Holding Space for Sex During Labor and Childbirth with Clarissa Herman, MA


by: Scarlett McIntosh

Clarissa Herman joined us in May for a discussion about sexuality and childbirth as a part of our Salon Series. She holds a Master’s degree in Sexuality Studies and has experience working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence. As a labor & postpartum doula, she noticed how difficult it was to broach the topic of sex with pregnant clients. The connection between sex and birth in the laboring process may seem obvious, but can be difficult to facilitate in many birth settings.

Clarissa’s key point for birth workers was to normalize sexuality in childbirth. As an opportunity for transformation and/or sexual healing, reclaiming sexuality and the body in birth should not be shied away from. Sanitizing pleasure out of the birthing process is part of the patriarchal norms embedded in birth culture. Clarissa explained this connection through a brief historical overview of labor in the US. For a long time, birth took place in the home, a more private and intimate experience shared with midwives and kin as support. The rise of the medical industry normalized in-hospital births, what many remember as traumatic shackling, drugging, and forceful deliveries by doctors. However, now with more evidence-based care we have a mix of home, hospital, and birth centers, as well as access to better emergency practice and care. Clarissa encouraged us to set the tone as birth workers. Our ability to plant the seeds of normal sexuality in birth is achievable and can create ripple effects in our birth culture.

Now how might birth workers do that? Clarissa didn’t recommend just turning off the lights and telling a couple to start doing it right then and there. No, she encourages exploring pleasure and reclamation of sexuality in labor. That might look like a couple sharing a bath and exchanging affirmations. It might be toning down the lights and encouraging a partner to give soft kisses between contractions. It might sound like the deep moans that may have implanted that ovum in the first place. The laboring person has to get past feeling self-conscious in order for the hormones to work together in rhythm. Once they have their rhythm, the birth worker’s job is to continue holding the space for their birth experience. If you have the opportunity to meet clients prenatally, Clarissa suggested acknowledging the value of perineal massage, not only for stretching tissue, but also for exploring the sensations that come up, surrendering to them, and breathing through the discomfort that may arise.

As birth workers we share the goal of protecting birth visions and centering the laboring person’s experience. Clarissa calls for birth workers to set the tone and for pregnant folks to take responsibility for their birth and find their agency. For many survivors, birth brings up a lot of sensations. Reclaiming the process might offer an opportunity for transformation and sexual healing.

Hey Bay Area Community! Salon Series is always looking for new speakers and topics for our monthly series. If you have ideas for a salon series email us!




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