An orgasm is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of childbirth.
But those who’ve had a “birthgasm,” as it’s called, will tell you the pain of childbirth can very suddenly turn to pleasure.
In a literary review published last month in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, Australian researchers write that the phenomenon is more common than you’d think — but few women feel comfortable talking about it.
“The sexuality of childbirth is not well recognized in Western society,” the review reads. It calls for “greater awareness … of the potential of orgasm as a means of pain relief in childbirth.”
Elizabeth Davis, director of the U.S. National Midwifery Institute, kept her “orgasmic birth” a secret for almost 20 years. She was afraid people would think she was crazy.
The now 65-year-old midwife no longer hesitates to open up about her experience during the home birth of her second child.
“This whole world of sensation opened up to me and it affected my breathing, it affected my movement.”
“All of a sudden I’m [moaning], you know, I’m in this response. And I’m not going to shut it down.”
That orgasm was accidental. And an epiphany.
At first, Davis was worried discussing her euphoric birth would hurt her credibility as a midwife. Then she learned other people had experienced the same thing.
Nearly 70 per cent of midwives surveyed in 2013 had seen a sexually pleasurable birth experience, and 85 per cent of midwives believed one was possible.
Davis has since co-authored Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth Experience. Over the 38 years she’s been a midwife, she’s witnessed her fair share of “birthgasms.”
So has her co-author Debra Pascali Bonaro, who also created the Orgasmic Birth documentary. She also works as a doula — someone who provides moral support for women during and after childbirth.
The science of orgasmic birth
It all comes down to chemistry.
The hormone oxytocin — which is responsible for sexual arousal and orgasm— is also what helps facilitate childbirth, Davis says.
Oxytocin can be 22 times more powerful than “the average tranquilizer,” according to Pascali Bonaro.
At the same time, blood rushes to a women’s pelvic tissue as her cervix dilates. The infant’s head can also press up against a woman’s G-spot as it passes the pubic bone, Davis said.
“So you’ve got the engorgement and you’ve got the vaginal stimulation of the babies head, and that is quite a sizable thing to have in your vagina,” Davis says.
“You put that all together and it’s amazing more women don’t experience it.”
They think the reason birthgasms aren’t more common is because most births happen in a hospital, which doesn’t exactly provide an arousing environment.
The lack of privacy and often cold, clinical setting of a hospital can sometimes trigger an adrenaline response that diminishes the effect of the pleasure-boosting oxytocin, Davis said.
And if you kick-start labour with synthetic oxytocin, she said, it doesn’t work the same way as the stuff your glands produce themselves.
“It’s very hard to have an orgasmic birth when you have the synthetic form.”
The “birthgasm” review cites evidence that suggests “contrasting views regarding childbirth between some midwives and obstetricians.”
Global News reached out to several obstetricians for comment, but did not receive a response.
How to have a birthgasm
While it may be more difficult to achieve in a hospital setting, it’s apparently not impossible. Shiraz Ariel Drori shared the story of her third orgasmic birth on Pascali Bonaro’s site.
She said it helped to have her doula guard her hospital room door to give her about 20 minutes of privacy.
She managed to masturbate herself to orgasm, she wrote, which seemed to kickstart her contractions.
“I’ve talked with thousands of women that literally take this into their own hands,” Pascali Bonaro said.
“From nipple stimulation to masturbation to vibrators, [women] are making choices that pain and pleasure can travel on the same pathway.”
A woman’s partner can also be involved. In fact, one study cited in the recent “birthgasm” literary review deemed the partner’s presence “essential.”
A partner can provide both emotional support and physical assistance through either oral or manual stimulation.
But there’s one crucial caveat.
“If the water breaks in early labour do not put anything in your vagina,” Davis said.
Anything penetrative during that window of labour can introduce bacteria and harm the cervix, she said.
Your posture can also help.
The “fetus ejection reflex,” Davis said, involves leaning forward in a kneeling position to give your baby a lot of space and to give your G-spot the best chance of stimulation.
Davis suggests kneeling and leaning forward on the edge of a birth tub or headboard if you’re doing a home birth.
But, as with any orgasm situation, don’t worry if it doesn’t happen.
Women have enough expectations on themselves during birth already, Pascali Bonaro said.
“I wouldn’t want to add something else that may not happen.”
She and Davis just hope women embrace it if it does happen.
“Birth is part of a women’s sexuality,” Davis says.