When push comes to love: A brief look at childbirth fetishism
In a previous blog, I examined maieusiophilia a sexual paraphilia and/or fetish in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from particular aspects of human female pregnancy. In his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr. Anil Aggrawal defines maieusiophilia as gaining sexual arousal from pregnant women and/or female childbirth. However, other sources define maieusiophilia more broadly to include sexual attraction to women who also appear pregnant, attraction to lactation and/or attraction to particular stages of pregnancy from impregnation through to childbirth. It is this latter aspect (i.e., childbirth) that today’s blog briefly examines. It was while I was researching that previous blog that I came across various online admissions like the following:
Extract 1: “I don’t know why but I find myself turned on by women giving birth. I am sure I am not a maieusophile (i.e. those who have a fetish for pregnant women), but I have a fetish for the childbirth process itself. I enjoy watching births and the more uncomfortable it is for the mothers, I like it more…I am also a female and straight. I have a boyfriend, and I am looking forward to marrying him and having kids with him in the future. I am excited to experience childbirth also”
Extract 2: “I do have one fetish I have that I guess you could consider sort-of sexual, and I don’t normally tell people about that one, but I have a pregnancy/childbirth fetish. I feel aroused, I guess you could say, when one of those two topics are brought into play, but I would never, ever want to have sex with a pregnant woman or be pregnant myself. I don’t want kids and I have no desire to even be touched by anybody, much less have sex”
Extract 3: “Do some guys get sexually turned on by watching childbirth (of their wife)? Is it much different than just watching a video of it? I’ve heard it can be the woman’s biggest orgasm”.
There are also dedicated websites that provide links to fetish pictures and stories of childbirth. I included the third extract because in my research for this article, I did keep coming across stories where women were claiming that childbirth was the ‘strongest’ orgasm that they had ever had. There was even a television documentary on the topic simply called Orgasmic Birth that was first transmitted in January 2008 and reported in the New York Times. The documentary was made by Debra Pasacli-Bonaro – a childbirth educator – who poses the question: ‘What would happen if women were taught to enjoy birth rather than endure it?’ She says the primary message of her film is that women can “journey through labor and birth” in a variety of different ways and that giving birth can be a positive and pleasurable experience rather than a painful one. Pascal-Brown was quoted as saying:
“I hope women watching and men watching don’t feel that what we’re saying is every woman should have an orgasmic birth. [The film reveals] the best kept secret [of child birth] – that some women report having an orgasm as the baby exits the birth canal”
The film also features Dr. Christine Northrup author of the 2010 book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom who claims that orgasms during childbirth are the results of chemistry and anatomy. More specifically, she claims that:
“When the baby’s coming down the birth canal, remember, it’s going through the exact same positions as something going in, the penis going into the vagina, to cause an orgasm. And labor itself is associated with a huge hormonal change in the body, way more prolactin, way more oxytocin, way more beta-endorphins — these are the molecules of ecstasy”.
As far as I am aware, there is no empirical research on the fetishized aspects of childbirth but I did come across an interesting paper on the pornography of childbirth by Dr. Robyn Longhurst in the journal ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies. The paper focused on the moral issues surrounding the case of New Zealand ‘adult actress’ and former stripper Nikki Devi’s desire to give birth as part of a pornographic film called Ripe. In New Zealand, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services wanted to separate the mother and child if the film was completed, but the New Zealand laws were not clear on whether the act of giving birth in a pornographic film was a form of child abuse. Longhurst noted that the aim of her paper was:
“…to draw on the story of Nikki and pornographic film maker Steve Crow’s quest to have a birth filmed for a pornographic movie to illustrate that certain sexual acts rouse anxieties and even disgust…The moral boundary between what is considered ‘normal’ and what is considered ‘perverse’ is constantly struggled over and is temporally and spatially specific. This pornography of birth shows that what counts as moral is tied up with issues of gender, sexuality, class, race and so on, but also with ‘geographical objects of space, place, landscape, territory, boundary and movement’ (Cresswell, 2005)…This article shows how Nikki, through media discourse, was constructed as a person who belonged in certain places and spaces (brothels, strip clubs) but not in others (hospital birthing wards). The media represented Nikki as immoral but this morality turns out to be based on a very contingent set of societal rules and expectations…There are societal expectations that birthing will be enacted in particular ways. Regardless of whether it be a ‘natural’ birth, a pain-assisted birth, a forceps delivery or a caesarean section the expectation is still that birthing women ought to behave in culturally and gendered ‘appropriate’ ways. Nikki’s plan to be filmed giving birth for a pornographic movie was not seen by most as an ‘appropriate’ way to birth”
Longhurst followed all the media coverage surrounding the case including two dedicated 60 Minutes television documentaries and reports in a wide variety of NZ newspapers to critically examine how the story was reported and portrayed. She also followed all the media interviews with the two main protagonists (i.e. Nikki Devi and the film’s director Steve Crow). She then went on to argue that that the coverage showed there were “unwritten rules and regulations govern what is deemed (in)appropriate behavior for particular bodies in particular spaces producing ‘a changing sexual landscape’”.
