Sex, orgasm and childbirth: a discomforting mix

Photo by Flickr user Photo Mojo. Click for sourcePetra Boyton has a fantastic piece on the experience of orgasm during birth – the focus of an upcoming documentary and a subject likely to cause discomfort in some.

Petra discusses the relationship between sexual stimulation and labour noting that sexual pleasure has been reported during childbirth in the medical literature.

This is from a 1987 review article on sexuality and childbirth:

Newton (1971 , 1973) argued that women’s three reproductive acts: coitus, parturition, and lactation are psychophysiologically interrelated and trigger caretaking behavior, a necessity for species survival. Features that are evident in both coitus (sexual arousal and orgasm) and in undisturbed childbirth include changes in respiration (hyperpnea and tachypnea), vocalization, strained facial expression, rhythmic uterine contractions, loosening of the cervical mucous plug, frequent supine position with thighs adducted, a tendency to become uninhibited, exceptional muscular strength, an altered state of consciousness with rapid return to alert awareness after orgasm or birth, and a profound feeling of joy or ecstasy following orgasm or delivery. In addition, clitoral engorgement usually associated with sexual arousal has been described in labor in a number of parturients, beginning at 8-9cm cervical dilation (clitoral engorgement has also been described on occasion during stressful situations, without sexual stimulation) (Rossi, 1973). Intense orgasmic sensations have also been described during the second stage of labor (Masters and Johnson, 1966; Sarlin, 1963).

However, there is also evidence that sexual stimulation during labour has been shown to help delivery and ease labour-related pain – such as research on the benefits of breast stimulation during birthing.

However, Petra’s write-up makes clear that systematic research is still lacking, so we’re still not sure about how many women experience orgasm during birth, or how effective all types of active sexual stimulation might be to assist birth.

However, this topic is contentious owing to the psychological discomfort it causes. Perhaps the clash between the stereotypes that birth is innocent and pure while sex is dirty and salacious mean that some people will just find the whole subject too much to handle.

There are many of these areas in medicine. For example, sexual relationships between people with learning disabilities.

The thought of two people with Down syndrome having sex causes great discomfort in many people, despite the fact that it is perfectly possible for some people with Down’s understand and consent to the situation.

If we assume that all people who are able to consent and have found a willing consenting partner should be able to freely participate in a sexual relationship, perhaps it would be useful to develop a test to help evaluate people with learning abilities to make sure they are both able to understand and consenting.

These sorts of tests are common for testing the capacity for other sorts of decisions – such as financial responsibility, or decisions to refuse medical care – but discomfort factor tends to mean that these areas are under-researched.

With reference to the upcoming documentary, the website for the film has quite a curious tone, and I have to say, is slightly sensational.

Buy the DVD or CD!

Share Orgasmic Birth with your friends and family this holiday season with our special 5 pack of DVD’s and CD soundtrack and SAVE. Subtitled in French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.

I can’t say a 5 pack of the Orgasmic Birth (and soundtrack!) would the first thing that comes to mind when buying Christmas presents, but there you go.

Link to Dr Petra on ‘Is there such a thing as an ‚Äòorgasmic birth‚Äô?’

5 Comments

  1. collin237
    Posted January 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised you missed the most significant thing about Bonali’s website: that its strongest material suggestion is to tell stories. Surely a neurologist should understand the role of the story teller in society. If you look at this without the prejudices about sex, it is easily recognizable as religious propaganda. It has no technical explanation. And other than the purely subjective, it doesn’t even have a hypothesis.
    Culture arguments, such as the one you present to explain the dichotomy between sex and birth, are biased toward the Victorian ideals of the past 300 years or so, and cannot account for the vast majority of human history.
    The physical distinction between the “tightness” of sex and the “stretchiness” of birth is far more reliable and significant. The function of the female orgasm, other than toning the muscles, is much better explained as preventing birth from happening too soon.
    If sexual arousal occurred during birth, it would produce an obstruction that would leave cesarean as the only option (c.f. the rumor about Suzie Bright), which until very recently was fatal. So what needs to be researched is how the brain can work with something so similar in musculature, chemistry, and algorithm while also preventing the standard expression of such a category. Finding the key to how an expression is prevented could be useful in other areas, e.g. a cure for Tourette’s Syndrome.

  2. collin237
    Posted January 10, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    The source you gave for the quotation leads to an abstract without a full-text link. The abstract doesn’t match the subject of the quote. An Internet search reveals that the quote does not appear on any reputable site.

  3. Posted January 10, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi collin237,
    If you read the full-text, you will find the quote in full, in the article.
    Unfortunately, it is not open access, so you’ll need institutional access or will have to pay to read the article, which can be found here:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01542069
    I often link to PubMed entries as this gives a permanent reference to full details of the article which researchers can used to follow-up or confirm the points I make.
    Vaughan

  4. collin237
    Posted January 10, 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Is this the same M. E. Newton that did research on tobacco and is now the CEO of Dirmark?

  5. collin237
    Posted January 12, 2009 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    The link with tobacco could explain a lot. The sounds the women are making in the film may actually be caused by a shortness of breath, from lung damage from smoking, that prevents them from making the usual noises. Making up stories about “pleasure” would be an excuse to hide from the doctors the fact that they were smoking while pregnant.
    Also, the inability to breathe sufficiently would result in a low blood oxygen level, giving her clitoris a bluish tint. Some doctors might mistake this for engorgement.


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