The Pros And Cons To Springing A Live Birth Video On A 14-Year-Old

live birth video

In the rational, reality-based version of my brain, I know that birth is awesome. When I think about the fact that I am a person who is capable of growing a human and then shoving it out of me, I am even more convinced that I am basically a magical creature who can’t be stopped.

However, when I was about 14 years old, I was less convinced that birth was an incredible, even beautiful process. I thought that birth was disgusting, that babies were gross, and that my own body was dirty and worthless. It’s pretty easy to internalize ideas about your body when you’re 14 (or literally any age) and have friends who say things like “I would never make a guy go down on me.” Vaginas were disgusting, and anything in, around, or coming out of them was equally terrifying. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t have the language or ability to fight back against that mindset. I didn’t understand the mechanics of birth or even reciprocal sexual attitudes, and thought of everything below the belt as shameful and filthy. I was so lucky that I went to an all girls school where I could be hidden away from boys, who would certainly sense my menses and have to be revived with smelling salts.

If you’re already a person who thinks vaginas are horrifying (as I did, circa 2003), then adding in a slippery baby, the idea of tearing, placenta, amniotic fluid, and the possibility of public defecation creates a clusterfuck of shame, anxiety, and disgust. I would imagine that a series of conversations about how vaginas are not, in fact, shameful and gross, would have been particularly helpful for me at that time, but my ninth grade health class took a different approach entirely. One afternoon, they sprung a live birth video on us with little preamble, and the results were less that optimal.

In terms of surprising a 14-year-old with a live birth as a means of sexual education, I’ve presented a list of pros and cons, so you can decide if it’ll be helpful for you as you explain sex to your kids.

Pro: It’s Educational
I was exceptionally lucky to go to a high school that offered very, very detailed sex ed. In my semester long Health course, we learned about substance abuse, STIs, intercourse, mental illness, eating disorders, and body image. I could identify the entire workings of my reproductive system, had an encyclopedic knowledge of STIs, and by the end of the semester, a full understanding of what birth looked like in 1993. Don’t say I wasn’t well-informed.

Con: Aversion to birth. Forever
The sex and STI portion of my health class (which was a tad too linked, for my taste, and focused mostly on the consequences of irresponsible sex with no attention to positive sexual experiences or something like consent) featured grotesque, grainy images of genitalia “ravaged” by STIs, which we would probably get if we kissed a boy. In the list of sex consequences, the live birth video followed gonorrhea. The woman appeared to be dying while horrible things burst forth from her vagina, which had reached a size we weren’t aware was possible. Maybe it would have been better to talk us through what we were clearly not prepared to see a bit first, so that we all wouldn’t have left swearing off childbirth and our own sex organs forever.

Be Sociable, Share!
You can reach this post's author, Julia Sonenshein, on twitter.
Be Sociable, Share!
  • Eve Vawter

    ugh pain..laughing..still

  • Bethany Ramos

    1. So freaking hilarious!
    2. Your coach sounds like Sue Sylvester.
    3. I’m not sure when a live birth video is ever a good idea? My crazy ass dad showed me pictures of me crowning when I was like eight years old because he obviously hates me. I also felt really awkward watching breast-feeding videos on YouTube when I was pregnant when my midwife encouraged me to for “practice.” Nobody wins.

    • Aimee Beff

      The childbirth class we went to showed a live birth video as the instructor’s example of an unmedicated birth that went really well and BOY was there a lot of crying/groaning/horrifying things happening to genitals! At least half of the crying and groaning may have been coming from me? Fortunately there’s no take-backsies at 24 weeks.

  • Theresa Edwards

    “appeared to be getting attacked by her own vagina”–I may or may not have peed a little whilst reading that.

    • Alex Lee

      seriously needing to make this happen in a horror film of some kind.

  • Aimee Beff

    HAHAHA oh god. I think the only thing worse than a live birth video might be getting comforted by your gym teacher after watching a live birth video.

  • Lisa

    If this didn’t take place in an all-girls’ school, I’d say we had the same experience. All I remember from the live birth video experience was the guys looking over at the girls in class with a facial expression saying “oh my god I’m so sorry this will happen to you” and all the girls glaring back with the expression of ” do NOT come near me; I don’t want to even entertain the idea of pregnancy and birth, EVER.”

    This was hilarious! Great job!

    • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

      During my health class birth video, one of the toughest jocks in the school had to sit with the trash can between his knees and dry heaved the whole time. He nearly fainted. Oh my God, this may be one of the funniest things I ever got to witness in high school.