After the first documentary (entitled ‘Naked Ambition’) had been aired, Longhurst reported that the NZ media immediately began to debate the issue as well as the rights of unborn children. From the media coverage I read myself, Devi appeared to be vilified by the NZ press (and dubbed the ‘porn mum’). Politicians and the public alike wanted to know whether it was lawful to film the childbirth for a pornographic film. Longhurst made some really interesting observations:
“‘Coupling’ pregnancy and especially birth with sexual gratification challenges mainstream notions of pregnant and birthing women as modest, ‘motherly’, and focused completely on their infant. Becoming mothers’ must not ‘flaunt’ their sexuality even though (or maybe, because) the pregnant, and especially the birthing body is a body that is [assumed to be] clearly marked as having participated in sexual intercourse (Longhurst, 2000). Nikki’s transgression, therefore, prompted something of a moral panic…In examining moral judgments as to whether birthing women ought to be engaged in invoking sexual feelings for commercial gain it is imperative to consider the relationship between bodies and spaces, in this case, a delivery suite in a public hospital. Seeking a court order to stop the filming of the birth of Nikki’s baby could be read as an attempt to reinstate the purity of the delivery suite – a space where mother and child meet, bond, and establish a positive and loving relationship. When it was proposed that the delivery suite would become the site of a pornographic movie, lines between purity and perversity…became blurred. While viewing and shooting pornography might be ‘tolerated’ at sites that are seen to be deviant such as sex shops, clubs, strip joints, warehouses, porn studios, private homes, it was not ‘tolerated’ in a hospital birthing ward”
It does appear that the film was finally made and got a distribution deal as I went online and saw it advertised on various websites. As one website said:
“The controversial new movie they tried to ban. Filmed completely in New Zealand and starring an all-kiwi cast. Nikki, a pregnant wife with time on her hands and a passion for sex, indulges herself behind the back of her workaholic husband. A complex web of affairs, desires and obsessions…Follow Nikki through her term of pregnancy as she and her naughty neighbours show you what being neighbourly is all about”.
Similar moral questions about ‘appropriateness’ of giving childbirth outside of ‘traditional’ settings have been raised in the more recent case of the artist Marni Kotak who gave birth in front of a live audience as part of her art installation The Birth of Baby X in Brooklyn’s Microscope Gallery’s ‘birthing room’ (New York). In an interview with New York’s Village Voice newspaper, Kotak said that:
“I hope that people will see that human life itself is the most profound work of art, and that therefore giving birth, the greatest expression of life, is the highest form of art. Real life is the best performance art”.
A Daily Mail article after the birth of her son Ajax reported that a video of the birth has now been added to Kotak’s proposed 18-year project (Raising Baby X) in which Kotak will document her child’s upbringing until college with weekly video podcasts.
From everything that I’ve read, sexual arousal from either experiencing and/or watching childbirth appears to be very rare but does seem to be prevalent in a minority of individuals. Whether it ever becomes the topic of scientific research remains to be seen, although I’m sure more academic articles about the morality issues may appear in philosophy-minded journals in the years to come.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Bastion Works (2012). Maieusiophilia. Located at: http://bastionworks.com/Mikipedia/index.php?title=Maieusiophilia
Cresswell, T. (2005). Moral geographies. In, David Atkinson, Peter Jackson, David Sibley & Neil Washbourne (Eds.) Cultural Geography: A Critical Dictionary of Key Concepts. (pp.128-134). New York: Taurus.
Longhurst, R. (2000). ‘Corporeographies’ of pregnancy: ‘bikini babes’. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 18, 453-472.
Longhurst, R. (2006). A pornography of birth: crossing moral boundaries. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 5(2), 209-229.
Northrup, C. (2010). Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing. London: Bantam.
Wikipedia (2012). Pregnancy fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pregnancy_fetishism