Debra Pascali-Bonaro is the director of the film Orgasmic Birth and a birth doula trainer with DONA International, the largest doula training organization in the United States. She teaches people how to emotionally and physically assist mothers in the birth process in addition to equipping women and their partners to bring sexuality back to birth.
Reorienting women with the sexual aspect of labor comes partly in response to the increasing number of moms reporting traumatic birth experiences. While childbirth-induced PTSD can affect women’s ability to bond with their babies, a growing body of research shows feeling empowered during birth leads to less trauma. For Pascali-Bonaro, this means encouraging women to embrace the inherent sexuality of the birthing process. “Women who prepare for their birth in wholeness, body, mind, spirit, sexuality, can really take back their power.”
While some women, equipped with a conducive environment and mindset, experience the orgasmic birth sensation spontaneously, others intentionally take a sexual approach into the birth room. Pascali-Bonaro says her clients have used kissing, nipple stimulation, masturbation, and vibrators to reduce their pain and experience pleasure, since these things bring more oxytocin into the birthing process and, as a result, distract women from the pain. “Pleasure can be an incredible tool. If we can experience moments of pleasure between contractions, we’re going to relax more, so that next surge of contractions is not as painful.”
But there are barriers to reintegrating pleasure with birth, Pascali-Bonaro believes. In her experience, an empowered, pleasurable birth is contingent on a few ingredients: feeling safe, private, and unobserved, all of which are unlikely to happen in the typical hospital environment.
The general lack of ambiance in the hospital setting may affect a woman’s mindset. Pascali-Bonaro says that with its scratchy gowns, limp pillows, and clinical lighting, the United States ranks last of all the industrialized nations in opportunities for comfort and pleasure in childbirth. “It’s not that hospitals are bad places, and when needed, they offer great, life-saving tools, like epidurals and cesarean sections. But we’re overusing these tools and underusing so many other ways we could make birth easier.”