  • scaretactics

    Totally show it to them; granted we’re 25, not 14, but I have a friend in PA school – he and his wife are starting to think about kids- and yesterday he texted me and said “I just watched a live birth video for 30 minutes…now my baby fever is gone…”

  • allisonjayne

    Can I tell a somewhat related story? Picture it: A punk venue in Downtown Toronto, 2005. My wife (then-girlfriend) was having her band’s CD release party. The venue also functions as a film space AND a bike repair place (because in Toronto, nothing is ever just one thing), so the dude who runs the space usually projects really cool, obscure/weird films behind bands while they play. He took the band down to the storage unit to pick the films and he helpfully suggested this ‘avant-garde German sex ed video from the 50s’. They thought it sounded cool.

    Now, my dad and stepmom & wife’s mom and stepdad were all present for the CD release because they are awesomely supportive parents.

    One of the opening bands is playing, and the film is indeed really avant-garde and interesting…images of snails mating and flowers blooming and whatnot. Then it appears. A baby crowning through a bloody vag. Projected 10ft X 10ft. The crowd gasps. My future-MIL shoots us a stare of death. My dad averts his eyes. My stepmom’s jaw drops to the floor. Some scrambling and a few minutes that felt like an eternity later and the film was changed…..

    And that’s my experience with birth videos.

    • Véronique Houde


      That venue reminds me of a whole bunch of places in the Mile End neighbourhood where I work – where the “hipsters” live alongside the Hassidic Jews. There’s a coffee shop/furniture store, where you can’t sit on the couches because “duh” they’re for sale, and then there’s a second-hand clothing store/hotdog place – amongst other places. Where do people come up with these concepts??

    • My Oubliette

      I really hope that the dude who runs the venue takes leave of his senses and moves to North Carolina, because the obscure/weird film projection as a backdrop to the band sounds SO COOL. If Portishead was still around, I would kill to see them play with the background being either ‘Freaks’ or Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera (1927 version). I need need need this in my life!

    • allisonjayne

      It is a super cool venue.

  • pixie

    I definitely saw something very, very similar in ninth grade science class. We were learning about the reproductive system in the biology unit. One look at that and I refused to move my eyes off of my notebook where I was doodling anything to get my mind off of vaginas. And this was not in an all-girls school, so the immature guys in my class decided to make comments about how the mother “really needed to shave”.
    That video has to be one of the single most terrifying things I have ever seen/heard. (and we weren’t allowed to leave the room).

    • Tinyfaeri

      We had co-ed health class in high school, too. This one guy followed me around for 6 freaking months saying “PENIS” in a bizarre, shrill voice. It was almost funny, but seriously weird.

    • pixie

      That is hilarious in a weird way. I have no idea what I would have done in that situation then, but I had some friends who probably would have gotten along quite well with him and said “PENIS” right back at him.

    • Tinyfaeri

      I went with a very calm “There’s nobody there” on repeat, and eventually he stopped. We were friends-ish, and it was just too…immature.

  • Tinyfaeri

    I actually had to make myself forget the live birth video we saw in health class to be able to think about having kids. There was a funny/awful video of a woman giving birth in my birth class, though – she sounded like a dying muppet.

  • MegzWray

    aaaaaaand, this is one of many reasons why I adopted.

  • havronsm

    I’ve never seen one of these videos. Now I’m scared to go to my birthing class next weekend. I really don’t think I want to see one.

    I don’t want to see that happening to me or anyone else.

    • aCongaLine

      we skipped that part of our class… it’s totally okay :)

    • EX

      They didn’t show one at our class. I’ve actually attended a live birth and was not scarred by it. These videos sound horrifying. Here’s the thing – it’s not nearly as traumatic when YOU’RE the one giving birth. I mean, I’m not saying it’s painless, but you won’t actually see anything that’s going on down there (unless you use a mirror – my suggestion: don’t). If they plan to show a video you could always skip out. I don’t really get the point of showing them to expectant moms. That baby’s coming out one way or another, seeing it happen isn’t going to make you more prepared, it’s just more likely to increase your anxiety about it.

  • meteor_echo

    When we were in middle school, we had a video of a childbirth shown to us in health class. I thought it was disgusting back then, and I still think so now.
    While childbirth in itself is a fairly interesting biological process, it’s ugly, bloody and there’s nothing beautiful or magical about it. You shit on the table, your vagina gets torn because something the size of a watermelon is being pushed through it, there’s blood all over the place and then there’s placenta. Oh, and afterwards you get a baby. Newborn babies look like squished aliens and they might come in covered in vernix and/or meconium. So yeah, it’s not a miracle by any stretch of imagination.

