Labor Orgasms Called 'Best-Kept Secret'

Painful. Excruciating. Unbearable. These are the words most often associated with childbirth.

But what about pleasurable? Blissful? Euphoric?

Some women even say that instead of agony, childbirth can be ecstasy.

Amber Hartnell of Hawaii said she experienced an orgasm during labor when she gave birth to her son in September 2005.

"All of a sudden the orgasm just started rolling through and rolling through, and it just kept coming, and my whole body was spiraling and rolling, and I was laughing and crying," she said.

Hard to imagine? Hartnell and her husband, Nassim Haramein, were shocked as well. Although they had spent many hours planning for their son's birth, in a tub under a tree outside their home, they say they never planned for an "orgasmic" birth.

Birth Orgasms

Haramein was amazed -- and also relieved -- to see his wife experience such pleasure.

"It made me feel like everything was gonna be all right," he said. "The experience didn't have to be a traumatic, painful experience. It could be an experience of ecstatic joy."

"It is, as we say, the best-kept secret," said Debra Pascali-Bonaro, a childbirth educator for 26 years. "I believe by women having such terrible fear. … Women aren't getting the choices they need, to make the experience as easy as possible."

Labor Orgasms Are 'Basic Science'

To prove that it is possible to have pleasure in childbirth, Pascali-Bonaro made a documentary called "Orgasmic Birth."

Tamra and Simon Larter of suburban New Jersey were one of the couples that allowed Pascali-Bonaro to film their most intimate moments of labor. For their second child, the Larters wanted a natural birth with midwives at their home. They spent part of Tamra Larter's labor kissing and caressing.

"The physical touch and the nurturing was just really comforting to me," Tamra Larter said, adding that she ultimately experienced an orgasmic birth. "It was happening, and I could hardly breathe, and it was like, 'oh, that feels good.' That's all I could say really."

Dr. Christiane Northrup, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" and "Mother-Daughter Wisdom," said orgasms during labor are caused by basic science.

"When the baby's coming down the birth canal, remember, it's going through the exact same positions as something going in, the penis going into the vagina, to cause an orgasm," Northrup said. "And labor itself is associated with a huge hormonal change in the body, way more prolactin, way more oxytocin, way more beta-endorphins -- these are the molecules of ecstasy."

Northrup says that women's expectations can have a large effect on how pain is perceived.

"Whenever you expect pain, you tense up your muscles, your stress hormone levels go up and that increases pain," she said.

Orgasmic Birth: Exploring the Options

Pascali-Bonaro said that one of the missions of her documentary is to show how the hospital experience should be improved to help decrease pain for laboring women.

"If we look at most other countries in the world, women have a lot of options. They're allowed to be upright, they can move in labor. They can use warm water. They can use balls. There's so much that they can do that makes the experience easier," she said. "In the U.S. today, you walk in a typical hospital, you're put in bed on your back. That in itself makes labor longer and harder and more painful."

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