Childbirth isn’t typically associated with pleasurable physical sensations – quite the opposite, in fact. While childbirth is most commonly spoken of in terms of extreme pain and physical and emotional terror, some women do experience something known as ‘orgasmic’ or ‘ecstatic’ births. So how in the epidural-heck does that happen?
“Orgasmic childbirth happens due to pelvic muscle and nerve stimulation, which can lead to orgasm in some women,” says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic. “Besides, intense stimulation of [the] vaginal canal during labour can block pain and this might be the real reason behind orgasmic childbirth: nature’s way to deal with pain.”
Many experts would agree, and new studies surrounding the role of pelvic stimulation in reducing pain are gaining ground. Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University who studies orgasm, told Live Science that the intense stimulation of the vaginal canal in childbirth may work to block pain – whether that stimulation is felt as sexual or not.
Clitoral stimulation may also be a contributing factor to mitigating the pain felt during childbirth. Nicola Relph, owner of Adult Toy Mega Store, has customers who chose to preemptively use external toys during labor. “We have heard some women have been buying our clitoral stimulation toys to aid in early labour,” she says. “So many toys now are not for internal use – they focus on providing suction or stimulation of the clitoris. They’re completely safe and they have the ability to relax a birthing woman in between contractions.”
Although that intentional external simulation isn’t linked to what is commonly regarded as an orgasmic birth, it adds credence to the idea of using female pleasure to lessen the effects of even the most intense physical pain.
Orgasmic birth is more commonly reported in women who opt for a natural birth, and stories of these positive birth experiences have circulated within the natural birth community for a long time. Those who study natural birth claim that the over-machinated settings of modern western hospitals prevent women from having a more enjoyable birth experience. Women are often partially immobilized by fetal monitoring devices and epidurals, making the muscle contraction and pelvic stimulation required by orgasmic births less likely to occur.
Women who have experienced orgasmic birth tend to describe the experience as similar to, but not exactly the same as, a sexually-induced orgasm. They often describe ‘waves of pleasure’ or pleasurable feelings that do not equate completely with their experience of orgasm. However, many women (and people generally) feel that the idea of an orgasmic birth is inappropriate or taboo, and so the numbers of orgasmic births are likely underreported.
New studies involving rats have shown potential for certain hormones and pain receptors involved in sexual stimulation to be used as an analgesic. Who knows what the pain management of the future hold? It might be a pretty far cry from the Advil bottle in your dresser.