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“In ancient times, when no one knew where babies came from, Women did not associate pain with childbirth as they gently undulated to hypnotic rhythms…”Leilah Ali

The following article is reprinted from The Compleat Mother Magazine.

Like An Orgasm

by Michel Odent, MD

While the BBC was visiting our maternity unit in Pithiviers (near Paris), a baby was born feet first. Half-an-hour after the birth the TV reporter asked the young mother, who had no previous experience of giving birth:  “How did you feel during the last contraction?”   The unhesitating response was, “It was like an orgasm.”

I was supposed to lecture to health professionals about the physiology of the birth process, but I found myself constantly deviating and comparing giving birth with breastfeeding and intercourse.  These events are not separate topics; sexual life is a whole.  There is a hormone of love, on the one hand, and also a reward system each time we, the sexualized animals, do something which is necessary for the survival of the species.

In any aspect of love, oxytocin is involved.  Oxytocin is secreted by a primitive structure of the brain called the hypothalmus.  Then it is sequestered in the posterior pituitary gland and, in precise circumstances, is suddenly released in the blood stream.  Until recently oxytocin was only considered a female hormone whose role was to stimulate contractions of the uterus during labour and delivery and contractions of the breast during lactation. Now it is seen as a male and female hormone involved in all the different aspects of sexual life.

It is in particular its role during sexual arousal and orgasm which has recently been brought to light. When domestic fowl and pigeons are injected with oxytocin, the majority of them start waltzing, grabbing combs, mounting and mating within a minute of the injection.

The level of oxytocin among women and men during masturbation and orgasm were measured thanks to blood samples collected continuously through indwelling venous catheters.  The level of oxytocin during self-stimulation before orgasm is higher among women than men.  Indeed it is higher during the second phase of the menstrual cycle than during the first phase.  During orgasm, women reach higher levels of oxytocin than men and multiorgasmic women reach a higher peak during the second orgasm. During male orgasm the release of oxytocin contributes to induce contractions of the prostate and the seminal vesicle.

The immediate effect of the release of oxytocin during female orgasm is to induce uterine contractions which can facilitate the transportation of the sperm towards the egg.

Of course, a release of oxytocin is necessary during the birth process.  The peak of oxytocin released just after the delivery of the baby is also the hormone which can induce maternal behaviour.  When oxytocin is injected in the brain of virgin or male rats, they need to take care of pups and behave like mothers.  On the other hand, if antagonists of oxytocin are injected just after delivery these mother rats to not take care of their babies.

One of the greatest peaks of love hormone a woman can have in her life is just after the birth of her baby when she gives birth with her own hormones and not with substitutes. The fetus releases oxytocin which could contribute to the onset of labour; in turn this may shape the baby’s own ability to release the love hormone.

Certain aspects of the release of oxytocin during lactation have been recently clarified.  As soon as the mother can perceive the signal give by her hungry baby, her level of oxytocin increases.  A parallel can be made with sexual arousal which frequently starts before there is any skin stimulation.  When the baby is sucking, the level of oxytocin released by the mother is about the same as during orgasm.  Furthermore, there is oxytocin in mother’s milk.  The breastfed baby is absorbing a quantity of love hormone via the digestive tract. When we share a meal with companions, increase our level of oxytocin; the conclusion is undoubtedly that there is an altruistic hormone, a love hormone.

Not only is any episode of sexual life characterized by the release of an altruistic hormone, but it is also rewarded by a release of morphine-like substances.  These “endorphins” are at the same time hormones of pleasure and pain-killers.  During intercourse, both partners release high levels of endorphins.

Now the concept of physiological pain is accepted:  a pain compensated by a system of protection, which is the release of opiates. This is the beginning of a long chain of reactions; for example beta endorphin is a releaser of prolactin, a hormone which adds the final touch to the maturation of the baby’s lungs and also the hormone which is necessary for the secretion of milk by the breast (while oxytocin is the hormone of milk ejection.)

The release of endorphins during the birth process gives the opportunity to emphasize the study of pain and the study of pleasure cannot be separated.  The system of protection against pain is one and the same as that which gives us pleasure.

During different episodes of sexual life, the main gland at work is the human brain, which is first a gland releasing hormone.  But only the primitive brain structures around the hypothalamus are active.  What is particular to human beings is that these brain structures are covered by a highly developed new brain, the neocortex, which is the support of the intellect.  When this rational brain is overactive, it tends to inhibit the primitive brain.  During the birth process, there is a time when the mother behaves as if she is on another planet.  She has to change her conscious levels, she has to reduce the activity of the neocortex. Inversely, during the birth process, and during any kind of sexual experience, any stimulation of the neocortex  tends to have an inhibitory effect.  Logical words, feeling observed, bright lights, filling in forms, tend to “shut down” birth.  Few couples can make love if they feel observed, or if asked about income tax, for example.

During the birth process, the baby itself is releasing its own endorphins so that during the hour following birth both mother and baby are impregnated with opiates.  The common property shared by all opiates is to create a state of dependance.  Now we understand that when mother and baby are close to each other , and have not yet eliminated their opiates, the beginning of an attachment is created.  When sexual partners are close to each other, and impregnated with opiates, it is also the beginning of an attachment which follows the same model as the attachment between mother and baby.

Lactation is also necessary for the survival of animals.  It is not surprising the reward system is involved. When a woman is giving the breast, her level of beta endorphins peaks at 20 minutes.  The baby is also rewarded; that is why after nursing babies often act as if they are on a high.

To look at sexuality as a whole has man implications.  It helps to understand that in societies where genital sexuality is repressed, women are less likely to have easy births. Conversely, to overcontrol as a routine, the birth process, as is done in most cultures, probably influences other aspects of sexual life. Quite a revolution will occur when health professionals consider the birth process as an episode of sexual life.

Michel Odent, The Primal Health Centre

59 Roderick Rd., London, United Kingdom, NW3 2NP


Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 8:57 am.

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