Pain and pleasure in the birthing room: understanding the phenomenon of orgasmic birth
The significance of the physiological connection between sexuality and birth is widely overlooked and understated within maternity care. Despite some researchers acknowledging the possibility of orgasmic birth, most literature on the topic is anecdotal. Qualitative research surrounding women who report having ecstatic and orgasmic births demonstrates the positive effect engaging with the psychosexual elements of birth has on the maternal birthing experience. A private environment, careful choice of analgesia, sex-positive birth attendants and effective antenatal education are all suggested as key contributing factors towards its possibility. By recognising the sexual dimensions of birth, midwives are able to facilitate sensitive, empowering environments, encourage healthy sexual relationships and break down cultural stigma to increase the likelihood of pleasurable birth. The evidence highlights a need for the incorporation of the relationship between sexuality and birth into midwifery education, as well as within antenatal education for prospective parents.
Orgasmic birth, alternatively referred to as ‘ecstatic’ birth, and the idea of sexual pleasure in childbirth are notions that have circulated in anecdotal literature for decades, and yet these perspectives have not translated into midwifery or anthropological spheres of research (Buckley, 2010; Caffrey, 2014). The terms encompass the range of sensation and emotional release within the birthing process when experienced as pleasurable by women (Davis and Pascali-Bonaro, 2010). The likely first modern scientific exploration of this concept within medical literature was by Niles Newton (1955), who discussed similarities between sexual and birthing behaviours. Pioneers of research on the human sexual response, Masters and Johnson (1966) also alluded to ‘orgasmic birth’ over 50 years ago, recalling 12 women who reported intense orgasmic sensation during the second stage of their labours.
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