Giving birth can be good, ecstatic and even orgasmic

I know I just wrote about this topic last week, but I have more to share and wrote about it for BlogHer this week.

Last week, Lisa Belkin, parenting blogger at The NY Times, wrote about the upcoming 20/20 special on the film “Orgasmic Birth.” The topic apparently hit a nerve with many, many people as she quickly received more than 500 comments.

Many people, as to be expected, are skeptical.

Mir of Woulda Coulda Shoulda had the most humorous response I read to the idea.

As soon as I

1) Find a man with a 9-pound penis
2) Become drunk enough to let him put it inside me for thirty hours at a time

I’ll definitely see if those conditions can result in an orgasm.

But until then? Whatever, man.

Catherine, who blogs at Her Bad Mother, had similar feelings and said, “Me, personally …? I think that I’ll stick to getting my orgasms the old-fashioned way.”

The day after Lisa Belkin’s initial NY Times post she followed up with About that orgasmic birth… and went into a little more detail about the responses she received, the film and one of the women featured in the film.

I was not surprised at the number of comments that dismissed the possibility as a fairytale. I was very surprised at the number of women who wrote to say that they had experienced what the film explored. I was a little distressed at the hostility the first of these groups showed to the second. And I was somewhat surprised, and very pleased, to receive an e-mail from Tamra Larter, one of the subjects of the film, who had been following all the comments, and wanted to make a few of her own.

It’s really worth it to click over there to read what Ms. Larter had to say about the film and her birthing experience, but here’s a snippet.

“I hope people will see the film,” she wrote. “Then they will see that it is about much more than the title suggests. There are many choices and possibilities when it comes to birth.”

And she uses the word “orgasm” with conditions. “I never claimed to have a pain-free birth,” she wrote, “but laboring with my daughter was awesome and for the most part felt really good.” The actual “orgasmic experience” did not feel like the climax of sex, she says, but rather “sensations which were something different than sex, but similar enough I feel O.K. using the word orgasmic. It was a wonderful feeling.”

She also confessed that upon first hearing about the idea of orgasmic birth, she thought it was “gross,” “weird,” and “not possible,” but said it was before she had had any children and the only childbirth she had seen had been on TV.

After reading many comments and several blogs about this, I clicked over to the Orgasmic Birth web site, where I watched the trailer (again). The first time I watched it was many months ago and I felt a refresher was in order.

I admit that even with all of the birth videos I’ve watched in the past and my “crunchy” ways, it makes me shift uncomfortably in my seat to hear a woman making pleasurable sounds while in childbirth (or in any situation really). And yet, I see the whole “orgasmic birth” thing as being just a small piece of the film, and believe it is titled the way it is to grab our attention. (And it’s certainly worked, hasn’t it?) I still believe, as I wrote on my blog over a week ago, “that it does not appear they are not saying all women will have an orgasm or that an orgasm should even be the goal. I think the point is moreso that birth can be a good experience.”

Marsden Wagner, MD, who is interviewed in the film, makes an excellent point about childbirth saying, “It’s got to be like it is when you make love with someone. It’s got to be safe, secure and uninterrupted. And that is how you have an orgasmic birth.”

I do not want to turn this into a debate over home birth vs. hospital birth, but having had both types of births I will say I felt much more safe, secure and uninterrupted at home than I did in the hospital. Although I’m sure it’s possible, I think that for the most part, these “orgasmic births” are much more likely to occur in a birthing center or home environment than in the hospital.

I think the term “orgasmic birth” is subject to interpretation too and noticed that on the Orgasmic Birth site, in their call for birth stories they say, “Please share your ecstatic or orgasmic birth story with us.” I would never say that I had an orgasm while giving birth to my son, but the experience was amazingly intense and was one of the most empowering moments in my life. Does that mean it was an orgasmic birth? Maybe. Was it an ecstatic birth? I believe it was.

Ninotchka had an empowering birth experience as well and commented about it on my blog:

I can’t say that I had an orgasm while giving birth. But after birthing Elle right into my hand, I felt so triumphant and organically happy that I would certainly call that feeling “orgasmic.” It all happened so fast and we’d waited so long for that little sweetheart. It was a definite rush and I was absolutely elated.

I think giving birth will always conjure up different ideas and feelings for different people. No two births are exactly the same and I think that’s the way it should be. Innerbrat summed it all up nicely when she said, “The important thing here, as with everything regarding women’s health, is to give women the ownership of our own bodies, so we can make an informed, conscious decision about what’s best for us and our children; and the first and best way to be informed is to openly talk about the subject.”

ABC’s 20/20 special on Orgasmic Birth, which will also include segments on home birth (unassisted and midwife-attended) and long-term breastfeeding, is currently set to air Friday, Jan. 2, 2009.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

14 thoughts on “Giving birth can be good, ecstatic and even orgasmic”

  1. I hope to have an ecstatic birth this time. I think my chances are better now that I am in Canada. My doctor is awesome and although he will not be the doctor at the hospital with me I am confident I am more empowered and educated to take care of myself too.

  2. My wife just gave birth to our son 6 weeks ago. The poor thing was in labor for 21 hours!

    I’m sure she is hoping for an ecstatic birth for our next child as well 🙂

  3. I must admit I’m not entirely comfortable with the notion of sexualizing birth. I do think the movie has been cleverly named to grab attention and make headlines and it’s working and I’m thrilled! I’m looking forward to seeing it and I think its important to get the message out that birth doesn’t have to be a miserable experience, flat on your back in hospital. We seem to expect birth to be terrible and think we need to numb ourselves from it like a headache.

