Orgasmic Birth.

By Samantha Thurlby-Brooks
Mar 2014

Released in 2008, Orgasmic Birth is a documentary that explores the ability for women to give birth using the innate power within. Joyous, sensuous and revolutionary, Orgasmic Birth brings the ultimate challenge to our cultural myths by inviting viewers to see the emotional, spiritual, and physical heights attainable through birth. By witnessing the intimate experiences of 11 women, birth is revealed as an integral part of women’s sexuality and a neglected human right. Director Debra Pascali-Bonaro shares what she calls “the best-kept secret” as we witness women in the ecstatic release of childbirth.

Orgasmic Birth… Yes Please!!

Reviewed by Samantha Thurlby-Brooks.

Birth is sexual. Birth is blissful. Birth is orgasmic. Really?! According to the professionals and women featured in the film Orgasmic Birth, that’s exactly what birth is. And it makes sense since it’s the same body parts and the same hormones for both childbirth and love-making.

The opening scene of Orgasmic Birth shows women in the throes of ecstatic orgasm. Feeling like you’ve just come across a classy porn film and blushing a little at seeing women experiencing such intimate pleasure, you quickly realise how similar birth is to sex. The noises, the look on their faces, their movements, and the intimacy of the situation – these women are not caught up in the suffering and ordeal of what society leads us to believe birth is about.

The general medical profession, religion and women themselves have all spread the idea that birth is something to endure in order to have a baby. And if you can avoid the pain or the effort, then why not opt out of the experience with epidurals and caesareans? Because of their widespread use, the public have come to think of these interventions as safe.

“What if you numbed your feet and tried walking down a highway. They wouldn’t work the same. This is true for the pelvis and birth; numb it and it won’t work the same.” Dr Christiane Northrup

Orgasmic Birth is one of those notable films: once you’ve seen it, you’ll never look at birth in the same way again. It’s a realistic documentary about the pleasure, the ecstasy, the pain, the fear, the power, the bliss and the empowerment of birth. Pain isn’t something to run away from, it’s something to embrace and to celebrate coming through the other side feeling proud of yourself. Birth is meant to be a rite of passage, and this film explains it in such a wonderful, positive and inspiring way that I believe every woman would sign up for it.

“Childbirth is a cross road- she can transform herself into a totally different woman.” Dr Ricardo Jones

“Screaming wasn’t about pain. The experience was overwhelming and screaming felt really satisfying.”

Listening to obstetricians, midwives, and childbirth educators talking about the pleasure of birth and how to achieve it is incredibly helpful to prepare for your own orgasmic/blissful birth experience. The stories of each woman,talk about their own births show how normal women are able to achieve such a fabulous experience.

“This [birth] could be overwhelming if I let it. Then I thought about this little soul not knowing what he’s getting into, and I thought if he’s prepared to do this, then I am too.”

Unfortunately, some of the footage of the birth videos doesn’t go in line with the message. The message is that an undisturbed birth where the woman is left to do her own thing, listen to herself, feel safe, warm, and unobserved, will produce a wonderful, maybe even orgasmic experience. At least half of the births shown have far too many people around, too many hands in the way, the lights up bright, an epidural and a Ventouse, women lying on their backs and general distractions. This isn’t promoting the message the professionals are putting across. Only one birth showed a woman having orgasms during her birth (not just the one orgasm… I’m definitely signing up for one of these!!!) and understandably this was the most undisturbed situation of them all.

I do wish that the film showed the primal behaviour of women handling their babies straight after birth. It’s so common in western society for the birth team to hand women their baby straight away. In America, it’s even normal to rub off the baby’s vernix as soon as they’re born and wrap them up. Fortunately, in New Zealand, mother and baby are given skin-to-skin time without rubbing the important vernix off. However, the birth team still takes on the role of handing the baby to the mother. For a woman to demonstrate her primal behaviour, it requires the birth team to stand back and just allow the woman to stroke, look at and explore her baby before picking the baby up. Everything needs to stay quiet and peaceful as it was during the birth, as this is a time for the hormones to peak. It’s a beautiful thing to watch mother and baby interacting in this way for the first time.

