The grueling, intense pain that comes along with labor is something pregnant women are warned about and told to prepare for and fear. It’s how childbirth is almost always portrayed in movies and a part of most women’s birth stories.
Some women however, say labor and childbirth doesn’t have to be this way and the experience can be pleasurable— even orgasmic.
When Kenya Stevens, of Asheville, North Carolina, went into labor with her first child, she was prepared to use meditation— which she’d practiced for years— to help her through her planned home birth.
Something the now-42-year-old hadn’t prepared for however, was that when it came time to push, her contractions stimulated an orgasm.
“I was laughing and crawling around the room as if I was intoxicated,” Stevens recalled. “I am in bliss,” she recalled telling her mom during the birth.
With her second child, she labored quickly but the feeling was the same.
“I felt like a tiger in the forest, just pushing and enjoying the flow,” she said.
When she gave birth to her third child, Stevens labored in the shower and enjoyed the water running down her back and the pleasure that ensued.
“Because I had the breathing techniques and the understanding, I could easily shift into orgasm the third time,” she said.
Orgasmic birth and “birthgasms”
“Giving birth is a part of our sexuality as women,” said Debra Pascali-Bonaro, director of the film “Orgasmic Birth,” and co-author of “Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth Experience.”
“The term ‘orgasmic’ also includes all kinds of pleasure from experiencing birth with joy, ecstasy, intimacy, connection [and] bliss because so much of our language around birth is about pain and fear and we don’t give voice to the many other emotions that can be felt,” she said.
Not only are there women who say they have orgasmic births, but some report having an orgasm during birth or as Pascali-Bonaro calls it, a “birthgasm.”
According to a survey by the Positive Birth Movement and Channel Mum, 6 percent of women said they had an orgasm during birth.
Midwives say they’ve attended approximately .3 percent of births where the mother had an orgasm, according to a survey published in the journal Sexologies.
“There is no scientific, evidence-based medicine that supports it 100 percent, but on the other hand, it doesn’t mean that some women wouldn’t experience that feeling or something of that nature during childbirth,” said Dr. Fares Diarbakerli, a board-certified OB/GYN in Clifton, New Jersey.
Although it’s not entirely clear how an orgasm is possible during birth, experts say it makes perfect sense from a physiologic perspective.
“You have a baby that’s moving down, through our bodies, through our vagina and many times hitting the G-spot, which is certainly a place, as women, many of us know from bringing great pleasure that can also sometimes trigger orgasm,” Pascali-Bonaro said.
Although a “birthgasm” can be triggered by a kiss or the touch of a partner, most occur from G-spot stimulation while the baby descends or as the baby is delivered. Some women may even choose to masturbate and use a vibrator.
“Pain and pleasure really travel on the same pathway. Women are literally taking things into their own hands,” Pascali-Bonaro said.
Instead of reporting pain, these women describe labor as “intense” or “challenging.”
Hormones also play a significant role. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” is the same hormone responsible for both bringing on labor and having an orgasm.
To get labor moving, midwives will often give the couple privacy to kiss, and have the partner stimulate the woman’s nipples and sexually arouse her.
“Often that will initiate regular contractions,” said Dena Moes, a certified nurse-midwife and writer in Chico, California.
Experts agree that in order for women to experience an orgasmic birth or a “birthgasm,” they must feel safe, unobserved and given the same level of privacy they would have while being intimate with their partners, whether that’s at home, in a birthing center or at a hospital.
“We should be creating environments and giving women and their partners more intimacy and birth would be easier,” Pascali-Bonaro said.
In fact, when women feel afraid, they are more likely to feel tense and experience more pain, something that’s referred to as fear-tension-pain syndrome.
Likewise, when women surround themselves with other women who have positive birth stories and they can visualize a happy birth experience, they’ll be more likely to manifest the same experiences, Moes said.
Although orgasmic birth or a “birthgasm” is possible, experts agree it isn’t something women should try to achieve.
“Giving birth is an incredible day in our lives and every woman— however birth turns out for her— I hope feels pride in her achievement to bring life into the world,” Pascali-Bonaro said.