    Oh, and, funnily enough, I really wouldn’t allow a guy go down on me, because lying on the bed with my legs apart in a spread-eagle position reminds me of ob/gyn visits and also of having been abused. It sucks to feel defenseless when you’re already doing something that makes you feel more vulnerable than usual.

    • blh

      I agree. I have a kid but childbirth is truly a horrifying thing. Not because I’m “ashamed” of my vag but bc I’m pretty fond of it and it got beat all to hell. There were stitches. It’s not nice.

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      Yep. A miracle is when something so unexpected as to be considered impossible happens. There are 7 billion humans alive right now alone–I don’t think birthing one fits the definition!

      And I don’t like being eaten out because tongues gross me out, but if a guy really wants to take a good, long gander at my lady parts, he’s more than welcome–I got nothin’ to be ashamed of.

    • meteor_echo

      Yeah, reproduction in and of itself is a basic function of any living being. A miracle would be, iunno, surviving a direct lightning strike, or fully recovering after some long and dehabilitating illness, or winning $500,000,000 in a lottery. That’s rare and awesome.

      I suppose I’d just like making out instead of oral. It’s way more fun to me and wouldn’t feel abusive or triggering.

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      I’m with you as long as there are no tongues involved. I don’t know where that particular issue came from, but man, do I think wet, bumpy things are disgusting (I don’t mind my cat “cleaning” me, as his tongue’s sandpapery, so I guess maybe it’d be okay if the guy had a freakishly awful case of cottonmouth cooking? Actually, that shouldn’t be too hard to find in Denver…).

  • Jallun-Keatres

    TBH if I saw a live birth at 14 (I’d actually seen some, both real and animation, before that) I’d probably think it was so cool! I guess the fact that I love love love medical stuff has made me pretty desensitized to the freakout factor. Don’t get me wrong though- seeing the vagina stretch out like that still makes me cringe.

    Fun fact: My sister (yes, the Downy Buddy :3) loves “pain” (as in, pics of my cousin having obvious contractions and pics of my swollen post-wisdom-tooth face) and has been browsing YT labor and delivery videos since I got pregnant. I didn’t need to think twice about inviting her to the birth of Mini-Keatres and although I wasn’t in much pain at all (thanks epidural + chill personality) she definitely got a front-row vagina shot and did indeed see MK be born! She did not freak out although the face I saw her make when they spread my legs was hilarious!

  • lizinthelibrary

    Going through the Alaska Native medical system (as a non-Native person carrying a Native child), I was surprised to learn from a friend with a two year-old (and herself Native) that in many Native families it is common to take teenaged girls to the live birth as a form of sex-ed/birth control. In my friend’s birth class she was one of only two women who hadn’t been taken to an aunt/cousin/sister’s live birth as a teen.
    So instead of just seeing the video, imagine 14 year-old you watching your aunt do it live in front of you. And maybe in a different culture or different time we all would be more used to this experience, but it is definitely not the norm most places now.

    • lindsay4

      I got to see my niece born at 14! It was cool, not too remarkable to me at that time. There were a few kids born before her, so I had been present for my sister’s and SIL’s labors before (first at age 8!). With my niece it was the first and only time I was present through the actual delivery, with a front row seat. (Yes, I SAW defecation during labor before I ever heard that it was a thing. I also saw everyone not give a shit about the shit, so I learned that it was ok.) Births have always been a big family event in my family (meaning everyone shows up and basically camps out at the hospital, visiting the labor room when invited) so it WAS the norm for me.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      my cousin told me about this too!!!
      she said in some very very rural areas, a whole freakin’ VILLAGE can be invited in to watch a birth!

      If that many people were staring at my minge, I’d charge, and offer popcorn.

    • t_frex

      As a lifelong Alaskan and as someone who has spent a good deal of time in villages and is a part of the culture….I have honestly never heard of this. A lot of women are actually flown into bigger villages for the last month so that they can have emergency resources for any complications. I think I’ll have to ask my mom about this the next time I see her.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      i goofed lol, my apologies. it’s ANTARCTICA my cousin was talking about, sorry about that, she’s lived between alaska and antarctica for years!

