Childbirth and sex are a lot alike. From the hormones that are involved in both processes to the mental aspects of each one, the similarities are quite astounding once you take the time to really think about them. Besides the obvious fact that one act often leads to the other, most people do not think about the fact that childbirth and sex are both reproductive functions. Somehow in our society, birth, babies, and breastfeeding are about as far away from sex as one can get, even though biologically they are much the same. Here are a few ways that having a baby is like having sex.
Hormones & Chemicals
One of the biggest hormones at play during both of these acts is oxytocin. Doulas love oxytocin! Oxytocin is the love hormone and is present anytime a person is in a bonding situation. For example, oxytocin is present when you are falling in love, sharing a meal, having a pleasant conversation, hugging, kissing, snuggling your baby, having sex, having a baby, and experiencing an orgasm. Oxytocin is the hormone that causes uterine contractions as well as the hormone that makes you feel bonded with your loved ones. The more oxytocin that is flowing in labor, the better your contractions.
Melatonin is another hormone that can be present during both childbirth and sex. While this is not always the case, many people like to have sex at night. Many babies like to be born at night. Melatonin increases at night and is responsible for helping people feel ready for sleep. It encourages people to want to head to bed, and perhaps certain other activities that often happen in bed. Melatonin helps oxytocin work better during labor. In order to encourage melatonin to show up to help its friend, oxytocin, turn the lights low. Melatonin works better in dim lighting.
Our bodies produce endorphins during orgasm, exercise, and childbirth. This is our body’s own natural pain-relieving chemical. Isn’t that amazing? If you’ve heard of the Runner’s High, what you have heard about are those amazing endorphins that make runners feel AWESOME after what would have been a long, extremely painful run without endorphins. Give that runner time for those endorphins to wear off, and that pain will come a’runnin. See what I did there?
During childbirth, oxytocin tells the brain that contractions are happening, and the brain goes, “Whoa. Contractions? Let me help you out with those. Here are some endorphins to make those a bit easier for you.” Endorphins are also released during sex and orgasm. That is why people can tolerate more pain during sex when ordinarily, doing those same things outside of the sex act would be extremely painful. It stands to reason that incorporating pleasure and sex during labor could help lessen the pain of labor.
One of the hormones that you want to AVOID during both acts is adrenaline. Adrenaline scares contractions and orgasms away. This is the hormone that helps you get ready to run from a tiger or prepare to kick that tiger’s butt. The last thing that someone would want to do when a tiger is licking its lips and getting ready to eat you is to stop to have sex or have a baby. Thankfully, Mother Nature has given us adrenaline, which pretty much does not allow labor or sex to work properly when adrenaline is present. Our modern brains and bodies often don’t know the difference between a tiger getting ready to pounce, scary white coats, or bright lights in a clinical birthing setting. If you feel nervous or scared, or your body is flooded with adrenaline, your oxytocin can’t do its job.
People give birth the best where they feel the safest and with people that help them feel safe. People have the best sex of their lives when they feel safe. No one has great sex when they are being faced with being eaten by a tiger. I think maybe most people aren’t even thinking about sex when they are being faced with being eaten by a tiger.
Both sex and birth tend to work better when those involved feel unobserved. While it is possible to do both while being watched, it often takes longer. It has been said that for every extra person who is at your birth who does not have a specific job, it adds an hour to your labor. While that could just be an old wives’ tale, I have observed this concept in action at many births. Support is lovely, but if that support is only observing and not helping, they may be doing more harm than good. I have also read many stories of people who can orgasm quickly on their own, but once they are with a partner, it takes much longer or sometimes doesn’t happen at all. Both birth and sex require a sense of privacy.
Both sex and birth need people to be able to “let go” in order to fully enjoy the process. Both of these acts are extremely vulnerable, and you are showing your most vulnerable self to other people. Both acts can be very emotional. You might cry. You might feel fear, anger, joy, and many other emotions. You might get naked. People see your most intimate parts during both acts. You might behave in ways that you wouldn’t during any other time. You need to feel “okay” with whatever happens, being whoever you are, moving, sounding, looking, smelling, saying, thinking whatever you are thinking. It is important to surround yourself with people that you can be vulnerable with during both acts. You need to be surrounded by people that you can trust won’t take advantage of your vulnerability.
The best sex and childbirth experiences both have trust present. When you trust your partner, doula, care provider, and other support people to keep you safe- both emotionally and physically- during labor, it goes so much better than when you don’t. I believe that sex is better when you can trust your partner completely. The more trust you have with that person, the better the sex. This is not to say that you can’t have great sex with someone you don’t trust, but I believe that trust makes sex better. Do you trust your care provider to advise you properly and be truthful about your health so that you can make the best decisions for your birth? Will you second-guess them later?
Funny story. One beautiful spring afternoon, I was watching the Orgasmic Birth documentary with my windows open. I lived in a second story apartment, and the neighborhood kids would get dropped off at the bus stop at 3pm each day. At 3:01pm that day, I heard a large group of kids approaching my window at about the same time a woman was pushing her baby out of her body on my TV screen. I came to my senses quickly! I ran to shut the windows because to an unsuspecting outsider, someone having a baby sounds very similar to someone having sex. To paraphrase the great Ina May Gaskin, someone who is giving birth well sounds like someone who is having great sex.
Getting into the right positions and moving around to find the best positions is important for both sex and childbirth. The exact movements needed can vary between people, but it is a pretty common theme that movement helps during both acts. It has been said by many doulas and midwives, “What gets the baby in, gets the baby out.” This is especially true with moving around during labor. It is really helpful to exaggerate those hip movements and to dance that baby out like you are trying to seduce a birth ball. It really helps!
If given the opportunity, both having a baby and having sex can be some of the most pleasurable experiences of one’s life. Although giving birth does not have the reputation of being pleasurable, why not? Why can’t people enjoy their births? What is stopping people from experiencing pleasure during childbirth? Pleasure does not necessarily mean pain-free. Many wonderful experiences in life involve pain. It is extremely pleasurable to finally hold a long-awaited college degree in one’s hand, but it often takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get to that point. Even so, there can be pleasurable moments along the way. Finally holding one’s baby is often one of the most pleasurable things we will ever experience, but that does not happen without some pain along the way. We still consider meeting our babies as pleasurable even though pain was involved. Is it possible to consider childbirth a pleasurable experience even though pain is often involved? What can we do to invite pleasure into our birthing experiences? I am on a quest to figure this out. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Orgasmic Birth book & DVD documentary
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.
Ecstatic Birth– I have not taken the birth practitioner training yet, but I want to some day. It seems amazing! I will, however, take a webinar tomorrow that I am super excited about. Hopefully I will be able to share more later.