Orgasmic birth, also known as ecstatic birth, isn’t a myth. It’s actually the best-kept secret to having a magical and painless delivery.
We were taught to believe that giving birth is a frightening and painful process – but what if the opposite is true? What if, by nature, childbirth is actually supposed to be painless and enjoyable? Debra Pascali-Bonaro is a childbirth educator and doula with 30 years of experience. She directed the award-winning documentary, Orgasmic Birth: The Best Kept Secret, a film that follows the journey of 11 women going through natural labor. The documentary interviews experts like doctors, gynecologists, anthropologists, and neonatal specialists, who all agreed that giving birth has turned into a medical practice rather than a natural act. The documentary details the benefits in choosing the natural route for childbirth, and how it can lead to a “birthgasm.”
What Is an Orgasmic Birth?
You might flinch a little when hearing those two words together, understandably, since it’s not really a topic too many people are aware about. We also largely attribute orgasms to sex, hence why “birthgasms” may be a taboo subject, but Pascali-Bonaro is dedicated to dispelling the stigma surrounding it.
In Orgasmic Birth, 11 pregnant women undergo drug-free, natural births and experience powerful emotions like elation and euphoria while delivering. Even though the documentary does discuss climaxing, what Pascali-Bonaro means by “orgasmic birth” is any labor that results in ecstasy or joy, even if that means not having an orgasm. She believes that women must remove the stigma around childbirth being “painful” or “scary” and to embrace it as the raw and beautiful process that it is. By teaching women to connect with their bodies by focusing their attention on bodily sensations during labor with full acceptance and appreciation, women were able to experience a “birthgasm": a pleasurable sensation that naturally relieves pain.
“I was at births and seeing people have great pleasure,” Pascali-Bonaro recalls. “There was joy, there was ecstasy, there was bliss, there was relief. There was a huge gap in our vocabulary about birth. People are comfortable talking about pain, but not about the transformation and the positive aspects.”
How Does It Work?
Two regions in the brain – the anterior cingulate cortex and insula – are active during orgasms and painful experiences. Both release chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins, and stimulate the vagina and clitoris. These birthing hormones are released by the mother and baby to promote bonding, but they also cause physical stimulation for the mother. During childbirth, a woman’s oxytocin levels peak (similar to when having an orgasm) to encourage safe delivery. This surge in hormones has been described as “orgasmic” by some mothers.
Oxytocin and endorphins are released in labor to promote bonding, but they also cause physical stimulation for the mother.
But why is it that hospital births are often painful? The reason why orgasmic births are usually seen in natural births instead of hospital deliveries could be due to epidurals. The anesthesia administered to mothers in hospitals actually interferes with the hormones that are necessary for childbirth. In fact, studies show that epidurals reduce oxytocin and inhibit the production of beta-endorphins. Hospitals also typically deliver babies with mothers lying on their backs, an unnatural position that actually results in more pain. Squatting, on the other hand, allows for greater mobility of the pelvic joints, eliminating external pressures, and allowing more room for the baby too maneuver into the proper position for delivery.
Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Orgasmic Births?
Even though an orgasm during childbirth is natural, the belief that it's questionable or odd still exists, and Pascali-Bonaro has come across a number of women who have decided to stay quiet on the subject out of fear of being judged. “I’ve received [many] emails from women who have had a birth-gasm,” she said. “They never told their partner, they never told their best friend, they certainly didn't tell their doctor.”
Pascali-Bonaro mentions that some women who spontaneously experienced orgasm during childbirth felt alarmed afterward. Some of them even felt guilty for having a pleasurable birth while other mothers suffered. One anthropologist named Anna Caffrey interviewed women who experienced orgasmic births and she details that their experiences “ranged from physical pleasure to feelings of ecstasy, to deeply spiritual.” Yet, they were all uncomfortable when it came to sharing their stories.
On the bright side, there seems to be a growing number of women online who have begun to openly share their experiences in having an orgasmic birth. "Each contraction felt like a gradual build-up of energy, the muscular spasms in my uterus intensifying until they were so powerful, then finally easing again. To my amazement, it wasn’t unpleasant or painful. As I submitted to each contraction, I felt excited and exhilarated. I enjoyed the feeling of being out of control," one mother shared. "I’ve never felt more empowered." Pascali-Bonaro’s mission is to educate more women on orgasmic births so that mothers may allow themselves to have empowering deliveries.
Pascali-Bonaro emphasizes that an orgasmic birth shouldn’t be the goal of delivering a baby. Instead, the goal should be to create an enjoyable and comfortable experience for the baby and the mother. For some women, this might mean creating a soothing and supportive environment for delivery at home. Taking deep breaths, listening to music, and completely surrendering to the process are the best ways to stay relaxed. “All of the pathways that are involved in sexual pleasure are in fact stimulated by birthing a baby,” said Pascali-Bonaro. “And when you can allow yourself to open in the same way that you open to orgasm, the exact same experience is possible.”
The medical industry has tricked women into believing that drugs and epidurals are necessary to avoid painful births. In some cases that may be true, but our body is far more instinctual than we realize. Labor has turned into a medical focus, and we’ve learned to distrust the natural process of giving birth. But by embracing the nature of giving birth, we can experience a powerful birth that doesn’t result in pain or anxiety.
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