Orgasmic birth: most ridiculous concept ever imagined?

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Photo: KidStock

A few days ago I was reminded of just how much the term “orgasmic birth” induces in me an uncontrollable paroxysm – and not in a good way, either.

As Fairfax writer Amy Molloy writes, the US has a new birthing guru and undisputed queen of laidback labouring in Latham Thomas, a New Yorker.

About a decade ago, this self-styled "Mama Glowmaven" decided to swap environmental science for (and I quote) “glow piloting” mums-to-be through pregnancy to destination Orgasmic.

You can read all about it in her best-selling book Mama Glow, in which the 33-year-old mother-of-one glows . . . err . . . goes on about the importance of cleansing the “wombiverse” through a healthy lifestyle and attitude, and a raw diet of goji berries, seaweed, chia and agave syrup.

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So far, so . . . well, good really, but it's Thomas's preoccupation with sex during pregnancy that has understandably chewed up most of the headline space.

Having “lots of ORGASMS” (her caps, not mine) is the secret to feeling “safe, empowered, loved, respected, and SEXY”, she says, and she doesn't much care how we “go about it” as long as we acknowledge our “primal appetite for sensual touch and the erotic”.

It's all about giving that uptight uterus of ours a cheeky slap, yes, even when that same uterus is turning itself out trying to expel a baby.

“An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to foreplay for the birthday suit,” writes Molloy, “where Thomas recommends the use of sex toys for pain relief.”

Orgasmic—or ecstatic or free—birth is hardly a new phenomenon. British academic and author of more than 30 books on pregnancy and birth, Sheila Kitzinger, has long been a proponent of natural birth and says the second stage of labour can be “the most intensely sexual feeling a woman ever experiences”.

Its proponents point out that, as a mindset and lifestyle, orgasmic birthing provides the framework for the mother to wrest back her goddess-given power. All profess to give more choices and improve childbirth practices, and Kitzinger is certainly credited with instigating a more progressive attitude to maternity services in Britain.

I'd be lying if I said that all that mood lighting, pheromones and “sexy talk” (as Thomas suggests couples engage in) didn't make me a tad uncomfortable.

Not only do I struggle to see the point of trying to raise temperatures even further during labour, it seems to me kind of dangerous and a little, well, nuts . . . and I'm not talking the raw kind, either.

And hasn't something critical been overlooked here? What about those of us for whom "sensual" touch was anathema during labour?

If my husband had tried to “lovingly and intimately” release my “feel-good endorphins to relax my cervix” as I writhed with agony, he and I both know he wouldn't have been in any condition to see out the birth.

For a doctrine based on women feeling “supported and empowered to take healthy action in their lives”, this all seems oddly counter-intuitive.

Every woman deserves to “birth in a way that preserves and protects her beliefs and values” – yes, even if that means she'd rather that sex remain outside the birthing suite. That's not the decision of a woman repressed but a woman with clear boundaries.

With two "natural" births – the first induced and cataclysmic – under my belt, I can say with some conviction that childbirth is profound, gory and sublime, sometimes in a single contraction.

It can also be highly unpredictable and downright terrifying. Suffice to say that when my first baby was finally pulled out from my quivering body, blue and non-responsive, the occasion certainly wasn't marked by an orgasmic high.

To promise or imply that a labouring woman is just one push away from a higher sexual plane is to simultaneously gloat, undermine and offend. More often than not, it also sets her up for disappointment and failure. I mean, who else is to blame if the mood's just right and she's still not howling with pleasure?

Yes, birth is an experience like no other; unique as a fingerprint. It can be blink-of-an-eye quick or lip-bitingly slow, but regardless of whether the pain relief comes from a medical cold-store room or an adult store, I think we can all agree that in that emphatic cry of a new, healthy pair of lungs lies the only birthing climax worth holding out for.

40 comments

  • First of all, an induced birth is not referred to as 'natural', rather it is 'vaginal'.
    Secondly, if someone can achieve this kind of birth then it is no-one's place to call it ridiculous or unachievable. In fact, it's rude to do so. Just as someone who has had a peaceful birth or two (like mine were) would be rude to say that medicalised birth is an over-reaction. I don't say that because I know that there are various reasons women choose medicalised birth, and there are various reasons women don't choose it and end up with it, regardless.
    The point of these other perspectives is the POSSIBLE. Why subscribe to the prescription of pain and horror if one doesn't have to? Why flood the prospective mother with these stories of near-death and agony when, with some preparation and informed choices, many women can go on to have undisturbed and unmedicalised births?
    Vive la différence!

    Commenter
    Lirio
    Date and time
    May 22, 2013, 10:07AM
    • 1. If a woman is induced and then moves about during labour and gives birth without the aid of epidurals or other pain relief it is indeed regarded as a natural birth. 2. The writer isn't claiming that orgasmic birth doesn't happen, she's discrediting the idea that it's such a brilliant, cure-all concept that a book should be written about it and publicised to millions of women. Some women eat their babies' placentas, but most don't. Some women have foreplay during labour, but most don't (and would never feel instinctively compelled to do so). Let's stop lionising practices that are clearly niche and leave mortal women to give birth the way they always have.

