Sex and Birth – Practicing Pleasure
When I was first asked to write a blog about birth and sex, it immediately resonated with me as I had just read an article in the New York Times discussing the growing field of sex therapists and the relatively radical inclusion of sex as an appropriate area to explore in the context of couples therapy. That the importance of two peoples sexual relationship could be a significant factor in their overall partnership seems common sense. However, as the article points out, the traditional training for clinical psychologists, psychotherapists and couples counselors simply does not include an in depth training in sex therapy. Clearly, that is now changing as more and more couples seek therapy and the more progressive therapists are addressing sex as a crucial aspect to the therapy. It makes sense to me that at the heart of any relationship is the ability and inclination to give and receive pleasure. It is this very notion of pleasure that I would like to focus on as it relates to birth.
Initially, it was assumed I would focus on sex after birth and the often complex road women travel to reconnect with themselves and their partners as sexual beings after the intense, life altering, often physically and emotionally cataclysmic experience of birth. A rich topic indeed and one worthy of its own blog post.
Instead, my thoughts have been entirely around sex before birth. And not sex as a tool to help stimulate labor given the prostaglandin boosting effects of semen. And not even as a way to stay and feel connected to your partner as your body changes beyond recognition – though I do think that is important and also worthy of its own blog topic….
What I am inclined to explore is the notion of sex as an experience of pleasure, one that women can create both with a partner as well as with themselves. The topic of sex and masturbation is rarely explored on neutral terms, given the plethora of social/religious even political taboos it triggers. However, I think it is very relevant to women in general and as a tool for birth preparation specifically.
One question that I often ask in my prenatal meetings with my clients is what they do in their day to day life that they find helps them achieve the deepest state of relaxation. I ask because the ability not only to relax but to find your way back to a relaxed state in the face of physical tension – this is the essence of any birth preparation tool, be it yoga, hypnobirthing, meditation etc. You’d be surprised at the number of blank stares I get in response. Naturally, there are those that already have regular practices of yoga or meditation, and many more that use regular vigorous exercise as their main tool for de-stressing. I certainly don’t expect people to immediately feel comfortable talking about their sex lives – but I do suggest that experiencing pleasure, and specifically physical pleasure, can be a very effective tool for connecting to your body that also happens to lower your heart rate, stimulate blood circulation, and reduce mental and emotional stress.
So often, women’s understandable anxiety and fear around the potential pain and discomfort of childbirth seems to preclude the notion that their relationship with pleasure might play a significant role in both their preparation for and experience of birth. I know much has been written on the phenomenon of orgasmic birth – but that is not what I am really focused on. Is it possible for women to orgasm as part of their birth experience? Yes. Have I witnessed a single women having an organism as they birth in a hospital setting? No. What I find more interesting is the notion of the experience of pleasure as a tool for preparing the body and mind for birth, however and wherever it may take place. And sex seems to me to be by far one of the more pleasurable experiences available to women, pregnant or not. And whether or not you find more pleasure from sex with your partner or sex with yourself – it is the experience of pleasure that I think is crucial.
Ultimately, I think birth is an experience that can be very reflective of a woman’s relationship with herself – physically, emotionally and mentally. Her confidence in allowing her body to surrender to an entirely new sensation as her uterus begins to contract, knowing that it will only increase and intensify for an entirely unknown period of time. Women who know how to make their body feel good, who know what positions might help her cope with physical discomfort and deepen her breath as her labor shifts and changes – all of these are skills that I believe are essential to optimizing the experience of birth and greatly enhanced by a familiarity with pleasure and the deep relaxation it offers.
So in addition to practicing yoga or practicing meditation -both of which require very regular practice to maximize the benefits – why not add practicing pleasure to the list?
Meghan Heather Ford: After my experience of birthing my babies at home in water with the continuous care of NHS midwives in Bristol, England, I knew I wanted to be in the room when babies entered the world. Less drawn to the medical expertise of a midwife, I knew my skills lay in connecting with the mother and her partner, providing educational, mental and emotional support that seeks above all to honor the mothers innate ability to give birth and own her journey as her own. When my family returned to the US from England in 2010, I transformed my training as an acupuncturist into the work of a birth doula. I attended my first birth in January 2011 and haven’t stopped 😉 I am a certified birth doula and member of the International Childbirth Education Association. I live in Seattle, WA with my husband and two young boys.