Our Western cultural story about birth is usually one of fear, disconnection and need for rescue through medical technology. The events of labor and birth impact people’s sexual lives and their perceptions of themselves and their partners. However we have this collective blind spot about the effects of childbirth. We blame the arrival of the child on a deteriorating sexual relationship but never examine how the birth experience affects the bodies and psyches of both men and women.
Hospital practices that deny sensuality in labor have skyrocketing rates of pain medication use, artificial hormones to augment the labor process, and a rising rate of major abdominal surgery. At 32%, the American cesarean section rates are twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organization. Obstetric care transmits powerful implicit messages about women’s bodies, their abilities, and the cultural roles that women and men are supposed to play. Because of the hormonal and psychological vulnerability of labor, women tend to absorb these messages deeply. These experiences can have a profound effect on the way women and their partners relate to themselves as sexual beings.
We’ll examine the hormonal systems involved, typical birth interventions, long term impacts, and possible sexual side effects. Next, we’ll explore fear of childbirth and fear of pain, care providers’ discomfort with labor’s sexual aspects, and how denying the sexuality and sensuality of birth plays out in the labor room. We’ll look at research on men’s feelings about childbirth – and how this may affect the later relationship.