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 1:34PM
    • "If a woman is induced and then moves about during labour and gives birth without the aid of epidurals or other pain relief it is indeed regarded as a natural birth"

      Partly true.

      If a woman gives birth without pain relief then it is regarded (at least by my partner) as the end of any conversation where I complain about something hurting : )

      This is the thing, though, and we went through this. If a couple decides to attempt a 'natural' birth then it should never be because someone has said that that is the proper way to do it and is the way nature 'intended', or the best 'experience' or better for bonding with your child, or any number of other opinions distilled from the statistically irrelevant sample group of that person's own experiences.

      The people who go on about 'natural' births in glowing terms as the only way you should give birth, are the same people who, just like Moonbeam in the article, espouse the wondrous benefits of things like goji berries, despite the fact that, for 99% of people on this earth, none of their ancestors would ever have SEEN a goji berry, let alone eaten one.

      In my mind, pain relief does not mean the birth wasn't natural. For thousands and thousands of years, women have been given treatments to help ease the pain and discomfort that can accompany child birth. The only difference, really, is that modern pain relief methods are backed by science and thoroughly tested. And sometimes delivered through a syringe, which seems to instantly make anything unnatural. Apparently.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 2:47PM
  • As a man, I feel really sorry for modern women.

    You don't have to _be_ a woman to see the ridiculous images and ideals coming from every corner and it's a wonder more women don't go crazy trying to drag their apparently inadequate lives in a dozen incompatible directions.

    It's the oddest thing of the new feminism which tells women that they are able to do anything a man can do as well as a man can do it but must simultaneously embrace their womanhood and femininity and 'inner goddess' (whatever that means).

    I may not be a woman but I am surrounded by them in my life (sisters, mother, partners, co-workers, friends) and it's sickening the nonsense that gets piled on women from people like this, telling them how they should feel and what they should do and how to be a woman.

    Commenter
    Dave
    Date and time
    May 22, 2013, 10:28AM
    • I agree Dave. I find it bad enough for myself, but I get particularly upset about my two teenage daughters having to navigate this constant bombardment.

      Commenter
      Jen
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 10:48AM
    • My father once made a similar observation. But largely I'm so inured to the constant barrage of images of female perfection in the media that It's hardly conscious. But this anxiety about trying to be superwoman, to always look chic and glamorous, to manage a career, successfully raise children, wear a great pair of shoes and to look good in a bikini is something that subtly pervades everything I do.

      I try to be sensible, but find myself rationalising that I want to 'live life to the fullest', when really deep down I'm utterly confused about what I really want to do. Maybe the problem is that I spend too much time seeing myself the way other people see me. And while that hangup is really down to me to sort out, I can't help thinking that there's a fair amount of external conditioning that women are subjected to that doesn't help either.

      In any case thank you very much for your supportive and perceptive comment!

      Commenter
      Megan
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 1:26PM
    • Bravo, Dave!

      It's precisely this sort of nonsense that sees so many women opting out of motherhood altogether. I know plenty of young women who've had enough of the pressure, the polemic, the downright judgy-ness of it all to say "thanks, but no thanks".

      For myself, the idea of motherhood seems increasingly like a chore I'm putting off and off, because I've spent over a decade being lectured one way or another on the "right" ways to do it, and most of those feel very wrong on a personal level...

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 3:05PM
    • @Megan.

      Most people are 'utterly confused about what <they> really want to do'. It's mostly just the way we are and that's a large part of how advertising works - it seems that regardless of the product, most ads these days try to sell you on 'freedom' and 'choice' and 'individuality'. From alcohol to cars to gambling to credit cards and banking and insurance. From clothes and computers to makeup and fish oil tablets - it's all about being yourself and living life to the fullest.

      We're force-fed images of people living their lives in such interesting and carefree ways - high-flying careers, holidays in exotic destinations, fancy cars, chic restaurants, smiling families out at the beach, underwear models in glamorous hotels - most peoples lives don't measure up to a fraction of what we're shown as the best way to be.

      In short, we're constantly bathed in visions of a perfect life we don't lead - it's no wonder people feel they need 'more'.

      It's not just women told to endlessly chase a moving set of stylised goalposts, but the advertising directed at women does seem to be more overtly geared towards 'having it all'. But it's okay, you'll be fine so long as you eat your yoghurt.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 3:26PM
  • I agree with Lirio: if this lady has had an orgasmic birth, then good on her. Why make fun of her experience? You don't have to take it as gospel, it's just a different point of view.
    It's up to each person to investigate all the options before birth, and be prepared for anything. Some people have a very painful birth. Some people have quite a peaceful time. We're all different.

    Commenter
    let it be
    Date and time
    May 22, 2013, 10:47AM
    • Dear Let it Be and Lirio. Thank you so much for your passionate responses. You both make very pertinent points, and Lirio, "Vive le difference," indeed! But I'd like to say one thing LIB--making fun of women who claim to have orgasms during labour was certainly NOT my intention. I simply want to point out that it's not as easy or unversal as it is perhaps thought and that it can also create unnecessary pressure during birth (especially for first-time mothers). Best JV

      Commenter
      Jen V
      Date and time
      May 22, 2013, 11:14AM

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