Forget everything you think you know about the miracle of birth…
We’ve all seen One Born Every Minute, which is enough to put most people off the miracle of birth. But can you turn pain into pleasure and make childbirth a physical pleasure, or is orgasmic birthing hippy heresy that’s just too good to be true? We speak to two leading women’s health experts about birthing’s best kept secret.
What is orgasmic birthing?
Before you spit your tea out, orgasmic birthing is not the latest hipster fad; reports of women experiencing orgasmic pleasure during labour have been circulating in the natural childbirth community since time immemorial. Sexual pleasure and birth are intrinsically linked, and some women report that it is indeed possible to experience orgasm-like feelings while giving birth and harness the pleasurable power of arousal to ride the pain wave. Sounds a bit far-fetched? Bear with us, we have some science to back this up.
Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is released during sexual intercourse and contributes to bonding between partners. But it’s not just romantic love that benefits from this powerful hormone. Oxytocin is also released during childbirth, and even lactation.
Orgasmic birth has been described as having waves of pleasure as your baby is born.
‘Oxytocin is the hormone that helps to start labour, as well as helping to move the necessary muscles in a wavelike motion to help the baby out,’ says author and women’s health expert Jutta Wohlrab. ‘In sexuality, it is the one that helps to bring about the orgasm in combination with another hormone, noradrenalin. This is exactly the same for giving birth. Oxytocin is the key to both.’
Thanks to oxytocin receptors in the uterus, in the few minutes leading to delivery, a woman’s oxytocin levels peak, which also happens when women reach orgasm. Some women have said this hormonal rush is akin to orgasmic pleasure.
‘Orgasmic birth has been described as having waves of pleasure as your baby is born so ecstatic that they are similar to an orgasm,’ explains Katharine Graves, founder of leading antenatal education programme KG Hypnobirthing.
How does orgasmic birthing work?
Linking orgasm with childbirth is understandably taboo and people are often skeptical about the concept of experiencing pleasure during labour. Most women who have been through childbirth don’t tend to describe is as intensely pleasurable, but the advocates out there maintain it’s a magical way to bring your baby into the world.
Some women call orgasmic birthing one of the best kept secrets of childbirth.
‘An orgasmic birth is as the word indicates, experiencing an orgasm while giving birth,’ says Wohlrab.
‘It is what some women call one of the best kept secrets of childbirth but according to studies done in the past only 0.3 per cent will be able to experience.’
Do women really come during labour?
Studies have shown that it is indeed possible, but orgasmic birthing is slightly more complex than masturbating during labour and is more about letting natural processes occur.
The same pathways involved in sexual pleasure are stimulated by birthing a baby and vice versa.
‘On a physiological level, it can happen through a clitoral stimulation,’ says Wohlrab. ‘However very small numbers have reported back that it feels like a real orgasm. Birth can be bliss and ecstasy which can be a physical or even a spiritual experience.’
This is because the same pathways involved in sexual pleasure are in fact stimulated by birthing a baby and vice versa. ‘When you feel safe and secure and you can allow yourself to open up in the same way you open to orgasm, the exact same experience is possible,’ says Wohlrab. ‘Women will often describe it as an experience similar to the feelings of pain and lust.’
‘Some women use masturbation or nipple stimulation for labour but again in the reality of a hospital setting it is rather unlikely to happen,’ she adds.
How common is orgasmic birthing?
Unsurprisingly, orgasmic birthing does not typically occur on labour wards across the country every night. ‘If nearly 50 per cent of first labours are induced, this involves the use of synthetic oxytocin, which inhibits the production of natural oxytocin, the hormone of ecstasy,’ explains Graves. ‘30 per cent of the births in the UK are by caesarean section which also interferes (although sometimes as a lifesaver) with the body’s normal processes.’
There are many interventions which are routinely performed that interfere with natural processes.
‘There are many other interventions which are routinely performed that can interfere with the natural process of birth,’ she adds. ‘Michel Odent, the eminent obstetrician who first introduced water birth, suggests that the first intervention is leaving your own front door, which is food for thought.’
Wohlrab agrees. ‘Birth and sexuality are very closely connected; in fact, the brain will produce the same hormones during labour as it will do for making love,’ she explains. ‘However, it is rare to be able to experience this in a hospital setting with lots of strangers around you. In general mammals are only able to give birth in an environment where they feel safe and secure, and the same principles apply to an orgasm at birth.’
What are the benefits of orgasmic birthing?
Aside from distracting labouring mothers from potential pain, harnessing your pleasure zones during labour comes with a wealth of benefits for mother and baby.
Women describe giving birth as the most wonderful and empowering experience of their lives.
‘When this peak of oxytocin is produced, a woman also releases a cocktail of hormones,’ says Graves. ‘Wouldn’t any baby like to be welcomed into the world by this? The hormones include beta-endorphin, the hormone of pleasure and reward, and prolactin, the mothering hormone which is closely involved with breast feeding.’
‘Arguably the most important is that it feels so good and women describe the experience of giving birth as the most wonderful and empowering experience of their lives,’ she adds. ‘To make it happen, get out of the way and don’t interfere with the awe-inspiring process of birth.’
How to orgasm during birth
So how do you do it? ‘You don’t do it! It happens when you don’t interfere with this amazing natural process,’ explains Graves. ‘You create the circumstances that facilitate it happening; plenty of time, an intimate setting, warmth, candles, soft music, stroking, someone you know and love, a place where you feel safe and at home. The environment that facilitates making love is the same environment that facilitates birth, and an orgasmic birth.’
The environment that facilitates making love is the same environment that facilitates birth.
‘Birth is a natural process, and orgasm is also a natural process,’ she adds. ‘Do you make a sneeze happen? Do you make a yawn happen? Do you make a blink happen? These are all natural processes that we trust the body to do. We can trust the body to give birth. It is equally a natural process, although we do it less frequently, and it happens when we don’t interfere unnecessarily with this amazing process and let it evolve in the way nature intended.’