Before I had my first baby. I’d always been an orgasmic gal. My mom caught me humping my giant stuffed elephant before I was old enough to ride a bike, and in kindergarten, I learned that if I sat “criss-cross-applesauce,” I could rub my right heel against my pubic mound to stimulate my tiny self to orgasm, with hardly anyone the wiser. But if I'm being honest, it was having a baby that totally changed my relationship with my orgasm — and to get even more specific, childbirth changed my ability to orgasm.
I’ve always had a close relationship with my genitals, as well as a desire to touch them. That didn’t change when I was pregnant. A quick rubbing or vibrating to orgasm provided a reliable dose of self-made oxytocin and prolactin, the so-called “feel-good hormones,” which eased my pain. My masturbatory orgasms were always quick and reliable, and it didn’t bother me that I rarely experienced them during partnered sex. Like so many women, I was adept at faking orgasms when with another person. Like most American women, I had a lot of confusion around my own desires, a lot of inherited shame from our culture, and a lot of expectations I felt I needed to fulfill. I know now that I wasn’t having orgasms for much of my life because I was not honest with my desires or with my body. And despite being so out of touch with my body, I expected my labor to be easy.
And then, it was not. I puked, I sh*t the hospital bed, I was wondering why I wasn’t progressing at all. When I went into labor, my cervix dilated at a creeping 1 cm a day, for three days. That’s right: I was in active labor for nearly three days, and 68 hours is a long time to be in labor, unable to eat much or sleep for more than 15 minutes due to teeth-gritting contractions. Sixty-eight hours is a long time to have a 10-pound human slowly winding through your vaginal canal. I’ll never forget attempting to do the math: Did these fiery, torso-tearing contractions balance out the tens of thousands of orgasms I’d experienced over a lifetime? I’m still unsure.
At the end of the second day I relented, and science saved us both with a c-section. I did not have a vaginal birth, but I had a very vaginal labor. At one point, I asked the nurse for a bag of ice on my crotch, only to realize that there was already one there. I eventually healed well, but my body had been through the gauntlet. The surprise of a difficult and lengthy labor, coupled with my surgery, led me to question my relationship with my genitals for the first time in my life. I'd always valued my sexuality, and I didn’t want to become one of those women who pushes her sexuality to the wayside because of mom life. Instead, I wanted to nurture the parts of my body that are reserved for sex and birth, by growing a deeper knowledge of my body, as a mother.
Pain is the antithesis of pleasure, and now that I knew what depths of agony I could feel from my inner core, I felt that having unfulfilling partnered sex was simply a waste of my time.
I was a tough woman, or so I had thought, but I felt betrayed by my own body, like I was physiologically incapable of having an easier birth. I'd been having clitoral orgasms since I was a child, but now I was a mother, a grown woman. The level of pain that I lived though made me desire a deeper understanding of my inner parts. I am a strong Viking woman, or so I had thought. I'd sat through tattoos in my armpits and on my scalp with hardly a squirm. I'd been in knuckle-bloodying fistfights as a teenager. I'd climbed the trees and crashed the bicycles. But as a grown woman, I was shocked at how shook I felt by my own childbirth. After reaching the pit of agony stretched through my birth canal, I felt that I owed it to myself to discover the peak of its ecstasy.
Pain is the antithesis of pleasure, and now that I knew what depths of agony I could feel from my inner core, I felt that having unfulfilling partnered sex was simply a waste of my time. My pal Sabina was equally inspired. She told me:
I'd been having sex for 10 years before I birthed my baby, and I realized that much of it was unsatisfactory. I had always had the sneaking suspicion; none of the poetry, music, or porn that spoke of fireworks or seeing stars really resonated with me. And with a labor so painful and lengthy, I was pretty pissed about it. I decided to become honest with myself, and to learn more about the taboo parts integral to our existence. I got to know my vagina, and I started experimenting more with my masturbation and with my partnered sex.
I am, finally, after 15 years of having sex, honest with myself about the quality of sex that I want. I work too hard, on too many projects, with only 24 hours in a day. I simply don’t have time to spend on sex that is not connective or fulfilling. I know what I like. I know what I dislike. I tell my partner before we have sex, “Please don’t put anything in my butt unless I ask, pull my hair gently if at all, and I hate spitting.” And I ask if they have any deal-breakers or requests. We agree on a safe word, which is something that can never be confused in a sexual context, “skateboard” or “banana” seems to work pretty well. When I trust that I’m not going to be disgusted or annoyed by something, I relax. When you are relaxed, you’ll have better sex. Food tastes better. You sleep better.
When I have deep vaginal orgasms from sex, I feel otherworldly. I feel primitive. I feel animalistic. And typically I am in a missionary position, in the dark, in what is sometimes considered a very “boring” way to copulate. And I don’t care! I know how I prefer to come, and I know what to do to get there.
When I began my exploration into sexual enrichment, I shook loose the stigmas and biases that had been ingrained in me by inept “sex education." I know what kind of otherworldly orgasms I can have, because I've learned to toss aside my anxieties about sex, and learned how to manage my expectations. Sex is not always going to result in an orgasm, for men or women. The goal of sex should be shared pleasure and touch, not an ejaculation or orgasm. There is not a required time limit for sex, nor should there be. Sex is not a smooth, seamless travel from Point A to Point B.
I take joy in knowing that my inner lips are not “minora” at all, and if they have stretched and grown with labor, it just means there's more surface area waiting to be stimulated.
Before having a baby, I'd never been as deeply interested in my vaginal canal or my g-spot as I was postpartum. The quarter-sized portion of vagina wall, about two inches deep and anterior, pushes against something called a urethral bulb, and gosh darn is it fun to play with. I’ve had a fun time teaching my partners the two-step method to my vaginal ejaculation. Did you know that pee, sweat, tears, and squirt contain the same ingredients, but at different levels? There is no shame in my secretion game.
I also forgave my body for looking different than it had before pregnancy and after my baby was born. The heavy, sagging sack of skin that was my midsection felt less nagging and pendulous when I wore a compression tank, and I loved how porny I looked with my dark, and full breasts exploding out of the top. When I don’t love my midsection, I wear tights and cut a space in the crotch for my pubic mound, labia, clitoris, and anus to peek out. I ask my lover to kiss my c-section scar. I take joy in knowing that my inner lips are not “minora” at all, and if they have stretched and grown with labor, it just means there's more surface area waiting to be stimulated.
Childbirth changed my ability to orgasm because it motivated me to understand my body. I’ve been having partnered sex for 15 years, but the last four years have been my most orgasmic, creative, and soul-nurturing. Before I was a mother, sex was fun, but hardly as fulfilling as it is today. The difference is that I know what my body is capable of, and what it's not. I know when I’m too tired to give a good blowjob, and I give my partner a heads up when I want “lazy, calm” sex. I told my daughter’s father that I didn’t feel like my breasts belonged to me for sexual pleasure, and so we didn’t touch them until she weaned.
The day I finally spoke up and said, “You know, I actually don’t like it when you pull my butt cheeks apart during doggy," changed my life. And in the last four years, more people have thanked me for asking for what I like, and for asking them what they like, than all of those prior years combined.
I think of my sexuality as a historical timeline of events and memories. My body’s rhythms have changed, and I no longer pressure myself to perform. I'm also not always seeking orgasm, but when I do, it's better than ever. And I have motherhood to thank for that.