Connecting How We Have Sex with How We Give Birth
Since the release in 2008 of the documentary Orgasmic Birth, which promotes undisturbed birth as both safe and deeply pleasurable, western culture has shown an increasing interest in sex and birth. More and more women are waking up to their bodies, their sexuality and well-being, and exploring different traditions as well as journeying into the unknown areas of bodily experience. The potency of a film such as Orgasmic Birth is that it tears away a veil of assumption, in this case that birth is always a burden of pain, something to be feared and endured.
At the same time, I find the term ˜orgasmic birth\’ to be problematic in that orgasm is a loaded word that often triggers the idea that there is one more thing for women to achieve, in this case, pleasure. As a practitioner who works one on one and in groups with women, as well as being the mother of a homebirthed daughter, I\’d like to share some fundamental connections between sex and birth that are accessible to a wide range of individuals, regardless of whether you can conceptualize birth as pleasurable or not. Since sex is what starts the whole thing off, I will begin by describing how paying attention to our sex life can both increase our sexual pleasure and healing, as well as preparing our bodies for the journey of birth.
Both sex and birth are generally private events. Mammals are for the most part shy, and will seek privacy to begin labor, or even change locations if interrupted (think of a cat who stops labor when she is discovered, and gets up to find a new dark, quiet place to continue). Now think about the environment in which most people make love: the lighting is low, the space is private, no one is observing (yes, yes, I know some of you are exhibitionists, but go along for the ride please!). Now contrast this to the typical birthing environment found in a hospital: bright lights, no privacy, funny smells, strange sounds, not just one but often multiple rounds of strangers, people putting hands into your yoni to check your cervix. Does this sound like an environment conducive to a peaceful–let alone successful–mammalian birthing experience?
The thing is, we can\’t think our way into birth. We can\’t force ourselves to trust this sterile environment and these people we don\’t know. So is it any wonder that women don\’t labor well in hospitals? That their cervixes don\’t open, that they feel pain because they are adrenalized? The hormones and physiology of how we birth is factual evidence backed up by science, not just romantic bohemian ideals, yet all over the world hospitals are practicing non-evidence based medicine, and women, babies and families are paying the price.
The routine use of interventions on healthy women and infants causes physical, emotional and spiritual trauma, including horrific rates of maternal and neonatal mortality in the United States: despite our national wealth and technological advancements, we rank behind forty other nations in maternal mortality, and behind thirty others in neonatal. So I\’d like to emphasize that your pleasure is meaningful, that by maintaining connection to what feels good and safe in the body will bring greater health and positive outcomes. This may or may not culminate in an experience that you may define as orgasmic, but the empowerment of staying connected to your body and baby will have lasting, beneficial effects.
Birth is possibly the most intense sensation western women will experience in their bodies. How, as such a sedentary culture, do we prepare ourselves for this sensation? Sex is an excellent, and fun, option. However, we must shift our relationship to sex, to one of relaxing into sensation instead of driving ourselves towards orgasm.
I know that for many women even having an orgasm in the first place is not a given. What I am arguing for is not a turning away from the embrace of pleasure (which underlies this desire for orgasm), but a broader embrace of what pleasure means. This is a process of learning to relax into sensation which allows the energy, and pleasure, of sex to circulate beyond the pelvis throughout the whole body, which not only feels great but brings greater vitality, including a stronger immune system!
Eastern traditions such as Tantra and Taoism understand that the body is enlivened by life force (prana and chi, respectively), and that this life force moves through the body along specific channels. By opening up and maintaining the flow in our channels through such practices as breathwork, mindful attention, meditation, bodywork and sexual practice we can receive great benefit. How this translates in birth is that we have a much greater capacity to move the energy of birth in a way that is familiar, safe and possibly even pleasurable.
Furthermore, if we are holding past memories of sexual or bodily trauma in our yoni/womb/pelvis, doing the work to heal this up before birth is much more manageable and less scary. When we don\’t have the inner resources to move the energy, contractions can seem like a great wave about to drown us. Women often shut down/contract against this energy, which turns intense sensation into pain and a hormonal flood of adrenaline and fear.
When we take responsibility for our sexual pleasure and well-being, we learn to trust, or remember to trust, in the wisdom of the body and the knowing that only comes from our first-hand experience of living, loving, birthing. When we enter labor centered in ourselves this way, we remain the subject of our own birth, instead of becoming the object upon which interventions are done and decisions are made about. If you come out of reading this with nothing else, I hope it is this point that you take away.
For birth is, in the end, out of our control. We may have read all the right books, practiced our yoga and ate our kale and protein, even visualized ourselves into nirvana, and still birth may throw us for a loop. But if we are centered in ourselves, if we experience the wisdom of our bodies and are resourced in the relationships of love and intimacy in our lives, then we can find a way through that will leave us ultimately empowered instead of traumatized.
Some great resources that I recommend for continued exploration are Sarah Buckley\’s Gentle Birth, Gentle Mother; Ina May Gaskin\’s Guide to Childbirth; Diane Richardson\’s Tantric Orgasm for Women; and the various books by Mantak Chia on Taoist sexual practices, such as Healing Love through the Tao: Cultivating Female Sexual Energy and The Multi-Orgasmic Woman. Buckley is an Australian MD with four children born at home; her writing combines under a wholistic perspective both personal birth stories and current scientific information on undisturbed/ecstatic birth that is readable for the layperson. Gaskin, the famous face of the The Farm\’s intentional community in Tennessee and author of the seminal Spiritual Midwifery, talks about ˜sphincter law\’, as well as encouraging the intimacy and sexual/sensual energy between a woman and her partner. Richardson is a tantra teacher who teaches women and couples about how to relax into pleasure and advocates ˜valley\’ over ˜peak\’ orgasms; while this book is both hetero-normative and somewhat dismissive of sex outside of tantric intercourse, her information about the body and pleasure are invaluable. Chia\’s books are a great practical source of how to move the energy in your body. I will be writing about some simple and practical suggestions that you can do at home in a upcoming blog post–stay tuned!