    I’ve been in pentecostal churches where women get lost in worship and appear to have a public orgasm. Red faces and excited, exclaiming “oh yes! Oh yes! Jesus! YES YES YES!”

    I believe they are having a physical manifestation of an extreme emotion. I believe God designed us to be able to react this way when overwhelmed. It’s spiritual and physical. It sometimes happens during orgasm, sometimes happens during worship and sometimes during childbirth.

    That’s my theory anyway. I hope the movie does well and opens up a lot of minds

  4. I don’t like the shock value title. Seems we try to sexualize everything these days.

    The title has turned me off from wanting to see the film. Ugh, Gloria Steinem must be rolling her eyes at this one.

    I think it’s very necessary to present birth in a new way. Really, truly, your birth outcome is YOUR responsibility. Have what you want, be willing to surrender to the experience (it’s the first time for many people that they learn what raising a child is actually like–you have little control!!), and have people working with you that will advocate for you.

    Hospital vs. home shouldn’t matter. Wherever you want to labor and deliver, do so, but do so in an educated way. No one’s birth is better or more natural than another.

    Love the 9lb penis comment. Amy, that one had to have made you snort!


  5. Oh, originally, I read your post and meant to comment in THIS way:

    Interestingly enough, people who have strongly painful experiences, or who experience shock after an accident report the same sort of euphoria that some just delivered women have. I don’t think it’s necessarily an experience that is solely related to birth.

    I know marathon and triathalon athletes who describe similar feelings.

    Next movie: Orgasmic Car Accident?

    tee hee

  6. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we jump to conclusions purely based on semantics. I guess because of my personal experience, though, I quickly identified with the “idea” of a pleasurable birth. I don’t think birth is “sexy” in the conventional sense but it’s also not the state of disease that the mainstream medical community will lead us to believe. I’m surprised bright, thinking women would discount anything that advocates empowerment and control placed squarely on the shoulders of a well informed mother. I’m even more surprised it would be dismissively turned into a crass sex joke. I’m all for the easy laugh myself but, I don’t know, in my opinion giving birth is a sacred & beautiful right exclusive to women. We’ve come such a long way from the days when women were basically strapped to a bed and knocked out to give birth. I just hate to see this progress cheapened in any way. Not so much for me, I have my own meaningful birth experiences and stories to reflect on. But I want better for my daughters, you know?

  7. I am wondering if all this hoopla is mostly around the fact that people are interpreting the term “orgasmic” literally. I think that birth is painful; having done it twice with drugs and without drugs…it hurts like a mutha. I would say though that the whole experience is amazing and overwhelming. I can’t compare that to an orgasm. To me, it is far more than that and not even on the same playing field.

  8. Thank you AGAIN for writing this article. Some of those comments pissed me off to the NTH degree. How dare men be dismissive. THEY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. and I feel bad for the women who have the idea of pain so ingrained in their heads they can’t see anything else.

    I was cheated out of the birthing experience with preeclampsia and an early 3 lb. baby who HAD to come via c-section. What I would have given for the triumph, the rush, the ORGASM OF FEMALE POWER.

  9. People need to get over the connection with the word “orgasm.” Just think about if for a second. The first time you had sex, Ladies, was it uncomfortable and painful? Now, be honest! Did you have an orgasm the FIRST time you had sex? If you’re like most women, it was awkward and painful. But with time and practice, your body learned how to interpret those VERY SAME SENSATIONS as pleasure instead of pain. The same can be said of birth.

    It is possible to train your mind to experience birth as a pleasurable, rather than painful experience. Not “sexy,” but pleasurable. Using the power of your mind alone, you can turn painful “contractions” into empowering “surges.” It’s the whole premise behind hypnobirthing — and it works! I’ve had two all natural, pain-free births thanks to this mind-over-matter technique.

    I’ve never had “orgasmic” birth, but I can certainly see how it is possible. (After all, your body releases the exact same hormones during birth that it releases to give you an orgasm.) The premise shouldn’t be so casually dismissed.

    All the best,

  10. “…safe, secure and uninterrupted.” Yes, that’s HUGE when it comes to birth. The human animal (and yes, we ARE animals) cannot give birth naturally when stressed. We’re hardwired to stop labor during those conditions, to give a mother the ability to get away from danger. Watch a cat or dog have her babies (silently and from a distance) and you’ll understand what’s needed for us, too.

    Of course birth is sexual–it’s the end result of sexual congress, but admitting that doesn’t make it bad. This country is so backwards when it comes to natural processes, women are maltreated when they use their breasts for their express biological purposes of feeding babies.

    The bottom line is that each woman should take the time and shoulder the responsibility of educating herself and then seeking out and achieving the safe birth she needs and wants for herself and her baby. We need to support that right, not stomp on it or ridicule those who pursue it. Let’s get the sensationalism, the lawyers and the needless alarmist medicalization out of childbirth and in a generation, we’ll see a huge shift in social awareness and interaction.

    My 2 cents, thanks for listening!
    Jodie B

  11. I think what bothers me most about the whole “orgasmic birth” experience discussion is that it basically limits our bodily expression to the mundanely sexual.

    I am not a religious person, but if you asked me how I felt after birthing my daughter, I would have responded that “I now know there is a God.” I don’t know what shape God takes, but the experience of giving birth to another individual is so massively twisting to the psyche that I get offended when it is sexualized.

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