Giving Birth: The Pleasure Principle

Masters and Johnson data demonstrate that the uterine contractions in orgasm have the same recorded pattern as those of the first stage of labor--differing only in intensity. Caressing the breasts, in fact, can get a slowed labor going again by stimulating uterine contractions.

When women are not fearful or anxious and have a supportive environment, passionate emotions are released and sensory perceptions are heightened -- just as they are during intercourse. Regardless of how much pain is endured, once into the second stage of labor -- the pushing stage -- many women report pleasure. In the early 1980s, British researchers confirmed that women who give birth without anesthesia suffer more pain than anesthetized women do, but they also experience greater pleasure.

As Northwestern University's Niles Newton, Ph.D. points out, pain and pleasure are not opposites. It's quite possible to experience intense pain and pleasure at the same time. Clearly, reactions to labor vary from woman to woman, pregnancy to pregnancy, and one woman's pleasure will be another's unrelenting pain.

"In my first birth I was literally screaming for something, but my doctor told me it was too late -- the baby would be born in 5 to 15 minutes. Bless his heart! The euphoria and high after that was something else. Better than after the best sex!"
-- Mother in Washington

"I think you have too much emphasis on how pleasurable childbirth is without a proper balance of the reality of pain. I didn't find it so wonderful physically. Emotionally, yes, but physically sometimes it can be really hard and hurt."
--Mother in Texas

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