There are likely to be a million things you've been told to expect during labour, but is an orgasm one of them? Probably not! But add it to the list, because with the right balance of space, calm and concentration, it is possible to feel orgasmic while delivering, and it's a plus for you and your baby.
What does a birth orgasm feel like?
"Women who experience an authentic foetus ejection reflex [otherwise known as a birth orgasm] will reach an ecstatic emotional state during the birth and for several minutes afterwards," says childbirth guru Michel Odent, author of The Functions of the Orgasms.
In simple terms, when you give birth it's possible to feel the same sensations you do when you orgasm during sex. "It should be a climax like no other, fuelled by the same 'cocktail of love hormones' released during a sexual orgasm," adds Michel. Wow! But that's not all... "The rush of love, fuelled by birthing hormones, is felt by mother and baby, leaving both on a hormonal 'high' that is perfectly designed to promote bonding," he says.
Can an orgasmic birth happen to you?
Yes. Odent believes that women are actually "programmed to give birth in an ecstatic orgasmic state". However, this is something you can take seriously - it doesn't just happen to some women, it really can happen to you. The 'orgasmogenic cocktail', as Michel calls it (a combination of oxytocin, natural morphine and prolactin), is driven by a surge of one particular hormone, oxytocin.
Research has shown that in the minutes just before and after birth oxytocin levels in the brain peak to the highest capacity a woman is capable of releasing in her whole life - just like when we orgasm. This peak of oxytocin is necessary for a safe delivery of the placenta with minimum blood loss. And for some women, it's felt as the same hormonal rush as a sexual high or orgasm.
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Do you need to get aroused?
No. Don't worry, having a childbirth orgasm isn't quite the same as 'coming' during sex. For a start, we're not saying you need to stimulate the same parts you would when you're having sex - so don't worry about having to dig out the sex toys for your hospital bag. And there's no need for hubby to get involved either, in fact it's probably better if he's not around. (See 'Recipe for a birth orgasm', right.)
Is it the same as other orgasms?
Film producer Debra Pascali-Bonaro witnessed many birth orgasms first hand while compiling her 2008 film Orgasmic Birth. "For some women, yes, the moment of birth is accompanied by the orgasm of their life: a sexual climax, full and sensuous, their baby moving through their body in the most joyous, loving way," says Debra. "But others call the experience orgasmic in the way that eating a really good piece of dark chocolate might be orgasmic. An incredible ecstasy."
Sounds amazing - but still a bit far-fetched? She's not the only one who's on board. "Orgasmic births are powerful, juicy and full of love," says Marina Alzugaray, a midwife who has witnessed dozens of orgasmic births. "They're spiritual and unforgettable - an endless moment beyond words. It is more than lovemaking because it is being stimulated by the passion of life itself." Blimey!
What's the catch?
The main obstacle to having an orgasm in childbirth is the way we tend to give birth. Imagine you're trying to have an orgasm during normal intercourse. And just as you're getting into it, someone asks you to change your position a bit, to tell them how you are feeling, or to discuss whether or not you're hungry. It's not going to happen. And it's the same with a birth orgasm.
How do you go about having an orgasmic birth?
Michel Odent agrees with Debra Pascali-Bonaro. "Oxytocin is also known as the 'shy hormone' because a women will stop secreting it if she feels self-conscious or observed. A woman needs privacy during labour. She needs to feel unobserved and she should be disturbed as little as possible," he says. "These days many babies and placentas are delivered using artificial substitutes for the 'love hormones' that are necessary for an orgasmic birth experience. Artificial drugs such as synthetic oxytocin, epidurals and injections to deliver the placenta all inhibit the natural peak of oxytocin necessary for an orgasmic birth."
As increasing numbers of women are coming forward and saying that they've experienced an orgasmic birth, perhaps it's time to stop feeling embarrassed about it and embrace the possibility that it could happen to you. After all, the idea of having an 'ecstatic birth' fuelled by 'love hormones' sounds pretty good, doesn't it!
Recipe for an orgasmic birth
According to the birth orgasm experts, these are the ingredients you will need to have your very own orgasmic birth experience:
- Silence (this doesn’t mean no music or moaning – it means as little talking as possible)
- A safe and intimate birth environment
- No drugs
- No men in the labour room
- As little intervention as possible