Lisa Weinstein has experienced three childbirths, two of which she describes as orgasmic.
“It was a very sensual, sexual experience for me,” said Lisa about the birth of her second child.
“I just felt deeply connected to the baby and a deep connection with myself. I had no fear. I had no shame. I had no guilt.”
Lisa had multiple orgasms throughout the birth, which she said were “much deeper” than clitoral orgasms.
“I could feel the baby coming down through the cervix, through the pelvis, through the canal and there was so much pleasure there,” said the 50-year-old, who later became an ecstatic birth practitioner to help other women achieve the same pleasure.
“I felt them in my body for years afterwards. I would be – even seven years after my third birth – washing dishes and I would have an orgasm because I’d feel as if the baby went down through my opening and it would shoot up through my whole body.”
Lisa is not the only one. Three out of 10 vaginal births have the potential to be orgasmic, according to one study. And some have even likened childbirth to a psychedelic experience.
O’Nell Starkey is one of these women. The fertility awareness educator from Sebastopol, California believes it was her prior experience with psychedelics that best prepared her for labour.
“When you’re coming on to the feeling of the drug there are moments of resistance,” said the 40-year-old mother of one. “If you resist it, you can go down the ‘bad trip’ route. If there’s a way to let it happen and ride the waves, it can be so expansive.
“I feel like psychedelics and birth magnified how clear it was: when you’re in fear, it’s tight and hard. And when you’re not, it’s so beautiful.”
The parallels drawn between childbirth and a psychedelic experience aren’t a novel suggestion. Both have long been known to be profound – often spiritual – experiences met with feelings of deep connectedness.
But what’s the link? If we delve into the science of consciousness, sex and childbirth, an intriguing overlap emerges. In these two different experiences of pleasure during childbirth – one orgasmic and one psychedelic – some experts believe there’s one common thread.
The psychedelic cervix
Psychologist and sexuality educator, Dr Jenny Martin, is pioneering research into the so-called psychedelic cervix.
Dr Martin helps women tap into their sexuality. “The most profoundly mind-altering sexual experience for women is possible through stimulation of the cervix, which can happen during childbirth or sex,” she said.
Cervical stimulation can surrender a person to a deep and prolonged surge of pleasure that spans the whole body. The experience is said to be life-changing.
Hearing accounts from her own students who accessed this pleasure during labour, Dr Martin noted undeniable parallels between childbirth and DMT, specifically 5-MeO-DMT, trip reports.
Found in a number of plants in the Amazonian rainforest and the toxin of a Bufo alvarius toad, 5-MeO-DMT is said to induce meaningful and transformative experiences. A DMT trip is characterised by out-of-body sensations, hallucinations, and a sense of inner peace – and is often likened to a near-death experience.
This has led some researchers to speculate that natural mystical experiences, such as coming face-to-face with death or having an orgasmic birth, could be due to a release of endogenous DMT in the brain.
It’s a heavily contested theory in the scientific community, but if humans could produce our own, natural DMT, it could explain why orgasmic births resemble the effects of this drug.
O’Nell said childbirth paralleled what happens in her consciousness during orgasm.
When I’m in a state of deep sexual arousal, I find that my visions are similar to the cosmic, fractal imagery and sensation of the place I felt I was while in labour
“When I’m in a state of deep sexual arousal, I find that my visions are similar to the cosmic, fractal imagery and sensation of the place I felt I was while in labour: between worlds and vibrationally Divine, light-filled, safe and connected,” she said.
“I have not done DMT but other psychedelic experiences I had definitely parallel the place that I went. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was partially triggered by what was happening in my cervix.”
Lisa also believes endogenous DMT played a role in her ecstatic births. “I’m sure that’s what I experienced,” she said. “I felt so connected to the Divine and to my Divinity.”
But some scientific experts are sceptical. Dr Ferdinand Obi, resident obstetrician-gynaecologist at sexual wellness magazine BedBible, said: “There has been popular interest and debate about the endogenous role of DMT, however, current research has not shown that DMT plays a role in orgasms at childbirth.”
He does, however, note that orgasmic births – popularised by Debra Pascali-Bonaro’s 2008 documentary Orgasmic Birth: The Best-Kept Secret – are “widely overlooked and grossly understated within the Obstetric community,” which could suggest why the jury’s still out on the DMT theory.
Whether the drug is involved or not, it’s clear that orgasm during childbirth is possible. But in a society that conditions women to fear childbirth, how can expectant mothers choose pleasure over pain?
Dr Jenny Martin suggests the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen, is the key player in accessing this natural state of ecstasy. It links the mind and body and, more specifically, links the brain and cervix. This connection plays an important role in sexual pleasure and orgasm.
The set and setting of childbirth
The outcome of a psychedelic experience is almost entirely dependent on who you are as you enter the trip and how you spend the experience – better known as the “set and setting”. Dr Martin argues the same applies to childbirth.
“Mindset plays a crucial role in female sexual response,” she said. “Childbirth research shows that fearing birth creates a more painful childbirth experience for women.
“A private, intimate setting is also essential so a woman can feel safe to receive sexual pleasure. Low lighting, relaxing scents, comfy linens, and a soft touch can help you relax more and counteract fears and anxiety about the pain to come.”
Studies have shown physiological and psychological stress can interfere with the release of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which helps promote contractions and maternal instincts during childbirth. It is also involved sexual arousal and orgasm.
This could suggest why a private, safe and trustworthy environment can facilitate a pleasurable birth experience.
Lisa prioritised cultivating the ideal set and setting for her ecstatic births, and a big part of that for her was not letting anybody into the mental space that she created.
“I didn’t talk to friends or family, or listen to anyone who mentioned they were scared. I was rewiring my brain with this vision and changing my perspective,” she said.
During her first orgasmic birth, Lisa was accompanied by her midwife, her husband and her daughter born four years earlier. Lisa recalls not feeling safe during her first labour, which began in a birthing centre and later moved to a hospital. This meant she was unable to experience pleasure in the way she did in her second and third.
O’Nell also aimed to create a “safety bubble” during her birth, which facilitated the ecstatic experience.
“I felt so safe. I was with my husband and my midwife who I adore. I was with myself who I trust and my baby – I already knew her on a deep level.
“For me, it would have broken my trance to get in the car, go to the hospital and have people I didn’t know talk to me. It would have ripped me out of the zone,” she added. “But I know not everybody’s home feels safe for them.”
A private and intimate birth isn’t accessible to everyone. Those with high-risk pregnancies or health conditions, for instance, may not be able to have a vaginal birth, let alone a relaxed and sensual home birth.
Dr Martin said: “Don’t consider having an orgasm during labour a goal, try to simply be open to what happens. If you do experience feelings of orgasm, consider that this, too, is just another part of the natural experience of having a child.”
Dr Jenny Martin, O’Nell and Lisa all share one common aim: to help women enjoy childbirth and experience it how they want to, feeling safe and comfortable – echoing the sentiment of trailblazer Debra Pascali-Bonaro, who said a pleasurable birth is “every woman’s human right”.
Lisa agrees. “We were never taught this; we were taught the opposite. It takes awareness and possibly training to know our power.
“I would say it’s possible to elevate birth so you can experience less pain and more appreciation, more beauty. You can be empowered and choose to do it in the way you truly want.”