Dear Other Moms: Why I 'Touched Myself' During Labor

Angela Gallo by Lacey Barratt Photography

"Shut the front door -- she said WHAT?!" Yes, you heard me right. And don't be so shocked. Birth and sex operate in almost the exact same ways. The hormones, sensations, anatomy involved, brain activity, receptors ... they are all so heavily intertwined. Our vulvas swell; blood flow is increased; we moan, sway our hips, take deep breaths, sweat -- we drop into a seriously sacred intimate space. Heck, women around the world are experiencing orgasmic childbirth. I wanted to make sure I had a piece of that pie!


And yet it still boggles people's minds when I let them in on my (not-so-dirty) little secret. Birth brings out the animal in me, and it is a feeling I shamelessly indulge. It can only be described as a lioness coming out of her cave -- sexy, strong, capable, warm.

My second baby's birth was remarkably more empowering than my first. Firstly, I labored in the comfort of our home, with the people I love most. Secondly, because of the privacy, support, and love I felt wrapped in, my surges felt COMPLETELY different. They were intense, yes. But the wildness of them felt ... electric. Sensual. Powerful.

I remember one moment very vividly. As I neared transition (9-10 cm), I felt incredibly fragile, hopeless, and overwhelmed. (Transition can be such a fickle bitch!) Masturbation made the MOST sense to me as I labored through my surges.

I remember my husband saying, "Would you like to have sex?"

And although I couldn't commit to sex in the moment, he must have read my mind! Clitoral stimulation worked an absolute TREAT. It shifted my focus to my vagina, to the energy brewing within me. It made me feel connected, and made me feel like I had some control over what I was feeling. The surges were much more manageable, and the rest between them was so much more enjoyable.

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If I close my eyes now, I am taken back to that place. The hot water on my back, my husband's hands locked in mine, the safety of his presence, the happiness as I rode those wild waves. Orgasmic in a sexual way -- no. Pleasure -- YES.

It was my glorious instinctual pain-relief system coming to life! I am so proud of myself for exploring an avenue so typically shamed. For as far back as scientific, biblical, or medicine-based texts exist, birth has always been spoken about as something to "endure" -- pain as punishment for eating the apple off that damn tree. To boot, many people feel very uncomfortable with the idea of pleasure in childbirth.

And hey, I get it. For some, it's a pretty big idea that takes us way out of our comfort zones. Debra Pascali-Bonaro, pioneer and crusader for orgasmic birth, once said, "It's such a culture where some women actually feel shamed that they have pleasure, because the expectation is pain ... We have to change that."

The good news is if you've made it this far, you're at the very least intrigued. Here are a few enticing reasons to take the shame out of pleasure, and put the sex back into childbirth!

1. "What Gets the Baby in, Gets the Baby Out!"

Oxytocin, baby. With a side of endorphin and adrenaline. (In all the right amounts, too!) Ina May was not kidding when she coined the phrase above. Nipple, vaginal, clitoral stimulation; kissing; intimacy; affection: These all inspire the flow of our hormonal allies in birth. Experiencing a "stalled" or lengthy labor? Need a natural pick-me-up? Touch yourself, mama! It gets the good stuff flowing.

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2. Pain Relief

Ever had a headache, or been hungover, or couldn't sleep, and you instinctively decided on a mini-masturbation sesh? And then voilà -- headache magically gone? Well, many of us do it. And that's because it works. So why would it be any different to using clitoral stimulation during/between contractions?

In 1988, a man by the name of Barry Komisaruk published a study in the Journal of Sex Research that showed, as Live Science reports, when "women stimulated their vaginas or clitori, they became less sensitive to painful stimulation." Per Live Science:

Using rats, Komisaruk found that vaginal stimulation blocked the release of a pain transmitter called Substance P. In other words, the sensory neurons tasked with transmitting their message of 'ouch!' to the central nervous system are stymied from the get-go.

"It's an actual physiological, very primordial system of the genital system blocking pain input," Komisaruk wrote.

3. It Feels Good!

Mood boost, anyone? Want to feel more relaxed? You know that dopey, satisfied, tired feeling you can get after an orgasm ... that's it right there. You may feel tense, anxious, stressed, unable to rest, mind racing -- bring it back to basics with some deliciously luscious clitoral love.



Angela Gallo is a birth photographer and doula based in Melbourne, Australia. Read more about her at

Image via Lacey Barratt Photography

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