This article was medically fact-checked by Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Shree Datta.
There’s no question that childbirth can be a beautiful and magical experience, but when most people think about giving birth, pleasure is typically not the first word that comes to mind. Or even the second or third word. For the majority of birthing people in our culture, childbirth is associated with fear and unbearable pain, or at the very least – extreme intensity. But, that’s not completely our fault.
If you’re like me, you weren’t raised being exposed to the natural birthing process and got most of your “birth experience” from television and movies.
Let’s be honest, the media makes giving birth seem totally terrifying. It’s always scenes of women screaming their heads off and being rushed to the E.R like birth is a medical emergency 100% of the time. It’s enough to make any rational person think “Yeah, no thanks, I’ll have an epidural ASAP. Better yet, can you just knock me out?!”
While orgasmic birth is a familiar topic in the world of non-pharmaceutical and “natural” birth, it’s not exactly mainstream. It wasn’t until 2009 when Debra Pascali-Bonaro, a childbirth educator, directed a documentary called “Orgasmic Birth: the Best Kept Secret,” that the phenomenon became widely publicized.
One of the narrators, Elizabeth Davis, CPM and co-director of the National Midwifery Institute, defines childbearing as a sexual experience, explaining that “All we have to do is look at the hormones at play in the process. Not only do we have endorphins, but we have oxytocin, which we otherwise know as the love hormone.”
I’d like to continue to expand the conversation surrounding childbirth by exploring the sensation of orgasmic birth. At this point you might be a bit weirded out by childbirth and orgasm being in the same sentence, but bear with me!
What Is Orgasmic Birth?
Orgasmic birth also referred to as ecstatic birth, is when pleasurable sensations are felt during childbirth. It doesn’t always have to mean orgasm in a sexual way. There are tons of variations in the world of pleasurable birth- as every woman’s body and experience is completely different.
Orgasms can happen spontaneously or with the help of stimulation/masturbation from yourself or your partner. Women can experience multiple orgasms, full-body orgasms, or more “traditional” orgasms as the baby slides further down the birth canal and begins to crown.
How Often Does Orgasmic Birth Occur?
What limited research there is on orgasmic birth is based on self-reported information from birthing people and their medical providers. While this doesn’t give qualitative evidence, it’s important to trust peoples’ lived experiences.
A 2013 study in the journal Sexologies found that midwives reported seeing 0.3% of women experience orgasms during birth. In the United States, however, the majority of women – roughly 98%, give birth in a hospital setting. You may know from personal experience, or from the experience of a friend, that hospital settings aren’t always conducive to having a pleasurable experience.
Pair this with the fact that we’ve been conditioned to think of childbirth as an excruciating and inconvenient part of womanhood, it’s not a complete shock that women feel afraid to give birth. Adrenaline, which is produced when we feel fear or anxiety blocks the release of oxytocin and can slow the progression of labor.
When our fear blocks the natural cocktail of love hormones produced to counter the intensity of labor, the feelings of pain can become overwhelming.
How To Experience Orgasmic Birth?
Unless the orgasm is a spontaneous byproduct of a woman’s anatomy, the feeling of ecstasy is only possible when a woman is permitted to be fully comfortable and relaxed. Unfortunately, this level of looseness can be difficult to achieve when giving birth at a hospital, because of policies and restrictions, bright lights, and beeping monitors.
Depending on hospital policies, some birthing people have restrictions on eating and drinking, and their ability to move around freely. They may require constant fetal monitoring and IV fluids, have doctors and nurses coming in and out, a rushing of their experience, a push for Pitocin to speed labor along, and the general medicalization of the process – which can all be super overwhelming, to say the least.
Consequently, the sensation of ecstatic birth is not all that common. Here’s the good news: we as women have the power to change the narrative and create the birth experience we want.
This doesn’t mean everything will go according to plan, because we all know that isn’t realistic; but, just having knowledge about the birth process and our options can feel empowering. We all possess the ability to become informed advocates for ourselves.
If you’re pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or aren’t satisfied with your previous childbirth experiences, you might be frantically googling this question at all hours of the night. To put it simply, the answer is to fully give in and trust your body.
When I told people I was planning on delivering at a birth center without pain medication, their general reactions were bewilderment and shock. Responses ranged from “I could never,” to “We’ll see, good luck with that!”. Most of us do not believe in our natural, instinctual capability to give birth, because it’s generally thought of as a medical ordeal rather than a natural one. But, the truth is, humans are designed to give birth, and we all deserve to have an ecstatic birth experience!
Education can significantly boost our confidence and is readily available in the form of books, documentaries like “Orgasmic Birth: the Best Kept Secret,” and birth classes like Hypno-birthing or Bradley.
What’s It Really Like To Have An Orgasmic Birth, And Is It Possible In A Hospital Setting?
If giving birth out of hospital just isn’t an option for you financially or otherwise, don’t panic, you are not doomed! A pleasurable birth experience is still achievable. I chatted with two experienced birth workers to gain a little more insight.
The first was Lia Berquist – an Evidence-based Birth Instructor, Certified Doula, Women’s Birth Advocate, and my Bradley Method Instructor. She herself experienced an orgasmic birth and has been to many others, both in-home and in-hospital settings.
Second, I spoke with Whitney Lowe, a Hypnobabies Childbirth Hypnosis Doula, Evidence-Based Birth Instructor, Certified Level 2 Reiki Healer, and Midwife Assistant at Beach Cities Midwifery in Long Beach, CA. She was present at my own childbirth and has the most incredible intuitive energy.
