The fantasy of orgasmic birth harms women

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Orgasmic birth is a big lie.

A Western, white woman, well off woman made it up as part of the ongoing effort by Western, white, well off women to turn motherhood into a piece of performance art.

I’m not the only one who has recognized this. Danish psychologist Helena Vissing starts from the premise that the idea of orgasmic birth is nothing more than a fantasy and then proceeds to analyze why some women cling to this fantasy. Moreover, Vissing points out that the fantasy of orgasmic birth is harmful.

From her recently published paper Triumphing over the Body: Body Fantasies and Their Protective Functions:

I believe attempts to integrate sexuality and passion in childbirth care should be recognised. I acknowledge the motivation for encouraging confidence and embracing the possible pleasure and pride of childbirth in Orgasmic Birth. However, I believe the cultural narratives that arise from Orgasmic Birth may result in the opposite, because terror and ambivalence is denied…

…The idea that a completely wondrous, ecstatic, and fulfilling birth experience is not only possible, but the more “true” nature of the female body’s capacities is the epiphanic message. Less ideal birth experiences are acknowledged, but are largely attributed to the cold-hearted world of hospital obstetrics and lack of a caring and sensually attuning atmosphere for the mother. Birth in and of itself is orgasmic in nature, if only the true nature of birth is invited and accommodated for.

What is the purpose of the orgasmic birth fantasy?

The fantasy of the Orgasmic Birth is the creation an outcome not only free of problems or anxiety, but also victorious. Zeavin states that “[i]dealization helps us through nightmares – personal or societal.” The fantasies offer necessary protection as they help to create a sense of authority and cohesiveness through the control over the body.

There’s a second reason for the fantasy: competitive mothering. Referring to the work of colleagues, Vissing writes:

Balsam addresses competitiveness in relation to reproduction and particularly childbirth. She believes women‘s concerns and disappointments about their birthing capacities are about female-to-female rivalry about body power … Parker … in her examination of maternal ambivalence, suggested that the intensive comparisons, exchanges, and mirroring between mothers is not so much about victory and competitiveness as it is about longing for the deeply-needed reassurance mothers are longing for in their struggles with guilt, anxiety, and ambivalence. In my view, both competitive impulses and needs for reassurance seem equally important in this drama of the female body and its capacities.

Vissing captures what I have been writing about for years: orgasmic birth is entirely fabricated to serve two purposes. First, it is the logical endpoint of the ridiculous fantasy of “natural” childbirth. Second, it is yet another weapon in the war of some mothers against other mothers.

The fantasy of orgasmic birth is ridiculous on its face, but it offers insight into the ongoing war of Sanctimommies against everyone who doesn’t soothe their anxiety by mirroring their own choices back to them.

This has important implications for both women’s health and for public policy.

As I have written many times in the past, the philosophy of natural childbirth hurts women. It is both perverse and dysfunctional. It is also a big business, with an army of midwives, doulas and childbirth educators profiting from making women feel bad about themselves and their births. Second, it is deliberately cruel. Women are vicious and competitive when it comes to mothering. In fact, they are so desperate for validation that they have enlisted government in enforcing compliance with their agenda.

Anyone who thinks that the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and programs like Mayor Bloomberg’s Latch on NYC are about breastfeeding is mind bogglingly naive. The benefits of breastfeeding, while real, are quite small. The tremendous effort to force women to use their breasts to feed their babies can’t be justified by the benefits to babies. These programs exist because of the benefits to activists who promote them. In the vicious battle of some mothers against other mothers, these programs are nothing more than attempts to rub some women’s faces in their “failure” to mother in accordance with the principles enunciated by activists.

It’s pretty obvious to almost everyone that orgasmic birth is a self-serving fantasy among women with so little self-esteem that they will say anything to feel superior to other mothers. It is less obvious, but equally true, that lactivism is responsible for the self-serving fantasy that the benefits of breastfeeding are so great that the government must promote it.

It is easy to see the harm in the fantasy of orgasmic birth, which explicitly denies the reality of childbirth. It is less easy to see the harm in government promoted lactivism, which explicitly denies the reality of breastfeeding, preferring to pretend that women who don’t breastfeed are lazy and “uneducated” and that breastfeeding problems are vanishingly rare and should be blamed on the women who experience them.

Natural childbirth and lactivism have no basis in reality. They are both about policing women’s bodies in order to achieve specific specific social outcomes. Grantly Dick-Read created the philosophy of natural childbirth to convince white women of the better classes to have more children. Contemporary natural childbirth activists promote natural childbirth in order to feel better about themselves. The fantasy of orgasmic birth is a cautionary tale about the lengths to which activists will go in order to distinguish themselves as “better” than other mothers.

Anyone who cares about and for women should take the lesson of orgasmic birth to heart. We must ensure that the way we care for women is based on science and that public health initiatives are backed by solid evidence of massive benefits. We should stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated to enforce the agenda of activists who have no greater goal than to feel better about themselves by conjuring self-serving fantasies used to denigrate other mothers.

  • Pam

    Hospital birth is unnatural and extremely unpleasant. It is also very disempowering.

