Notes From the Salon: Orgasm Outside the Box

– Sarah W., BADP Doula and Blogger

The theme of last week’s Salon was officially “Orgasm Outside the Box” but it could also have been something like Women Coming Together for Greater Pleasure.

Erotic fiction author Shelby Devlin-Hailey spoke about “How Letting Go of Labels Can Improve Your Orgasms” and hypnotherapist with experience in hypnobirthing Carrie Fleming spoke about “Illuminating the Intersections Between Passion, Sexuality & Birth.”

Shelby based her presentation on personal observations and a few key recent studies, to argue that women are generally more fluid in their sexuality than men are.  A critical idea in her presentation was “erotic plasticity” which describes how a person’s sexuality can be shaped and changed over time by varying social forces. 

Shelby was very influenced by a study by Meredith Chivers which showed that women’s erotic response is typically more widely ranging than men’s. 

She showed the “lesbian” kiss scene from Cruel Intentions as an illustration of the type of women’s sexual fluidity she was trying to describe.

Shelby concluded that women can learn a lot from each other about their sexual pleasure, even if they primarily identify as heterosexual.  Her final PowerPoint slide declared, “A Modest Proposal: Women Become Sexual Allies.”

Shelby recommended Sex At Dawn and Scarleteen as resources for women who want to better understand their own sexuality.

Carrie, who presented next, was interested in linking together various intritguing tidbits she’s found about sexuality and sensuality in the context of childbirth.

The audience seemed to particularly respond to film clips that she showed, one of an unassisted water birth and one from Orgasmic Birth, which both depicted calm, pleasurable, and even sexual birthing — a world apart from the standard media images of women birthing in the hospital under bright lights with nurses strenuously urging, “push, push!”

Carrie also offered an experiential exercise during which she invited the audience to relax into a light meditative state, feel into the experience of an imagined great kiss, and then listen to a quote:

People who are in denial about the possibility of sexual feelings during labor forget what happens in the body during a good kiss.  Blood rushes from the thinking part of the brain, the neocortex, to the vaginal tissues, and this is precisely what causes the swelling that enlarges the vaginal opening enough to make painless penetration possible.  Oxytocin and beta-endorphin levels soar.  When a woman gives birth, she has, — if anything — an even greater need for such swelling to take place.  When her labor can proceed in a way that allows the release of high levels of oxytocin and beta-endorphins, the optimal swelling of her vaginal tissues can then take place.  As mentioned earlier, the release of these hormones explains why some women — as strange as this may seem to anyone who hasn’t seen or experienced it — experience orgasm during labor or birth. — Ina May Gaskin in Birth Matters

Carrie also mentioned several other ways that sexual stimulation can aid in easing labor.  For people wanting to explore the topic further, she handed out a long list of women-centered birth resources including Laura Shanley’s website on Sensual Pregnancy & Birth.

When Liz, the Bay Area Doula Project fundraising coordinator, passed the hat at the end of the evening, she stressed that the BADP wants women to get the support they need across the reproductive spectrum, including pregnancy that has birth as an outcome, pregnancy that has adoption as an outcome, pregnancy that is terminated, and sex that doesn’t have pregnancy as an outcome.  Tomorrow night’s Salon will feature information on how full-spectrum doulas provide this range of support.

What is a Full Spectrum Doula Anyway?

March 21st @7pm

Full-spectrum doula organizations are cropping up all over the country. What does it means to be a full-spectrum doula? How have the birth doula and abortion doula movements influenced each other and the care we provide for pregnant individuals? These and other topics will be explored by Poonam Pai and Signy Toquinto, practicing full-spectrum doulas and Ziska West will also add the perspective of a mental healthcare provider specializing in integrative women’s health.

Poonam Pai is a student in the concurrent Masters in Public Health and Masters in Social Welfare program at UC Berkeley. Prior to graduate study, she spent two years volunteering as an abortion doula with the NY Doula Project, and is now a leader in the Bay Area Doula Project. Currently, she interns with ANSIRH’s Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion Program, and is the new Training and Engagement Intern at Exhale. She is extremely grateful to the Bay Area for having an amazing network of organizations dedicated to providing quality care and support for women who have abortions.

Signy Toquinto has been a practicing birth doula in the Bay Area for just over four years and volunteers with the San Francisco General Hospital Volunteer Doula Program. In addition to her doula work, she teaches childbirth preparation classes at Marin General Hospital and works with a prenatal teen clinic through UCSF. In Fall 2011, Signy was among the first group of women trained to become an abortion doula with the Bay Area Doula Project. She is also actively involved with the Birth Justice Project, Women’s Community Clinic, and the Bay Area Birth Association, all of which are non-profit organizations that aim to improve the holistic health of marginalized women and girls.

Ziska West, M.A. is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA. She has provided psychotherapy to children in East Oakland, women at the Women’s Community Clinic, and currently at Mills College in Oakland, CA. She is working to complete a dissertation on the integration of mental health services in gynecological and women’s primary care which specifically addresses issues around identity, social inequity, and access to comprehensive, quality, affordable care.
Poonam Pai is a concurrent student in the Masters in Public Health and Masters in Social Welfare programs at UC Berkeley.

Million Fishes Art Gallery

2501 Bryant Street, San Francisco, CA

$10-20 suggested donation. No one turned away for lack of funds.  All proceeds go to the Bay Area Doula Project

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