Recently, one of my students asked me how she could make childbirth pleasurable. My eyes dilated and I was beaming from the thought answering of her query. I wanted to scream, “Yes, yes, yes! Birth can be pleasurable!” However, I restrained myself, as I was in front of a classroom full of students.
The rest of the class looked mildly aghast at this mother’s inquiry. So, I began to ruminate as to why they reacted in such a manner.
As a society, we have a reluctance to talk about sex, or even allude to it. We don’t even call our genitals by their proper names, for goodness sake!
We want to believe in virgin births and not to think that babies emerge from vaginas. We are loathe to imagine that not only do our cervixes stretch open to 10 cm, but so do our vaginal walls and our pelvic floors; that our bodies accommodate both things which go in as well as things which come out.
We tend to believe that the vagina, and breasts for that matter, serve one purpose – sex and pleasure. We forget that biology dictates that babies are born through the vagina and that breasts feed babies. This duality of purpose confounds our sensibilities. It creates an uncomfortable and conflicting state of mind.
We don’t like to sit with our discomfort. Rather, we do our best to avoid discomfort in the first place. It makes it that much more difficult to cope with discomfort when we are in the habit of avoiding it all together. This is one reason why some women preemptively seek pain medication for labor. It’s why women are told to “just get the epidural” by their friends and family.
We need to sit with our pain and experience it. Without the experience of pain, there is no pleasure to be appreciated. I ask you now, Dear Reader, to sit with your discomfort as you continue reading.
The stigma surrounding sex and pleasure runs deep in our culture.
It’s not polite.
Someone may think badly of us for speaking of such things.
Sex is private.
I’m a good girl.
Sex is shameful. Except that it isn’t.
So what does all this have to do with birth?
Childbirth is sexual.
Hang on, what?
Yes, childbirth is sexual.
No, it can’t be! Sex is what I do with my husband. Birth is, it’s, um, a thing that happens. A bodily function…
It all seems to have a bit of a squick factor for many people; except, you can’t take sexuality out of birth. Birth is sexual. Birth is the direct result of sexual intercourse. They don’t call it “sexual reproduction” for nothing!
The merest suggestion that birth might not hurt; might be pleasurable; might even be orgasmic is bizarre to most, offensive to some.
With birth there is the biomechanical or physiologic process, but there is also a major social emotional component. To bring pleasure into childbirth, mothers must feel safe enough to surrender to their bodies and to the process.
To have an orgasm, one must surrender completely to the process. An uncomfortable body or, more precisely, a distracted mind will prevent us from not just experiencing orgasm but being able to fully enjoy the sensation. It’s the difference between the biomechanical process and a mind-blowing, eye brightening orgasm which leaves us in a state of euphoria for ages afterwards.
Both orgasm and childbirth need safe, private spaces so that the individual can give up control to their bodies. Giving up control, surrender, is fundamental to the experience of pleasure.
Think about it. If you have a luscious piece of chocolate cake and intend to eat the cake, but you are being observed by friends you are less likely to eat all of it. You’ll take a bite or two, but feel guilty. It’s not healthy, you tell yourself. I’ll gain weight. My friend who is on a diet will feel bad if I eat the cake in front of her, and so on.
Now, imagine you are at home, alone on the couch. You will eat that cake in its entirety and savor each bite. There is pleasure in the act of consuming your piece of chocolate cake. That pleasure wasn’t present in the previous scenario.
The setting, the people who surround you and your feeling of safety all converge to either aid or inhibit pleasure. The pleasure is in the surrender. Pleasure arises from a willingness to release control.
Mothers, give yourself permission to release the control you desire to have over the birthing process. Attempting to control the process creates tension. Tension creates fear and pain. Fear, tension and pain all feel the same in the body. They are different expressions of the same sensation. When you give yourself permission to surrender and the birthing space is quiet, dark and private, pleasure in the process can be had.
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