  • Denise D.

    If women are having orgasms whilst giving birth, I want to know what drugs they got. And then we give those to all women giving birth.

  • oh! very funny

  • I think women should read and should know this. It may bring some understanding and knowledge required for the life of each person. I will share it with a few of his friends.

  • CS

    I don’t see why it would be impossible for orgasm to happen during birth. Some women have reported that they have had this experience, and I find it patronizing that someone would say that they are not aware enough of their bodies to know the difference between an orgasm and the relief of a baby being born. I *also* find it patronizing that people think that orgasmic birth can be an acquired skill and that women shouldn’t experience birth as pain if they are doing it right. You say it *must* be painful and NCB proponents say it *must not* be. Bith wrong, since every women experiences birth differently. The extremist/ absolutist views on this stuff make me cringe.

    • Jennifer

      I agree that it’s wrong to say that it would be impossible for orgasm to happen during birth, and if someone does experience an orgasm during birth, they shouldn’t feel weird or grossed out by it. Sensations and nerve ending and whatnot – you can’t always predict what will happen. I agree that it’s also true that not every woman will experience pain during childbirth of the same magnitude or in the same way.

      The problem is that there’s this movement that says that not only is it possible to orgasm during birth, orgasm *should* occur during birth/it’s a goal that mom should try to achieve. In my mind, that’s like saying that occasionally people fall off roofs of 2 story houses and suffer no injuries, so everyone should be able to 1) jump off a roof and 2) do so unscathed. It’s like writing a book on “How to jump off a 2 story roof and land with nary a scratch.” It’s like someone going around to people cleaning their gutters and rescuing the frisbee that landed on the roof (again) and pulled the ladder aside and said “Jump! it’ll be okay. People have jumped off roofs and not been hurt, so I’m sure you won’t be hurt. In fact, you should be able to jump off a roof without injury. And if you are hurt, you’re cleaning your gutters wrong.” It’s as if the people in this one weird little neighborhood started whispering at each other “Did you know that Daryl still uses a *ladder* to get off his roof? I feel so bad for him. Doesn’t he know how empowering it is to jump off your roof and not get hurt? Why cleaning the gutters used to be a chore, but now I want to clean the gutters again just to jump off the roof and not get hurt.”

      While both having an orgasm during birth and falling from a roof without injury may be possible, neither of them should be a goal in and of themselves. If you give birth and happen to have an orgasm, great. If you fall off a roof and don’t get hurt, what luck! But I would much prefer to think an orgasm during birth is impossible and be surprised than to believe it is a necessity and be disappointed.

    • Amanda Stamps

      Exactly.

  • vanessa

    This article is fantastic, thank you for putting into words what many of us who apparently had so-called ‘unnatural births’ have been feeling for quite some time. ‘It’s pretty obvious to almost everyone that orgasmic birth is a self-serving fantasy among women with so little self-esteem that they will say anything to feel superior to other mothers.’ Exactly.

  • jenel

    Honestly. This is pure shittake. Who cares if “well off western white women” have orgasms during birth. If it’s true-why do we care. Why do some well off western white women like to tell other women what they experience during birth? How do we know all such women claiming ecstatic births are white and well off?

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Why do we care? Because it is a self-serving lie designed to demean other women.

      • Anothergreatpostbydramy

        May I suggest that women have also been known to fake an orgasm for many decades? Turn childbirth into a When-Harry-Met-Sally scenario and NCB advocates find something else to attain in their quest for an Ideal Birth (whatever that may be).
        I have seen a midwife carry a DVD on ‘Orgasmic Birth’ on the Labour Ward (I’m sure that I would have got in trouble for bringing in porn to work) and explaining the physiology to consultant colleagues. The consultants said ‘no’ when I suggested we have a teaching session for the doctors about it.
        (I promise I would have suggested reading this blog)

    • Lizzie Dee

      I’m getting confused here. Is the requirement for an ecstatic birth or an orgasm to qualify for your Birth Goddess certificate? I’d’ve thought it was possible to have the first without the second.

      It doesn’t seem to me all that implausible that some women may have something like an orgasm but I am of the so what school. The thought of striving after one I find fairly comic.

  • Guesteleh

    I don’t get why Amy is dismissing this out of hand. At best, the only thing you can say is that while there are anecdotal reports of women having orgasms during birth, there have been no studies conducted to confirm or refute the phenomenon. There is at the very least a plausible biological mechanism for having an orgasm during birth so why insist that it never happens? You have zero proof one way or the other.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      No biological mechanism has been described. Claiming that birth can cause an orgasm is like claiming that for a man, getting kicked in the crotch can cause an orgasm because it is stimulation of the relevant area.

      • Lisa Miller

        Dr. Amy, your point about this historical record knocked me off my previous perch on the fence and set me down firmly on the disbelieving side of this argument. I didn’t get that history degree for nothing.

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        There are guys who get sexual gratification from being kicked in the balls. There’s a whole sub-genre of BDSM called “CBT,” which doesn’t stand for Cognitive Behavior Therapy or Computer-Based Training.

