Giving birth is, quite literally, a pain in the ass – and the vagina and the abdomen and the back and the… well, you get the point. One of the great truisms of labor and delivery is that they’re both excruciatingly painful. In fact, they’ve run some tests on dudes to see how long they could handle just some of the birth-giving pain that women have to. The results are hilarious, and they definitively prove that the fairer sex is a fair bit stronger than their male counterparts. But what if childbirth could be more than a terrifying and painful experience?
Believe it or not, but some women—in addition to feeling pain while giving birth—can and have had orgasms. The experience isn’t simply a sexual one, but something empowering and transformative, and apparently it helps to temper the pain.
According to a survey in the journal of Sexologies, about 0.3 percent of women experience these so-called birthgasms, a physiological response to the very intense stimulation that is experienced in the vaginal canal during labor and delivery. Some speculate that this pleasurable response, also known as ecstatic or orgasmic births, might serve a very practical function—making the whole process much easier to bear.
In another study carried out by Thierry Postel, a French psychologist, 956 midwives were contacted with a birthgasm questionnaire. 109 respondents completed the entire survey, accounting for 206,000 births over the course of their careers. According to these midwives, 1545 women whom they’d helped through childbirth had either reported or showed signs of ecstatic birth.
Unlike the Sexologies survey, this particular questionnaire relies on midwives’ observations or their patients emphatically stating that they’d received a birthgasm or birthgasm-like features. Obviously, there were likely to have been plenty of women who experienced an ecstatic birth or at least some of the features of one, but who didn’t feel comfortable mentioning it to their midwife, which is why a study like this is likely to have underreported the prevalence of the phenomenon.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that ecstatic birth is not just possible but entirely natural, if remarkably uncommon. Why? Well, for one, it’s something of a taboo, something our culture doesn’t seem to understand, and that we might not feel totally comfortable understanding. Because of that, some women might begin to feel pleasurable experiences during childbirth and think of them as inappropriate or unnatural. The other issue is the way in which our impersonal, clinical, even antiseptic society approaches childbirth in the stressful environment of a hospital surrounded by strange people and a litany of beeping machines. Not the kind of place you’re likely to have a transcendental birth giving experience, is it?
The 2008 documentary, “Orgasmic Birth: The Best-Kept Secret”, directed by birth expert and doula trainer Debra Pascali-Bonaro, explores the ecstatic birth phenomenon in 11 women and their partners, demonstrating not only that ecstatic birth is possible but that women can give birth without a huge amount of medical intervention from the comfort of their own homes, which ultimately highlights Debra’s project: that childbirth can be reframed as something much more profound than a traumatic experience. One shouldn’t simply expect pain and suffer through the experience, but explore it openly.