    • Polarbear

      I thought only tourists and scientists went to Antartica

    • t_frex

      Tourists, scientists and support staff. I’ve done some research into support jobs there and I’m pretty damned sure they also don’t gather to watch live births there.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      she’s a school teacher lol
      I’m only saying what I’ve been told, I personally don’t know if it’s gospel truth. It’s simply something I was told so don’t attack me please, for putting up something I had been told as truth.
      I’m not a mind reader.

    • Psych Student

      Hehehe. I know you’re trying to figure things out and I don’t mean to poke fun, but *most* of us live between Alaska and Antarctica, what with that being a great deal of the earth and all. It’s pretty funny. :)

    • Rowan

      By the time my son actually emerged (43 hours… FORTY THREE HOURS), they could’ve invited a whole coach party into the room and I wouldn’t have cared.

  • aCongaLine

    The closest I ever got to experiencing a live birth video was when my first was crowning… the nurse just pulled a mirror in, and said “Look! It’s your baby!” and I screamed “WHAT THE FUCK, LADY!”

    and hubs leaned over and politely asked her to remove it.

    • Beth

      EXACTLY! And this is why I’m totally in favor of showing kids sex ed videos of a real childbirth. During my relatively short time in private practice, I got to meet a considerable number of teenage girls who were pregnant. I was a little bit shocked and mortified to find out how many of them were quite happy to be pregnant and give birth to a wonderful, magical baby! Some of them intentionally didn’t use birth control because they WANTED to be pregnant.

      I always wanted to shake these girls violently and tell them that there is very little that’s ‘magical’ about the childbirth process, and that the only close approximation I can give them to the pain they will be in is to imagine roughly what it would be like to shit a pineapple.

    • Maria Guido

      Oh my god. NO. So much no. Why would you do that to someone who didn’t specifically ask for that view?

    • Dusty

      I’ve already made it perfectly clear to my OB that this will not be happening. Not if she expects me to remain conscious for the birth of my own baby, that is.

    • aCongaLine

      There was a shift change as I started pushing, and the new nurse was VERY EXCITED. And I didn’t get a chance to tell her that I absolutely did not want that. She just assumed I did, because birth is so awesome? Dunno.

      Ironically, I started laughing when I was pushing out the second one- I could see the whole thing in the reflection of the TV screen in the room. I was way less freaked out by it the second time around :)

    • Véronique Houde

      seriously! i totally refused the mirrror too. And then my doula took pictures…

      I never wanted to see my privates in that position and it’s not something I can ever erase from my brain. I mean, what am I supposed to do with those pictures? Now that they’re taken, I don’t have the heart to delete them… but it’s not like I’m going to print them out and show my family at the next family reunion, you know?

    • Karen Milton

      I had an enthusiastic nurse when my son was being born. My then-boyfriend was down at the business end of things, and the nurse kept offering the mirror despite me saying “OH MY GOD NO”. He finally quietly said to her “She’s going to kick it if you keep putting it there, like for real. She’ll kick you”. I totally would have kicked her.

  • ChickenKira

    We had the pregnancy video at 14 too.
    Ours was of a homebirth where the father also got naked. All I remember is his body hair. His excessive body hair.

    • Pumplestilskin

      This sounds like the video we saw in our Lamaze class, 70′s body hair, everywhere and my daughter was born in 2002. I was present for the birth of my youngest nephew when I was 15 and my husband is a dairy farmer which he insists makes him an expert on all things birth. We looked at each other and just started laughing, this was nothing like the experience either one of us had had. He kept saying, “this can’t be real, this can’t be real”. In fairness to the filmmakers, the pregnant woman in the video probably refused to give birth in a calving pen. That would have made it more “real” for my husband I think

  • Garavriel

    I have seen so many live birth videos it doesn’t even faze me anymore. One in middle school which horrified us all. One in my human development class in undergrad which was super awkward because it was the video of my professor’s daughter giving birth to her son, who was then 13 and sitting in the room with us. Then after watching this woman give birth in her brother’s bathtub with Enya playing in the background and her friend dabbing her forehead while her husband moped in the corner and about 5 other people illdd around, we had to listen to her talk about how fabulous home birth is and how shitty hospital birth was (her first son was born in a hospital) and how they made the poor nurse at the hospital dig her placenta out of the garbage because they wanted to take it home and plant it under a bush and apparently just assumed the nurse would know that and not throw it out. And then I took a class called Making Babies and saw lots of birth videos, including a few home births.