    • Lisa Miller

      There is also no historical record of such events before this generations ( think baby boomers and gen X)–who would have reported it). I don’t see why no one is getting this. We know a ton about how the ancients had sex, where they had sex and what birth control they used, the kamasutra is a manual of how to have sex. If birth orgasms existed then someone in the more sexual cultures would have mentioned it (Not to mention the baby boomers who started the sexual revolution. This means something, the lack of previous mentions. It means it was made up in the last 30 years.

      • Lizzie Dee

        I can think of other reasons why it may not have been mentioned – like, nobody thought it was very important or interesting – a contingent, irrelevant freaky thing like many of the physical bits of childbirth which might or might not happen to some. Another reason – is there much documentary discussion of women’s orgasms anywhere?

        On the other hand, sixties and seventies sexual revolution types like Ina Mae COULD have been expected to make much of it, and hadn’t yet thought of it. Some of the “mystical” aspects of birth do have problems separating the spiritual and the sexual – all that intimacy at home and nipple twiddling does blur the lines and connections in a way I find quite off-putting, but then I am a bit of a prude. Birth does start with sexuality, sort of, and there is certainly an asexual sensuality in the physical realities of the connection to one’s children, and it is a bit of a murky soup in which anything might lurk, I suppose.

        • jmb

          It was believed that orgasms were necessary for women to conceive at all, in the ancient world all the way through the 1600s at least (some people STILL believe it in fact, and so you get the “legitimate rape/female body has a way to shut conception down” claims, sigh…)

          Famous medical doctors like Maimonides wrote in some detail about it and how to achieve them, so as to guarantee heirs. If “birth orgasms” were really a thing, there would be at least as much reference to them in medical literature as there are to the various methods of contraception tried by the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, etc.

    • Lizz

      Using the same orifice does not count as plausible biological mechanism. Some people have anecdotes about orgasms from being choked it doesn’t mean that it’s normal or expected and certainly not worth making a documentary about.

      • Guesteleh

        I didn’t say it was normal or expected, but Amy is claiming it’s impossible and never happens and I’m pointing out that she has no evidence one way or the other.

        This all reminds me of a conversation I had with a woman who believed that all women who claimed to enjoy anal sex were lying to please their partners. Which is clearly ridiculous because there most certainly are women who enjoy anal sex. But because she couldn’t imagine it for herself she assumed that it couldn’t be true for anyone else. That’s what people sound like around here.

        • Lizz

          I can see your point but I guess where this differs is that orgasmic childbirth gets a bit held up as optimum in some circles. if this was just a few random women on the internet it wouldn’t have a documentary or several books. I don’t doubt that the human body is capable of having an orgasm from just about anything depending on the person.

          Maybe think back to the posts quoting Ina May Gaskin talking about fondling a patients breasts and clitoris in child labor. One would assume that that would be to cause some kind of sexual response possibly orgasm in childbirth. Problem being the lack of permission or that being a care provider makes that in appropriate. So in this case we can see orgasm or sexual response in childbirth being held up as an optimum by this very esteemed figure in the natural childbirth movement. It’s being used by this figure the support inappropriate touching.

          So while maybe it’s not impossible I’ll agree with you there I think it would be best to be a random occurrence rather then an optimum for a community. Like it should never be said by any one that all women must strive to enjoy anal sex because it makes you a real woman, just to use that same example.
          Sorry for being long winded.

        • Amy Tuteur, MD

          It would be easy to prove me wrong. Just find some references to orgasmic birth from other centuries and from non-Western cultures. If orgasmic birth is real, it shouldn’t be very difficult.

  • Clarissa Darling

    Whether or not orgasmic birth is a real phenomenon, this is
    what concerns me:

    “The idea that a completely wondrous, ecstatic, and fulfilling birth experience is not only possible, but the more “true” nature of
    the female body’s capacities is the epiphanic message. Less ideal birth
    experiences are acknowledged, but are largely attributed to the cold-hearted world of hospital obstetrics and lack of a caring and sensually attuning atmosphere for the mother.”

    Taking this a step further, I think the idea of a wonderful, ecstatic fulfilling birth experience is not confined to orgasms only. And lack of a wonderful ecstatic fulfilling experience is not only blamed on cold-hearted hospitals but, on cold-hearted mothers. Sometimes is seems that if you express any thoughts other than pregnancy/childbirth is a wondrous, joyous, empowering miracle then you are at best not being politically correct and at worst you are a child hating monster who ought never to have gotten pregnant. If only I had a nickel for every time I read ”Why did you decide to have kids if you can’t handle/ didn’t want to/don’t like/feel like…….?” on a mommy blog in response to some mom expressing her fears. The popular belief seems to be that if you really love your baby you’ll constantly be glowing and ecstatic about all aspects of pregnancy/childbirth/child rearing and refrain from characterizing anything connected with them or their birth as a negative. With everything new moms already have to deal with do we need to put the guilt of “I’m not really excited about xxxx so I must not love them enough” on the table?

