This is also a neat way to remind parents that the best environment in which to give birth (from a hormonal perspective) is one in which they could feel comfortable making love. Ask each couple to privately list the attributes such a place would possess - prompt them by asking them to consider what it might feel like against their skin; important color; temperature; sounds; smells; light level; privacy etc. For an interesting variation, give each couple some paper and colored pencils and ask them to draw such a place. Once they have described the main elements of the setting, their next task is to imagine how they can adapt the place they have chosen (hospital labor ward?) to fit this picture of a sexually stimulating environment.
Parents find it helpful to have a basic understanding of the hormonal interplay during labor and birth, especially the role of the main players: oxytocin, endorphin, adrenaline. Use examples they can readily imagine to illustrate the ways these hormones interact to make your points: have them imagine they are making passionate love when the phone rings beside the bed, or there is a knock on the door. What would happen to the passion? What effect would the interruption have on their hormones? How easy would it be to get back into the love making once the disturbance goes away (is it possible at all?).
Using this strategy, you are not only alerting parents to the difficulties of giving birth in an intrusive, non-private place, but using an analogy they can readily imagine (and using sex creatively as well).
The role of the hormones postnatally also raises important issues of sexuality. For many years the innate sexuality of breastfeeding was not acknowledged and many women and their partners were dismayed to find that their sex lives were affected by her lowered libido and the fact that her breasts seemingly belonged to the baby. Scenario cards are a useful way of raising these issues, which need to be discussed. We know that one of the most significant barriers to successful breastfeeding is lack of partner support, so it is important that they have a chance to discuss these issues before the baby arrives.
Another discussion starter are appropriate cartoons or excerpts from novels, which can be used to get people thinking. Practical issues such as when to resume having sex and contraception can be fun if props are used. A kit containing samples of contraceptives can be assembled quite easily and is a helpful way of showing parents new methods they may need to use postnatally until they can return to their usual form of contraception. Try passing around a bag containing the samples and having each person take a "lucky dip" before explaining what they know about the contraceptive in hand. Back this up with printed information for them to take away.
These ideas are just a beginning. Almost any teaching strategy can be adapted for presenting a topic on sex and sexuality. Adopting the approach that these are not issues that are 'difficult' but ones that offer a chance to grab people's attention and personalize their experience is a good place to start. After that, it is a matter of asking yourself which of the many areas of sexuality you can include in the next session. If you can't get a bit of sex into every class then you are not trying!
This article first appeared in "The Practicing Midwife" Vol 3 No 8, September 2000.
Andrea Robertson is an independent consultant in Childbirth Education, the Principal of the post Graduate Diploma in Childbirth Education, the author of 6 best selling books on pregnancy and birth and numerous articles for midwives, parents, educators and doulas.
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