This is a wonderful film to watch if you’re planning a homebirth. They say the rates of intervention in home birth are below 10%, which is really awesome considering hospital birth statistics (30-80% epidural rates and 20-35% caesarean rates, let alone inductions and other procedures performed in New Zealand hospitals). They also explain how homebirth midwives carry the same medical gear as an independent birthing centre will have.

“Interventions make it [birth] less pleasurable, less ecstatic and more unsafe for mum and baby.” Dr S.J. Buckley

As well as talking about pain being a positive experience during birth, there’s a section about how sexual, physical and emotional trauma can have an effect on a woman’s birth experience. Routine procedures can become traumatic for a sexual abuse survivor. This subject is rarely spoken about and so I’m thrilled they dedicated time to it in this film since so many women have suffered either in silence or openly. If birth is sexual then obviously any past trauma can affect the progress. We need to treat all women with respect, dignity and kindness to help them feel safe so that we don’t create obstacles and flashbacks during this sensitive period. The woman who spoke so honestly about her experience was very inspiring. Having suffered most of her life she said “Being told to let go and surrender was terrifying. But birth was the most powerful thing that has happened to me. I felt transformed.”

There’s so much fantastic information in this film that I’m really not surprised it’s been so popular. It’s not just about how to have an orgasm during birth, but how to create a positive, empowering experience to leave you feeling proud of your achievements. Birth is sensual, passionate and blissful. All you need to do is prepare for it, relax into it, and allow it.

“To be realistic is to expect your birth to be wonderful.” Naoli Vinaver

Samantha Thurlby-Brooks is a specialist in pregnancy massage and a BirthWorks childbirth educator. Having trained as a doula with world-renowned obstetrician, Michel Odent, and setting up Doula NZ early in 2012, her passion for the rights of women during pregnancy, birth and new motherhood is obvious. Working from her clinic in Auckland, Samantha splits her time between her massaging and teaching and promoting her own invention, the Mumanu Pillow.

How to have an Orgasmic Birth.

by Sian Hannagan

There is no guaranteed way to have an orgasmic birth, but by setting the stage and allowing yourself to be open to the possibility you increase your chances significantly!

    1. Be relaxed, the brain waves of a labouring woman are at theta frequency. This is the deepest level of relaxation we can experience while awake(sleep is delta). Allowing this level of relaxation to occur enables you to go into a deeper more physiological world where orgasm is far more likely.
    2. Surrender to birth. This can sound a little out there for women used to thinking of birth quite scientifically. However, embracing birth and letting go of inhibitions, facilitates the natural processes of labour and will allow your body to be in the moment – which much like sex – is perfect to achieve orgasm.
    3. Promote oxytocin release. This can be done as simply as positive thoughts and visualisation, but more physical actions such as cuddling, kisses, light touch massage and clitoral stimulation all aid the release of oxytocin and endorphins that facilitate orgasm.
    4. Labour in a dark and private space. Darkness gives a feeling of privacy and safety, it also promotes melatonin which in turn promotes oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for orgasm.
    5. Connect to your baby. Actively bond with your baby while they are in the womb. Promote love and engage in loving thoughts towards your baby. Think of birth as a partnership.
    6. Avoid fear or stress triggers. Don’t listen to scare stories, don’t allow negative or fear-based language into your lexicon. Reframe negative things as positive things
    7. Look forwards to birth. This sounds simple but many women are nervous about birth. Having regular positive thoughts about your birth, planning for a positive birth and allowing yourself to get excited about your birth are all tools you can use to reframe your birth expectations.
    8. Birth actively. Moving the body can help with the process of surrender as it can intensify labour and engage the oxytocin response via the ferguson reflex. Some women find that positional labour such as squatting, or hands and knees can help engage the clitoral region more
    9. Surround yourself with positivity, have only people you are comfortable with present and make sure your space is conducive to love.
    10. Get to know your body, be comfortable with your body. Accept the messages your body tells you, trust your body!

“It is possible to have an ecstatic birth – in fact, that is the best natural high that I know of. And these states of consciousness are best reached when a woman is fully aware and fully awake. Women don’t have away to knowhow their bodyworks until they really try it out in birth. I think that women can be just completely surprised by the change in them from giving birth – you have something powerful in you – that fierce thing comes up – and I think babies need moms to have that fierceness – you feel like you can do anything.” Ina May Gaskin – Midwife

The Clitoris

When there is fear… the doors to ecstasy close” Debra Pascali Bonaro

Clitoris is said to be derived from the Greek ‘kleitoris’ or ‘Little Hill’ the root of which relates to climax. However, it is also said to spring from the Greek ‘to rub.’ Other accounts say that the word derives from ‘Kleis’ which literally means key. Whichever way you look at it, the word clitoris is loaded.