    • Lizzie Dee

      Interesting radio programme here this (hot) afternoon. Interviewer spent the day in a Maternity Hospital, talking to mothers, doctors, nurses, midwives. One student midwife was asked if she did the job because she loved babies? No, she said, she didn’t like them much, but LOVED being with pregnant women. Fair enough, in a way – but can we get away from believing that feelings about pregnancy have anything to do with feelings about children? I have quite a lot to say that is negative about childbirth but it really doesn’t make me a child hating monster – very far from it.

      The interviewer did a tour of NICU, and his naivete was well on show. He was clearly very startled that it was so busy, and even more startled to learn that they were not ALL micropremmies.

      Lots and lots of the usual woo stuff from the midwives, unfortunately. including waterbirths as the answer to almost everything.

  • realityycheque

    I’m still on the fence with this one. Whilst I never personally experienced an orgasm during childbirth, there’s something I find very patronising about the attitude that these women don’t know what they’re talking about.

    A friend of mine who is pretty non-woo told me that she experienced one and I’m inclined to believe that this woman knows what an orgasm feels like. Insisting to her that she didn’t have an orgasm because it’s different to what I experienced and then going on to state that she’s either delusional or can’t tell the difference between extreme pain and extreme pleasure comes across as pretty invalidating and condescending to me.

    I don’t know with 100% certainty if it’s a legitimate phenomenon, or what might cause it… but I also think it’s worth investigating and the go-to assumption shouldn’t be that all of these women are either lying or too
    sexually inexperienced to know what an orgasm feels like; this attitude feels awfully reminiscent of those women for whom labour is relatively painless going on to tell other women (whose births may have been excruciating and even traumatic) that it was “all in their heads”.

    I also don’t believe that, “It wasn’t acknowledge until recently” is a reasonable argument for dismissal. As Kerlyssa said below, female sexuality has long been both misunderstood and a taboo topic that hasn’t received a lot of discussion or interest.

    • realityycheque

      With that said, I absolutely feel that the attitude “ALL women can orgasm during childbirth if they just do x, y, z” and the associated implication that women whose births aren’t pleasurable are doing something wrong and it’s their “fault” is awfully dangerous and damaging.

    • Charlotte

      I agree. I can see how it would be possible, and enough sensible, everyday women have claimed to experience one that I do think it’s hard to say it’s a settled matter that they don’t happen.

      I also feel it’s patronizing and condescending to dismiss these women’s experiences completely out of hand.

      • Lizzie Dee

        I don’t think that this is being dismissed out of hand, exactly. Obviously, it is difficult to prove one way or another. I think what is being challenged is that it should be a goal, an aspiration or expectation, and that having one makes you Supermummy, or so much more womanly.

        • Charlotte

          I was speaking more about the comments than the post itself. Some of the commenters said they don’t think it’s at all possible that these women really experienced what they say they did, and only think they orgasmed because they were irrational from pain and confused about their own body sensations. Some have even brought up the possibility of these women lying. I feel that’s very dismissive.

    • delivery girl

      I agree also… condescending and lacking in any scientific evidence. I believe there’s alot that goes on physiologically that can’t always be explained rationally. Let me say that I experienced an orgasmic birth myself. My second baby, footling breech, delivered via C/S when I arrived at the hospital in labor 7cm dilated with a bulging bag of water & a foot felt right through the bag. Don’t know if possibly the bag of waters broke on the OR table & there was a foot in my vagina, or if some nerves were inadvertently stimulated internally by the surgeon, but there it was, orgasm. That is amazing enough, but also why could I even feel it with well-working spinal anesthesia? Don’t understand it. Definitely don’t tell people about it. They’d probably think I’m a weirdo. lol.

      • Lisa Miller

        There is some trigger on the spine that can cause it. A doctor has figured out how to place a stimulation device that one can push a button and cause orgasm..

        • Lisa from NY

          Cool! Where can I buy it?

          • wookie130

            I know…bet you can’t find this thing at a friend’s
            “passion party” or on QVC. It reminds me of the “Orgasmatron” from Woody Allen’s movie, “Sleeper.”

          • Lisa Miller

            It’s actually called the orgasmatron.

          • Lisa Miller
    • Lisa Miller

      So you think it’s more like female ejaculation? Where some women can do it but most can’t and you surely can’t train your body to do it if it’s not in your genes? Maybe you are right, however I don’t think it’s too off to suggest that perhaps they have never experienced orgasm. As much and 26% to 48% of women in various studies said that they have never reached orgasm or have great difficulty reaching it. it most certainly is possible and I don’t find it to be demeaning to those women. It’s just another possibility. I am on the fence about birth orgasms, If they happen they are a freak occurrence and cannot be taught or repeated on demand.

      • realityycheque

        I’m honestly not sure… I imagine that if it’s a real occurrence it probably has more to do with a flukish set of conditions and that it would be very difficult, if not impossible for a woman to directly influence a repeat.

        I understand that a large percentage of women have never, and probably will never experience an orgasm in their life time, and I can see how that might be an argument against the possibility of orgasmic birth, although I just struggle with completely dismissing these claims without thoroughly exploring it as a possibility (with that said, I’m not sure how extensively this has been explored).