These Are The Questions I Asked Lia:
Question: I know you experienced an orgasmic birth, but was it still painful?
Answer: Orgasmic birth is one that requires much work and ends in euphoria. That’s definitely my labor and birth. Orgasmic doesn’t mean no pain. I felt pain, but it was pain with a purpose.
Question: Did your birthgasm feel the same as a sexual orgasm, or was it a completely different experience?
Answer: It was not sexual at all, but what gets the baby in gets the baby out. It’s the same work, mentally.
Question: Have you ever witnessed orgasmic birth in a hospital setting?
Answer: Absolutely, mine and several others. But it takes A LOT of education, advocacy, support, and determination.
Question: Is it still possible to have an orgasmic birth with pitocin and epidural?
Answer: It can’t happen with an epidural. When you have an epidural, your brain doesn’t know it’s supposed to release the HUGE surge of oxytocin at birth. It is chemically impossible. It doesn’t happen with the use of pitocin either, because pitocin is synthetic oxytocin, so the body won’t release large amounts of its own.*
***There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Birthing people still release oxytocin with an epidural. Their body is still contracting on its own as a result of oxytocin release.
Here’s What Whitney Had To Say:
Question: Have you ever witnessed an orgasmic birth, and what was it like?
Answer: I’ve seen many variations of it. There’s so much to it. Just even having sex or masturbating can get your labor started. You may or may not “orgasm” in the technical sense, but it’s all the same sensations- it CAN be pleasurable.
Okay, so we’ve established that orgasmic birth is definitely possible in a hospital setting, but I wanted to hear a first hand account. So, I reached out on social media and heard back from a friend who described having an orgasmic birth at Kaiser. She agreed to answer a few questions, but chose to remain anonymous.
This Is Our Conversation:
Question: Did you find labor to be painful?
Answer: There was definitely pain, but it was bearable and came in waves.
Question: What do you think the biggest factor was in your pleasurable birth experience?
Answer: I felt very supported by my nurses and my doctor didn’t pressure me to have pitocin or an epidural. She respected my wish to go natural, and I didn’t feel rushed. One of the nurses was a midwife, and I really connected with her. They allowed me to do intermittent monitoring, rather than constant, so I was able to labor some on the toilet, move around freely, and get in the shower, which really helped me to relax. The shower felt amazing!
Question: How did you prepare yourself for birth?
Answer: I read the book Orgasmic Birth, and watched tons of videos on hypno-birthing techniques, which teach you how to combat fear and anxiety. I also practiced my breathing and meditated daily. I created a birth plan, and felt very knowledgeable. I didn’t want to be in a situation where my Doctor suggested something, and I just went along with it because I didn’t understand. I felt in control, and listened to my hypno-birthing tracks during labor.
Question: Did you masturbate during your labor?
Answer: Yes! The masturbation really helped with the contractions. I did this in the shower and right before delivery when the surges were really powerful.
Question: When did you experience orgasm?
Answer: I experienced euphoria as the baby crowned, but felt orgasmic sensations throughout my entire labor. It sounds weird, but some of the contractions felt good- especially when I really surrendered. It was a very spiritual experience.
Finally, I’d Like To Share My Own Natural Childbirth Story:
I chose to give birth unmedicated at a birth center with the intention of avoiding unnecessary intervention and the desire to be 100% present for the entire experience, both physically and mentally. To be honest, I wouldn’t consider my birth to be orgasmic, although I did use clitoral stimulation to counter the intensity of some of my contractions.
I was so confident in my body just being able to do its thing that I underestimated the actual intensity I would encounter. I trusted myself and my baby, but during the transition stage (the last stage of active labor), my positive outlook admittedly began to waiver. Fear crept in.
During crowning, some women experience orgasm, while others feel a sensation known as “the ring of fire,” which feels exactly like it sounds. Full transparency, I had the displeasure of experiencing the latter, so I can tell you with complete certainty, IT BURNS. Even so, it only lasted a few seconds and I would do it all again in a heartbeat for the pure satisfaction and the oxytocin high I felt afterward.
I don’t consider myself to be particularly brave, or to have extremely high pain tolerance, and I didn’t experience full-body orgasms (unfortunately). Still, it WAS a pleasurable experience. I felt respected, supported, comfortable, focused, empowered and in tune with my body.
Conclusively, the feeling of support, privacy, and relaxation are the major factors in having an orgasmic birth. For an ecstatic birth to occur, we must open ourselves to the possibility that birth can be both satisfying and pleasurable, and work to stay connected to our divine feminine energy.
Whether you choose to forgo medication or opt for an epidural, pregnancy and childbirth are no easy feat, and you are a powerful warrior!
If you ask me, holding your new bundle of joy for the first time after nine long months of anticipation is pretty damn satisfying, even if you didn’t get “satisfied” during delivery.
Facts checked by:
Dr. Shree Datta
Dr. Shree Datta is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in London, specialising in women’s health including all menstrual problems such as fibroids and endometriosis. Dr. Shree is a keen advocate for patient choice, having written numerous articles and books to promote patient and clinician information. Her vision resonates with INTIMINA, with the common goals of demystifying periods and delivering the best possible care to her patients
Kristen is a California native, entrepreneur, and mother of one dedicated to an environmental, and health conscious lifestyle. She is the co-owner of The Minimal Dose Skincare, and a blogger of all things holistic health, mindfulness, and non-toxic living. Other than navigating life as a new Mama, she enjoys plant-based cooking, nature, reading, and connecting with good friends.