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Is Labor Like Sex? Hormones Say Yes — What Say You?

Magic moment? Definitely. Orgasmic? Not always.

There is a trend with many scientists, studies and health care providers to compare labor to sex. The hormones and physiological processes are very similar, but I’m still not sure I would compare them in an apples to apples fashion myself.

I do understand and appreciate the parallels. One of my favorite books for understanding the “laboring mind” is an older text called Mind Over Labor by Carl Jones. In it he highlights more than ten similarities physically, emotionally and hormonally between a woman in labor and a woman during a sexual experience.

The Huge Benefits and Potential Drawbacks as I See Them

As a childbirth educator and a labor support doula I see some really positive things about these analogies and some potentially harmful things about these analogies. The biggest concern I have is the rise in talks about wanting to have “an orgasmic birth”.

While some women certainly do have orgasms during the birthing experience, that is far from the norm, even among natural birthing mothers. I’ve actually seen a birth plan where the mother included orgasm on her list of desired outcomes. That’s not something that can be forced or controlled under the best of circumstances and certainly not during something like childbirth, in my opinion.

Where I see a huge benefit in the sex/labor discussions is in helping women understand there IS a hugely similar process that occurs inside their body. Just as a sexual experience can be brought from near-peak to grinding halt by an unexpected knock at the door, so too can a steady and regular and progressive labor be slowed and interrupted by undesired noises, strangers in and out of the room, or even bright lights or pain from an IV.

Sex and Labor – My Conclusion

By understanding that the conditions that are best conducive to a positive sexual encounter are often the same conditions that are best conducive to a positive laboring experience, women make better informed decisions for themselves. This is HUGELY positive in my experience.

A woman embracing her body’s desires in the moment will be more free to move, more free to vocalize, and more free to follow her body’s instincts during birthing. All of which can only help the laboring process.

What are your thoughts about the sex is like labor discussion? Is it unrealistic for women to include orgasm as an expectation of their birthing experience or feel disappointment if they have a painful labor or a “non-orgasmic” birth?

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