        • Lisa Miller

          That’s understandable.

  • Anon

    “The tremendous effort to force women to use their breasts to feed their babies can’t be justified by the benefits to babies. These programs exist because of the benefits to activists who promote them. In the vicious battle of some mothers against other mothers, these programs are nothing more than attempts to rub some women’s faces in their “failure” to mother in accordance with the principles enunciated by activists.”

    I think the only reason government backs lactivist is because breastfeeding is cheaper than formula for the government. WIC spends crazy lots on formula, and if women can be shamed Into breastfeeding they save money. Where I live the food allowance is significantly less $ than the 9 cans of formula I’d get if I weren’t BF.

    • Sedi

      That’s ridiculous. How is it cheaper to the government to have a working woman out of work for one year or so contributing little in way of tax and reducing her spending in the wider economy? And do you really think that programmes like WIC have to pay retail price for cans of formula?

      • suchende

        ” How is it cheaper to the government to have a working woman out of work for one year or so contributing little in way of tax and reducing her spending in the wider economy?”

        I doubt women on WIC would be paying much by the way of taxes if they were working.

        • Sedi

          Are all people who receive help from WIC unemployed?

          • suchende

            No, but the income cap is solidly in Romney’s 47%.

          • PollyPocket

            There is a financial criterion that must be met in order to qualify, so the point is valid.

            Even as an unemployed student with my husband making little more than minimum wage and a toddler at home, we didn’t qualify for WIC.

          • Julia B

            WIC differs by state but the income cap is between 100% and 185% of the federal poverty income guidelines. This is based on family size and state (to a small extent, non-contiguous states have a higher poverty threshold). For a family of four in the contiguous states, the annual income limit to qualify for WIC is $44,000. http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/howtoapply/eligibilityrequirements.htm
            So WIC is for low income women who generally don’t contribute much in the way of taxes.
            They also recently changed the food package system so that the value of the food that breastfeeding women get is closer to the value of the formula that formula-feeding women get. This was because of concerns that WIC was encouraging formula feeding by offering a higher value package to formula-feeding women.

          • Anon

            Wow, that is surprising. In my state the cutoff for our fam is 47k a year. We make 40k and qualify for everything, food stamps, WIC, medical assistance in addition to our Cadillac insurance plan.

          • Lizz

            We’ve been unemployed but we get WIC for our two kids and hubby and I are both employed. We’re just not very well employed being students.

      • Anon

        They don’t tell you to stay home for a year and breastfeed. They tell you to breastfeed and to pump, and will loan you a pump.

        They give you a flier that tells you the horrors of formula feeding that highhlights that just ONE bottle will permanently alter your baby’s intestines and that you shouldn’t bottle feed unless it is the most dire circumstances. If they can shame you enough then you’ll pump at work.

        Do you understand how WIC works? Specific foods and formulas are reimbursed to grocery stores. I assume they are contracted and get a discount, however at the cash register there is still a large disparity between the food dispersed to bf moms and the cans of formula, with a significant savings if you are BF.

        I can’t comment on whether of not WIC moms pay taxes. We get pretty much a 100% refund, and my husband makes 40k a year. We even get SNAP and help paying our kids insurance.

      • Eddie

        When I’ve looked at the Link card (Illinois SNAP program) receipts from friends of my kids, I have never seen any visible discount. It looks like the card pays normal retail price, whatever it happens to be, for the foods that are allowed to be purchased by that program. It wouldn’t surprise me if this varies state by state.

        Aside: My kids’ friends’ parents who are on SNAP seem to be one of part time, underemployed, or minimum-wage workers, and not totally unemployed. I have no idea how representative that is, and it probably varies widely.

        • Lisa from NY

          WIC is a different program from SNAP. SNAP gives out monthly allowances to be used for food. WIC is only for pregnant and nursing women, and children below age 5.

          WIC gives out coupons each month with items printed on each.

          A nursing mother will get coupons for milk, cheese and cereal (and some other stuff, I think) while a formula-feeding mother will get coupons for formula, which costs more than food staples.

          • Eddie

            Shows what I know! Thanks for the correction. I didn’t realize that WIC was a separate program from SNAP. I’ve known of a number of people on food stamps, but I don’t believe I’ve known of someone on WIC. (Speaking here only of people I’ve actually met or spoken to in person.)

  • Lisa Miller

    Someone may have said this already but I’ve always thought that women who claim to have orgasms may have never actually had one and they thing the huge relief you have after the baby is out is an orgasm?? Because some women seem to really think they had one.

    • T.

      Some people really believe to be abducted by aliens, too.

      • Lisa Miller

        Yup.

    • PollyPocket

      The power of suggestion is not to be underestimated. I pushed my first child out without pain meds because I THOUGHT I had an epidural on board. A very extreme example, but I’m still shocked by it.

      • Lisa Miller

        Indeed, it can be. On a side note I love your name. I just gave my three year old all my old Polly Pockets from when I was a kid. This was back when they were tiny. However I didn’t give her the actual dolls because they are a choking hazard, but she still loves them.

