Can Giving Birth Actually Be Pleasurable?

In both sexual arousal and pregnancy, breasts enlarge and nipples become sensitive. There's also extra blood flow and lubrication in the vagina, and hormone production soars. And, according to sex researchers Masters and Johnson, among others, masturbation is common during pregnancy, even if never experienced before. However, not all pregnant women are hovering in a permanent state of sexual arousal. Many other influences--such as fatigue, nausea, and worry--can affect a pregnant woman's sexual desires.

Your sexual interest during pregnancy probably fits one of the following four descriptions:
-- It doesn't change at all during pregnancy.
-- You feel tired and nauseated from day one. After the first few months, you don't feel as sick, but you're not much better. Though you need your partner to hold and comfort you, sexual intercourse is not a priority. In fact, you might prefer to do without it.
-- You may be sleepy and sometimes nauseated in the first trimester, but in the second trimester you marvel at your energy and you feel wonderful. Your desire to make love is greater than ever before.
-- You vibrate with good health throughout the pregnancy. Your senses are more acute than ever. Food is appetizing, and you've never had a moment's queasiness. Your desire to make love with your mate continues to increase right up to the time of birth.

Whichever description matches your experience, you're in good company--other women have felt the same. An unchanged sexual response is the least likely, while increased desire in the middle trimester is the most common. But whether you're turned on or turned off, want an orgasm or not, your feelings are normal, and may vary from pregnancy to pregnancy.

Researchers have found another parallel in sexual arousal during intercourse, birth and breastfeeding. A seldom-studied hormone, oxytocin--which we label the caregiving hormone--flows in a woman's body during all three stages. In intercourse, this hormone's release is triggered by orgasm; in labor, by the onset of contractions; and in breastfeeding, by each letdown of milk.

Unlike many other hormones, oxytocin is generated in sporadic bursts rather than in a steady stream. With orgasm or milk letdown, an oxytocin burst can produce a euphoric sensation. Its release, however, is easily inhibited. Just as orgasm in lovemaking can be stopped by sudden noises, many a labor's progress has been halted by an inhibiting hospital environment. Nursing mothers sometimes report their milk letdown slowing or stopping when they're criticized, fatigued, or unhappy.

During sex, women do not want their concentration disturbed, and in undrugged and uninhibited labor, their reaction is the same. Social inhibitions decrease as orgasm nears, and unmedicated labor progresses. The uterus rhythmically contracts, and a tense, almost tortured, look appears on the face. In both intercourse and labor, there's deep breathing, sensations of pressure and stretching, sighs, groans, and sometimes screams.

"I bellowed gloriously as I pushed her out. It felt great to yell, but it freaked out
the nurses and doctors. Lamaze teachers
aren't supposed to 'lose control.' I didn't. It just felt right to yell, sort of a war cry."
-- Mother from Colorado 

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