The Functions of the Orgasms: The Highways to Transcendence
By Michel Odent
Pinter & Martin
The impact surgeon and obstetrician Michel Odent has had on international birth practice and, accordingly, on the human race, is immeasurable. Author of over 50 scientific papers and eleven nonfiction works translated into 21 languages and taught in tertiary institutions throughout the world, Odent is the founder of London’s Primal Health Research Centre, a BBC documentary star, and responsible for introducing the concept of birthing pools and home-like birthing rooms to hospitals in the 1970s.
Odent’s experiences as a student in the technologically oppressive maternity wards of the 1950s led him to question what we understand as birth practice; those influential philosophical forays are responsible for triggering the new wave of analyses, including Tina Cassidy’s Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born (2006), Marsden Wagner’s Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First (2006), and Ricki Lake’s outstanding 2007 documentary, The Business of Being Born, referred to as “the Inconvenient Truth of childbirth.”
In Odent’s latest book, The Functions of the Orgasms, he observes that culturally imprinted shame about reproduction has infected every aspect of sexuality, birth practice, and, concomitantly, humanity itself. In English, French and German, even the scientific terms for the female external genital organs have as their roots words relating to shame (the Latin verb “pudere”, which means “to be ashamed”, is at the core of pudendum).
Odent points out that a lack of tenderness has an inhibitory effect on laboring women, who, in many cases, seize and panic, resulting in unnecessary intervention. In particular, the increasing incidence of c-sections, both emergency and elective, perturbs him. “On the one hand, there are births that involve the release of love hormones,” he writes. “On the other, there are births that do not involve the release of love hormones. In the latter group we must include cesareans as well as deliveries of babies and placentas controlled by the use of pharmacological substitutes for the natural hormones.”
He goes on to argue that a revolution in our understanding of birth is necessary because of the biochemical – and, later, societal – impact of birth practice. Juvenile violent criminality, for example, has been described by Odent “as a form of an impaired capacity to love others.” When 4,269 male subjects born in the same Danish hospital were followed by a University of California research team, it was found that the main risk factor for being a violent criminal at the age of 18 was “the association of birth complications, together with early birth separation from or rejection by the mother.” (Curiously, early maternal separation-rejection by itself was not a risk factor.)
The answer, Odent believes, lies in listening. “Instead of identifying the basic needs of women in labour in order to facilitate labour and delivery and to reduce the need for drugs and intervention,” Odent notes, “the focus in recent decades has been on the elimination of pain and fear via non-pharmacological ‘methods’ … All these phenomena developed side by side at such a high speed after the Second World War that in the 1970s the birth environment had reached an … unprecedented degree of masculinization.”
Odent’s greatest anxiety is that as a race, we are losing the ability to love. “What if influential people … fail to notice that the redundancy of the hormones of love is an unprecedented turning point in the history of mankind?” he asks. The dramatic increase in the incidence of suicide – up 60% in 45 years – bears witness to Odent’s enquiry. In short: essential reading for those interested in the future of civilization.
- Copyright Antonella Gambotto-Burke 2010