  • R T

    Okay, I agree this is mainly BS. However, I met a young black woman a few years ago who told me she had an orgasm while her baby was crowning. She said it was the most intense, mind blowing orgasm she had every experienced. She was not woo minded at all! In fact, it had really horrified and embarrassed her to the point she thought there was something wrong with her. She thought people would think badly of her, like she was a pervert, if they knew she had an orgasm while giving birth. Then years later she moved to Los Angeles for work and overheard some women talking about orgasmic birth. She said it was a relief to find out she might not be the only one and that, in fact, there were women who actually wanted to have one. She said labor was very painful which made the orgasim even more surprising. I questioned her about possibly just confusing the relief of crowning with an orgasm and she said it was not that, but a very identifiable orgasm.

    • Leica

      I don’t doubt that it’s possible at all, considering some of the kinky folks I know. If you can have an orgasm while having a nail driven through your tongue or being branded with an iron, why not while having a baby? Pain can be interpreted in interesting ways by the brain. The issue is really just the crunchier-than-you crowd making this into the next milestone. Oh, and I have a friend who is a masochist, into some pretty painful stuff, who still went for an epidural. For her it was about having a baby, not getting aroused, therefore pain was unnecessary.

    • Ceridwen

      It is not a fantasy to say that orgasms can happen during birth. It’s a fantasy to say that ALL WOMEN could be having orgasms during birth and that if they are not then something was wrong with their birthing environment.

      • Amy Tuteur, MD

        No, it’s a fantasy.

        It had never been described prior to the last generation of women.

        • Kerlyssa

          Eh, the history of acknowledgment of female sexual pleasure is pretty damn spotty, much less something as potentially taboo and counter intuitive as orgasm in childbirth. I’d not say lack of documentation on a rare sexual response is proof of nonexistence.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The claim of orgasm during birth is extraordinary, and until someone offers proof, there’s no reason to believe it.

          • R T

            As PP pointed out, talking about female orgasms of any kind was taboo until the last generation or two. How could it be proven? One of these orgasmic birthers needs to volunteer for science lol!

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            That’s simply untrue. While talk of orgasms was taboo in certain societies since the Victorian error, it wasn’t true prior to that and it wasn’t true in other cultures.

            That’s the real give away: no one anywhere in the world, at any time in history, mentioned it until the past generation of Western, white, well off women.

          • fiftyfifty1

            I haven’t ever had a patient report orgasmic birth but I have a few who like fisting for the orgasms it gives them. Do you have an opinion on whether they are telling the truth?

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            There’s really nothing new under the sun. The issue is not whether someone is reporting an orgasm now. The issue is that no one ever reported one in the past; no one from another culture has reported one; the concept was invented by a Western white woman immersed in the philosophy of natural childbirth; and the claim of orgasm is viewed as a victory in competitive mothering.

            All that makes it extremely likely that the concept of orgasmic birth was fabricated fairly recently. Having read some of Ina May Gaskin, I can see orgasmic birth as the logical extension of her very bizarre claims about birth and sexuality.

          • Ducky

            I agree heartily with Dr. Amy’s central point that the narrative of
            orgasmic birth (like the oxytocin rush etc) is baseless and creates
            harmful expectations. It reminds me of the fantasy of vaginal orgasm and squirting – has that ever created false expectations in the many people’s sex lives! That said, I’m not understanding how folks can jump to the conclusion it doesn’t exist at all. The Huff Post article claims that a French study (which one – who knows?) indicated that of 206,000 births, only 9 actual orgasms were reported by midwives. That’s an extremely low rate – so how can we evaluate whether those orgasms were invented or not? There are obviously women who in good faith believe they had an orgasm during childbirth, and there’s a plausible mechanism in that pressure in the vaginal canal can produce pleasure. Given the very low reported rates, lack of historical evidence is not entirely strange – especially considering that female orgasm has not been celebrated or openly discussed in many cultures historically – and we do even today have quite a taboo against experiencing orgasm with others, let alone during childbirth. The science seems inconclusive to me.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            I’ve read that “study.”

            The author sent questionnaires to midwives. Only 15% of midwives responded; the rest were probably laughing to hard to hold a pen. Of that 15%, a few claimed that their patients had orgasms.

            That’s about as reliable as asking men whether their sexual partner had an orgasm; in other words, it is entirely unreliable.

          • Lisa Miller

            We’re not talking about 1900 here, not ancient history. Dr. Amy said it was unheard of before this generation (which is a mix of gen-X and millennials.) We are referring to baby boomers and gen X as well. If it had happened, then the people who started the sexual revolution would have mentioned it.

        • suchende

          I’m not sure how dispositive that really is. Non-woo-filled women have described having the experience, without any ax to grind. I think it’s pretty solidly in the realm of possible.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            No doubt some women have described the experience of having a seizure during birth, but that tells us nothing about whether seizures and birth are associated.

          • Lindsay Beyerstein

            If enough women with epilepsy give birth, sooner or later, someone is going to have a seizure during labor. That doesn’t mean that seizures are a normal or common part of giving birth, or that–God forbid–anyone should try to induce seizures to keep up with the Joneses.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Actually, I was thinking more of eclampsia. Prior to modern obstetrics, seizures in labor were well known.