Historically the clitoris has often been misunderstood and even described as superficial or vestigial, the implication being that it is an unnecessary organ that performs no useful function. For large parts of our history anatomists largely ignored the clitoris. Even modern medical perspectives promote the idea that the clitoris is purely for sexual pleasure and performs no ‘useful’ function whatsoever. (The purpose or ‘usefulness’ of female sexual pleasure is of course hotly debated!) Any woman who has had an orgasmic birth knows this to be totally untrue.

The clitoris is not the small, isolated bundle of nerves sitting at the top of a vulva that it is often presumed to be. It is actually a complex structure that sits within the body and is attached to both the pubis and labia and centrally connected to the urethra and vagina. The glans (external clitoris) is a densely neural, nonerectile structure that is the only external manifestation of the clitoris. Like an iceberg the major portion of the clitoris sits below the surface and is in fact a multifaceted structure that is composed of erectile tissue forming two bulbs that surround the vaginal opening and the longer corpora that sit further back. These structures are closely connected to both the urethra and vagina and form a tissue cluster which is the locus of female sexual function and orgasm.

Diagram of the internal and external clitoral anatomy. Image published under creative commons.

So why is the clitoris important in birth?

“Oxytocin is the missing link between sex and birth” ` Elizabeth Davis.

The function of the clitoris as pain relief is understood but not well documented, the pain pathway concept is much more clearly understood. This is the principle, where a pleasurable sensation more quickly dominates the neural pathways and blocks feelings of pain. Our body discerns pain or pleasure by a process of ‘subjective utility,’ meaning the experience of pain is relative. A woman’s experience may differ according to her perceptions. A woman expecting and embracing pleasure, is more likely to feel it. The clitoris is an enhanced organ for sending pleasurable messages to the brain and releasing oxytocin into the body. It is stimulated naturally as part of the birth process, especially when positional birth techniques are used. Oxytocin is an essential hormone in the labour process as it facilitates contractions and dilation. It is also an essential part of bonding and breastfeeding. Some people may consider the goal of an orgasmic birth as a selfish or deviant act, where in fact it is a physiologically normal part of birth that promotes a healthy mother and baby.

“Synthetic oxytocin, or pitocin, does not engender this love, ecstasy and bonding response, because it affects the uterus only” Elizabeth Davis

Lisa Ross mother of two had an orgasmic birth with her second child, though at the time she didn’t know that is what it was called. “Yes, I had no idea there was such a thing. It was later that I said to Sean you know that actually felt fantastic, like an orgasm. Then probably years later I read about orgasmic birth and thought ‘that’s what I had. Lucky me’.” In terms of preparation, she didn’t strive for an orgasmic birth, but she also states that it wasn’t lucky chance. She prepared well for her births, mentally and emotionally and was clear they were to be drug free births. Lisa felt her position was important as well as she was squatting for her first child but on her hands and knees for her second child “It felt great. The contractions leading up to it did not at all. It was just as she came through. It felt like a release I guess but not in a relief sort of way but a climax”

Internal anatomy of a clitoris

“Various terms have been used historically to refer to the clitoris and the word was not used in the English literature until the 17th century. Hippocrates used the term columella or little pillar. Avicenna named the clitoris the albatra or virga (rod). Albucasim, another Arabic medical authority, named it tentigo (tension). Amoris dulcedo (sweetness of love), sedes libidinis (seat of lust) and gadfly of Venus were terms used by Colombo. It would appear that in each instance the structures included were the body and glans of the clitoris. Magnus was one of the most prolific writers of the Middle Ages, famous for his objective observations. He stressed “homologies between male and female structures and function” by adding “a psychology of sexual arousal” not found in Aristotle. Magnus devoted “equal space to his description of the male and female— whereas in Constantine’s treatise, references to the female are quite incidental.” Magnus used the word virga as the term for the male and female genitals.”

O’Connell et al, The Anatomy of the Clitoris. The Journal of Urology 2005 Vol 174