We all had a good laugh when American birth ‘guru’ Latham Thomas – dubbed the ‘Mummy Messiah’ by her fans – claimed that labour and childbirth can be a truly ‘ecstatic’ experience, with foreplay in the birthing suite, sex toys for pain relief and a 'huge orgasm' as the baby arrives. Mothers everywhere clutched their sides as they laughed, “Orgasmic birth? Yeah, right!”
But then 71-year-old British midwife and author Caroline Flint said the same thing, telling The Guardian that “natural birth can turn a traumatic experience into something mind blowing ... even orgasmic”. So could it be true that ‘orgasmic birth’ really is a thing?
Unlike Latham Thomas, Caroline Flint is a qualified midwife. She has 35 years experience, including five years as the president of the Royal College of Midwives. She speaks with authority when she says that orgasmic birth should be more frequent than it actually is.
“We’re producing gallons of oxytocin (the same hormone we produce when we’re having an orgasm),” she says. “If birth was allowed to be more sexy, women would be having orgasms, childbirth would not feel so painful, and the entire process would be more pleasant.”
‘Pleasant’, ‘sexy’ and ‘orgasmic’ aren’t usually words associated with labour and childbirth, but Flint thinks this is because we are approaching birth in the wrong way. “A birth teaches a woman how powerful and amazing she is. So why are we treating births like a production line and not as the most natural thing in the world?” she asks.
She explains that in order to have a positive birth experience, a woman needs to be totally relaxed, something hard to achieve in a “sterile hospital atmosphere surrounded by strangers”.
Flint explores these ideas in her latest book, Do Birth, which she hopes will enable women to have enjoyable and empowering births. She covers everything from preparing for labour to practical advice on making a hospital delivery suite feel more homely. For Flint, the key ingredient to a positive birth experience is to create an environment in which the labouring woman feels safe. “Humans are no different from other mammals – when mammals in the wild give birth they find somewhere very safe, private and dark,” she says.
Catherine Price, midwifery consultant and author of the book Birth, agrees that women need to feel safe and relaxed during birth, adding that “no one can have an orgasm in a crowded room under pressure”. However, she says she doesn’t know many women who would describe their births as ‘orgasmic’, and warns that while it may be desirable to have an empowering birth experience, actually achieving an orgasm is quite “unlikely”.
“I can’t say it’s a norm for a lot of women, and I wouldn’t want to set up a woman to feel disappointed or a failure if she doesn’t have an orgasmic birth,” Price says.
Pria Holmes, a 27-year-old public servant, believes that being at home allowed her to relax enough to experience an “orgasmic” birth, and that she would have had quite a different experience if she’d had her baby in hospital.
“I get quite anxious in hospitals,” she says. “It would have been an unfamiliar environment and I wouldn’t have been able to relax.”
Remarkably, Holmes describes her 48-hour labour as “painless”, and says it was the pushing and subsequent arrival of her baby that triggered her orgasmic experience.
“I felt my baby descending, my body was doing everything it needed to do – I experienced a force and intensity that was very pleasurable. I felt really good,” she says.
“As soon as he was born I said ‘let’s do that again!’”