        • Lisa Miller

          So nothing in the historical record. Would women have spoken of such things? I mean, actually, the baby boomers and Gen X certainly would have. So, yeah , never-mind.

          • Therese

            And then after they spoke of such things, what would have happened next? Some newpaper would write up a nice story about it? The doctor would have called up the medical researchers and been all “OMG! This patient had an orgasm! You must study this further!” ?? I don’t see how it would have been expected to make it into the public record.

      • R T

        Well, I have a hard time having an orgasm in the most optimal of conditions so no way I would ever have one giving birth, lol! I think there are many women who can relate!

    • T.

      I reiterate: I know a person, sane, not delusional, who is absolutely sure to have been abducted by aliens. I still don’t think it happened.

      And some people claims to have “seen” vaccines making their children autistic.

      Even personal, first-hand experiences have to pass through the filter of reality check.

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        But expecting to be kidnapped by aliens doesn’t make you more likely to be kidnapped by aliens. Whereas, expecting to have an orgasm probably does make you more likely to have one.

        Also, orgasms are subjective in a way that alien abductions are not. A hallucination that feels exactly like an alien abduction is still a hallucination. A hallucination that feels exactly like an orgasm is an orgasm.

        • Wren

          Is it?

          • Lindsay Beyerstein

            I’d say so. It depends on how you define “orgasm.” Most people define it in terms of the distinctive feeling. As far as the average English speaker and orgasm-haver is concerned, if you’re having that feeling, you’re having an orgasm. Just as if you’re having the feeling of pain, you’re in pain.

            Scientists might define the female orgasm in terms of the observable signs of the spinal reflex, like pelvic floor contractions. In that case, you could say that someone who felt like they were having an orgasm because of some altered brain state but lacked the pelvic floor contractions wasn’t really having an orgasm.

            If you ask someone, “Did you come?” Nobody is going to answer, “Well, it was incredibly pleasurable, but I was too distracted by ecstasy to notice whether my pelvic floor muscles twitched, so I’m not sure.”

            The NCBers are clearly talking about the feeling. They aren’t making any claims about the mechanisms behind it.

      • Eddie

        Errrrr…. I think it’s safe to say that anyone claiming to have been abducted by aliens was delusional, at least in that one instance if not in general. Delusional people can often be high-functioning and otherwise seem normal. I knew someone, a conspiracy nut, who described events to me that could not possibly have happened as described. Except when talking about conspiracy stuff, this person seemed sane and non-delusional.

  • amazonmom

    I often tell my husband about what I read here. When I told him about orgasmic birth he asked me if I was making that crap up. Then he said “maybe that’s what Ina May was going for when she talked about touching buttons”.

    He also thinks its an awesome idea to put “I read Skeptical OB everyday and think it’s awesome. No woo at any time please.” on my birth plan as item number 1.

  • Are you nuts

    Can advocates of orgasmic birth point to any history of it prior to, oh… 2005 or so? Natural childbirthers are so preoccupied with giving birth how our tribal ancestors did so I would be curious to see any historical evidence of orgasmic birth. Ya know, written in hieroglyphics or on a cave wall or something.

    • expat in germany

      I was not a believer at all until I asked some old friends and got two independent data points: one drugged up teenager in the 60s and one determined VBACer who tore badly and described it as very bdsm. If you combine research that shows that when pain isn’t as bad as expected, it feels pleasurable together with evidence that orgasms can be triggered just by thinking in certain ways (for certain people) and then thinking about the endorphin high some people get from hot peppers or strenuous exercise, it isn’t at all inconceivable that parts of the brain can light up which also do so in orgasm. Nevertheless, I don’t disagree at all with the premise of this article that promoting the concept does a disservice to women who end up expecting something totally unrealistic or feeling lied to that fear was the real reason that it hurt so much. I am not a fearful person and fear had nothing to do with the pain I felt.

      • suchende

        Yeah. I think I could have had an orgasm with my epidural hospital birth if I hasn’t put those feelings out of my mind. I totally believe it can happen. But that’s a bit different than the Orgasmic Birth Experience, which implies childbirth is such a pleasurable experience that it brings you to orgasm if you just believe in it enough and succumb to it enough. Assuming you’re not intentionally stimulating yourself (and IMG isn’t either) I sorta doubt it’s anything more than a little biological hat trick.

  • GiddyUpGo123

    But … but … why orgasm of all things? Why? Why not invent an ecstatic physical reaction to childbirth that is non-sexual? Is it just because these people lack imagination and that was all they could come up with? Because having an orgasm during the birth of your child seems to me weird at best and completely perverse at worst. Can you imagine telling your child his birth story: “and then Mommy had the biggest orgasm of her life!” Talk about giving your child a) a really good reason to hate you and/or feel uncomfortable in your presence and b) fodder for years of therapy.

    • Are you nuts

      Truly. The realization that your parents had sex to conceive you is bad enough!!

