A Victorian Story of Sex, a modern story of childbirth.

Let me tell you a story. Over one hundred and fifty years ago, in Victorian Britain, women were marching the streets of London with banners proclaiming their rights for emancipation, or freedom from the drudges of womanhood. In their eyes, the drudges of womanhood included the duty to perform sexual intercourse at the husband’s request. Sexual intercourse, according to Victorian culture, was at best boring, and at worst, unpleasant and painful. It was regarded as “undignified” and “unladylike”. Imagine for a moment, how a young Victorian woman might have felt on her wedding night. She knows that something rather odd is expected of her tonight – but she doesn’t really know what it will be, or what it will be like. Her mother is evidently happy for her, but also rather anxious on her behalf. Her mother has given her some advice, along the lines of “as long as your husband is gentle, you will be all right”. Goodness – what if he isn’t? Mother also says that there may well be blood on the sheets, and it will hurt. That really is rather worrying, but you are reassured that it is always worse the first time, and after that things start to get easier. The best piece of advice that people seem to be able to give is to “lie back and think of England, and it will be okay”. It would seem that a Victorian lady should endure it, and wait for it to be over. Now, we know that in Victorian Britain, scientists had not really grasped that ladies have a sexual response cycle, or that they could become aroused, or that they could orgasm (of course, some women and some men had grasped this – but on a cultural level, it wasn’t understood). The hormones responsible for elevation of sexual excitement and thus physical preparation for sexual intercourse (in the form of lubrication and widening of the vagina) were not understood. Orgasms were a male domain, and the clitoris was frankly, non-existent. So, let us go back to her first night, and the advice of her mother. This young lady will go to her wedding bed feeling anxious, worried, and unsure. You do not need science or psychology to tell you that this will affect her ability to relax and enjoy the occasion. She will lie there, worrying, tensing up, flinching when he touches her, waiting for it to be over, and as a result, will not release the right hormones for sexual arousal. Sexual arousal is inhibited by anxiety and fear. If sexual arousal does not happen, then the vagina will not lubricate or open up, and intercourse will be painful or impossible. A great many marriages of the time were annulled because they were never consummated. And they weren’t consummated because the act of sexual intercourse was apparently impossible! The woman’s body just refused to work, and penetration was impossible. These physical problems with penetration didn’t exist because there was anything wrong with women’s bodies – they existed because of the psychology of the woman – they fear surrounding the whole process of sexual intercourse. It’s the same nowadays with birthing. Let’s go back to our Victorian bride. Let’s imagine for a moment, that her body did respond in the way nature intended, and she got aroused and enjoyed the whole thing. This is quite likely, as, after all, it is what her body is designed to do. In fact, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary about the sweet bliss she experienced on her wedding night! So our Victorian lady had an amazing night, and was multiply orgasmic. Would she have told people? If she had, she may have got some funny looks. (In fact, she may have got herself locked up. Nymphomania was a treatable psychological disease at the time). Basically, people may have struggled to understand her experience, and would have understood much better if she had said that her wedding night was okay – he was gentle, and she is fine. I’m sure you have already grasped why I tell this story and what it has to do with birth. Birth is in the same place now, as sex for women was one hundred years ago. When a woman becomes pregnant, she is told that birth is at best bearable and at worst traumatic – but always painful. She might be reassured that birth is in good hands these days, the hospital saves lives, as long as she can have an epidural, she will be okay. However, throughout her pregnancy, she hears more and more negative and frightening stories. By the time she goes into labour, she is tense, anxious and scared. She awaits the pain. She toughens herself up psychologically for the endurance ride, or she gets the epidural in as early as possible. Either way, she does not release the right cocktail of hormones for birth to unfold as nature intended – smoothly, safely and enjoyably. When she is tense or anxious, she releases completely the wrong hormones, which makes for a longer, more painful, and more dangerous birth, with a much greater chance of intervention. Her original belief that birth is painful, scary and not in the least bit pleasant turns out to be true. But the Victorians were wrong about women and sex. We now know that women can and do enjoy sexual intercourse, and that it can be an amazing experience, (and an awful one too). Whether it is amazing or awful depends upon a number of things – but primarily on her willingness, relaxation and trust during the process. Are we making the same mistake with women and birthing, that was being made about women and sex so many years ago? Well, yes. Women are beginning to experience birth as amazing, empowering, and even orgasmic. It seems that birth, like sex, can be enjoyable or awful, and that whichever way it goes depends upon the woman’s willingness, relaxation and trust during the process. If you don’t believe this, it is because you have never entertained the idea before. Now that it is occurring to you for the first time, start to take a new look at the evidence around you. There is plenty out there. Midwives, mothers, fathers, journalists, and film-makers, are all starting to talk about ecstatic births. There are books, films, DVDs, amazing clips on Youtube, stories from The Farm in Tenessee – all featuring Western women birthing quickly and easily. I mention Western women, because we’ve all heard the stories about African women working in fields, stopping to birth their babies upright, and then walking on with their babies. Well it would seem that Western women are starting to do the same, but they are talking about not only how easy it can be, but how ecstatic and empowering it can be too. Wow, what a well kept secret! The difference isn’t in our bodies, but in our culture. And our culture is basically how we do things, and how we think things. Our classes help you think differently about birth, and thereby free you up to let nature birth your baby in the way she knows best – without medical intervention and without fear. By getting your mindset right, by releasing your fear, and increasing your trust in your body’s natural ability to birth, you will help your body to release the right hormones for a fabulous birth.  HypnoBirthing – the Mongan Method and the Mindful Mamma one day class for the best antenatal preparation.

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