look down on orgasmic feelings during birth, but they also looked down on my involuntary bodily reactions because they were ‘out of the ordinary’ what the hell is ordinary?! Anyway, Because of the pain I gave in to the epidural. However, I think it is very possible to feel that, I wish I had these orgasmic feelings as well, trust me! Maybe they should induce orgasms the way they induce birth, that might make the population boom.
ps. if you’re wondering, the almost ‘shock’ wasnt just from the birth being complicated, i had felt sick the few days before and apparently my body fluids were low, which attributed to it. Not such a fun experiance for sure.