    • Bombshellrisa

      There is a troll who sometimes drops in by the name of Jenny Hatch. She insists that birth is a “sexual event”. If birth is indeed a sexual event, I take issue with the fact that she has her children with her when she gives birth.

      • Amy M

        Does she think that on the grounds that sexual organs are involved?
        Are pap smears also sexual events? What about IUD insertions or HSGs? Or tampons.

        Anyone who has dealt with infertility is familiar with the “dildo cam”, but that wasn’t really sexy, just a silly name to make something unpleasant more tolerable. Though the dildo cam was always thoughtful and brought its own condoms and lube.

        • Bombshellrisa

          Dildo cam! lol

        • Lindsay Beyerstein

          The spread of the “orgasmic birth” meme probably has something to do with magical thinking. One of the principles of sympathetic magic, which is the conceptual framework behind so much woo, is “like begets like.” There’s a pleasing aesthetic symmetry to the idea that babies are made by orgasmic sex and expelled by orgasmic labor. (Wishful thinking is evident on both sides of that equation.) The myth that a woman must climax in order to conceive dates back to at least the Middle Ages.

          • Amy M

            Interesting thought…as clearly, those who know the dildo cam well,know that one can conceive wo/orgasm…one can conceive wo/a man being in the room. 🙂 So, if like begets like, then those conceiving via ART, should automatically give birth via C section?

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            There’s a pleasing aesthetic symmetry to the idea that babies are made
            by orgasmic sex and expelled by orgasmic labor. (Wishful thinking is
            evident on both sides of that equation.) The myth that a woman must
            climax in order to conceive dates back to at least the Middle Ages.

            Sounds like a very male-POV to me.

            Or maybe Kelly can come tell us how it is all part of the “Eastern philosophy” and “ying-yang” thing – you know, “he cums, she cums, and that’s how properly balanced babies are made”

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      But … but … why orgasm of all things?

      It’s the “competitive mothering” explanation

      “Man, childbirth really hurt for me”

      “Really? Mine didn’t hurt that much”
      “Ha, mine didn’t hurt at all”
      “Not only did mine not hurt at all, I actually kind of enjoyed it”
      “Well I enjoyed it so much that I had an orgasm!”

      Top that!

      • GiddyUpGo123

        But why not, “I enjoyed it so much that I had an out of body experience in which I was floating on a cloud eating bon bons and surrounded by kittens?” Why does it have to be sexual?

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          That is in-between “I kind of enjoyed it” and “orgasm”

          • T.

            I would like bon-bon and kittens better than a orgasm ò.ò

          • rh1985

            Yes, chocolate. Chocolate and cute kittens.

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        I bet it’s a combination of one-upmanship coupled with a couple of fluke birth orgasms that got the rumor started.

        Spontaneous orgasms can be caused by seizures or drug side effects. Some people describe the rush of intravenous opiates as an orgasmic experience. Women give birth all the time, just on the basis of numbers, you’d expect an anomalous orgasm to coincide with labor once in a while.

        Then there’s the psychological angle. Researchers at Rutgers have shown that some women can think themselves to hands-free orgasm, complete with pelvic floor contractions and everything. So, the power of suggestion may play into this.

        Ina May’s writings show that there are some genuine birth fetishists out there, i.e., people who get intense sexual gratification from something most people don’t consider erotic. People with other fetishes have been known to get so excited by their objects of desire that they climax without genital touching.

        Of course, there are a million factors that mitigate against orgasms during birth–like excruciating pain and social awkwardness. And if birth orgasm is anything like regular orgasm the belief that you have to perform RIGHT NOW or you FAIL is likely to be self-defeating. Even for women who strongly believe in orgasmic birth, experiencing one is probably akin to winning the lottery. It’s unfair to women to set this up as an ideal, or even a plausible goal.

        We’ve finally evolved beyond the Freudian myth that women must consistently climax from penis-in-vagina sex without additional stimulation in order to be mature and well-adjusted. I can’t believe we’re dragging in another onerous orgasm stereotype that’s even more difficult to achieve, if not impossible.

        • Captain Obvious

          Nice comment. I agree, if any instances where someone has had an orgasm with birth exist, how does this translate into promoting other women to copy that phenomenon? It is hard enough to help some women achieve orgasm with sex alone without the help of oral sex, manual masterbation, or vibrators. Some women ask me how they can achieve female ejaculation because one of her friends can. And now women are made to think less of themselves when they don’t orgasm during birth? Come on now.

          • S

            In the comments i’ve read from women who describe orgasm during birth (or nurses who’ve attended them), they tend to describe it as shocking and embarrassing, not enjoyable. Now, i certainly don’t think any woman needs to feel ashamed for something her body does naturally, but that sounds like a reasonable response to me.

            It’s funny to me that a subset of NCB has decided to actively court something that is undesirable to the women who’ve experienced it.

  • Anonymous

    Any news on the dolphin birth nut?

  • theadequatemother

    I know this is a month old…but does anyone know what happened in the Venezualan legislature re: lactivism?

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/17/health/venezuela-baby-bottle-ban/index.html