  • EmmaFromÉire

    Part of my sex education class involved a birth video. The absolute fucking HORROR. I’ll admit to being a very, very innocent kid,and this video went from sex to birth. I wasn’t completely naive, but there was a close up shot of ejaculation, and I didn’t have a damn clue what was going on. The birth itself took place with a bare ass naked woman crouching in her teeny tiny bath, squealing like a stuck pig with a honking great baby head poking out her hoo-hah, and that put me off the idea of homebirth forever and ever.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      hoo-hah-hoo-hah (is exactly how I laughed when I read this)

  • Harriet Meadow

    I saw my youngest brother’s birth when I was almost 14. All the nurses were joking that it was “the best form of birth control.” Actually, it was pretty awesome. I do remember being surprised by how much blood there was, though.

    • Jallun-Keatres

      Yeah my husband was in awe of the amount of blood that came out of me when they pushed on my tummy to get my placenta out!

  • AP

    When I was in high school, we watched “The Miracle of Life” in biology class on VHS.

    At the end, when the video was over, the teacher hit “rewind” so we could watch the doctor put the baby back in.

  • jendra_berri

    I saw one. I went to a Catholic school. We learned about STDs, waiting till marriage and the grotesquery of childbirth. At the end of the video when they held up the placenta, a boy in the back sang “J-E-L-L-O!” My knees were weak and I questioned having kids.
    Far better birth control, though, was babysitting a 3-year-old who was not potty trained, smeared her poop around when she shat her pants 2 minutes after I asked her if she had to go and she said no, told me I should thank her for “helping” clean the shit, and then played on the balcony of the 12-storey-high apartment while I tried to clean her disgusting mess.

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    lol my mother showed me a video when i was 11. she was heavily pregnant with my little bro and we lived in the arse end of nowhere. it was more a precaution so that i didn’t panic if it so happened we couldn’t get to the hospital (our neighbour lived a 20 min drive away and is a midwife)

    i never forgave her for that lol or her hilarious comment when I was 15 and asked for advice about sleeping with my boyfriend (“you sure? you’ve seen what can come roaring OUT of your hoo-ha, you sure you want something going IN?”)

    • EmmaFromÉire

      It makes me warm with love that both of use irish girls found a way to work the term hoo-ha into our comments :-D

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      it’s a knack we Irish gals have =P
      I did particularly enjoy her use of the word “roaring”

  • Magrat

    Ours was a more-or-less normal sex ed video, meaning full of horrible LOOK WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR BODY IF YOU SEX images and things, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, cut to birth video. Except this was clearly the “something is wrong” birth video–you could see the baby’s head, which was an uncomfortable blue color and had several monitors attached to it by wires. But it was being narrated as just, you know, here’s a lady having a baby. Ho-hum.

    As I remember, my friend’s mom threw a fit, because they hadn’t actually sent home the usual permission slip, or at least hadn’t included the information that we’d be seeing birth vagina/possibly dying baby.

  • Teleute

    The same exact thing happened to me at 14. In fact, I was recounting the tale just the other day. The teacher gave us zero warning before starting the first of two birth videos right when the baby’s head was crowning. It took everyone a few moments to realize what we were seeing. :- She later gave us a detail description of her three children’s births, complete with hand motions while describing her two episiotomies.

    A boy in the class had to go to the school nurse and the cheerleader sitting next to me took an oath of lifelong virginity. I spent the next ten years completely disgusted by pregnant women — and with pregnancy in general. Kind of like the “maybe someday we could be friends” chick from Knocked Up.

  • NotTakenNotAvailable

    I still think birth is disgusting and babies are gross. I’m almost twice the age you were, though I’ve never been subjected to a live birth video. If I were, my vagina would be attacking me in the form of reaching up and backhanding my face while screaming, “HELLZ TO THE NO!”

  • GPMeg

    Oh, man — we watched The Miracle of Birth in high school and the girls had to watch the whole movie and the boys had it cut off right before. We were all pretty PO’d that they had been spared the bloody reveal! We had a good teacher to go along with it, though, so we were prepared for what was coming. The best part was this girl in my class who was known for not being choosy (no, seriously, we didn’t have the problem with sleeping around part, it was mostly that she was picking guys that were totally subpar) was left with her jaw hanging open before she says out loud, “I AM NEVER HAVING SEX AGAIN!” I’m pretty sure she thought that was in her head, because when she realized the whole class and the teacher were staring at her, she followed with, “Is what I would say if I’d ever had sex before…”

  • Pingback: A Sex Toy That Simulates Female Oral — Plus, The Sex Positions Women Hate |

  • Pingback: Sex Ed At An All Girls School Was Better Than A Coed School()