The fantasy of orgasmic birth harms women


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.