Wow! What a thread! I hope the OP doesn't feel bad that it's gotten so OT, because there have been some really good tangential discussion here that wouldn't have happened without the OT.
So, rape. Yeah, I agree that the word does not belong only to those who've had penises forced into their vaginas. I do question whether it should be used to describe a violation that was not intended. My first birth, for instance, was emotionally and physically traumatic, mostly due to the actions of my birth attendants, including those involving my genitals. I believe that they did not perceive their actions to be harmful or forced though, so I do not call it "rape". I have however read many stories by women who used the word "rape" very appropriately to describe their birth attendants' actions, and I've read many stories that didn't use that word, but it certainly came to my mind.
On birth pain being a biological necessity: There's no evidence for this. Also, it makes no sense evolutionarily speaking. As our heads became bigger and we started walking upright, our pelvises would have evolved at the same time to accomodate this, as they needed to. The difference between us and other animals that is
relevant is our highly developed neocortex and our extreme dependance on it. I would bet anything that if apes came to rely on the neocortex as much as we do, that they would have as much trouble as we do giving birth. Sex is different (and more fraught with dysfunction) for us too, for that very reason.
On pain and attendants: I haven't read all of marsupialmom's posts, but I think I basically agree with her. For most women, an attendant is going to be a distraction to some degree. She may be self-conscious or inhibited, feeling observed. Or the attendant may attempt to guide her, or "ground her" with eye contact. These things stimulate the neocortex, which interferes with hormonal release, which interferes with the functioning of the uterus, which, yes, makes birth painful. How easy would it be, after all, for you to become aroused, lubricated, stretchy, and come to orgasm if a midwife was there with you? That is just straightforward physiology. There are situations I can think of in which this is not an issue, but those are pretty rare I think. Why then have women always been attended by other women in birth? Well actually, we don't know that they have. The vast majority of recorded observations we have about birth have been in patriarchal, aggressive societies, and there's some conjecture that that type of society is served by ritually disturbing the birth process in some way. Traditional and modern midwives both commonly do things to disturb the process.
That said, I know
that pain in birth is not all about environment. There are SO many reasons that modern women experience pain in birth, many physical. In my case my hormonal process was not disturbed by the presence of birth attendants (because they weren't there!,) but I was still in my head to some extent. I wonder if something about my lifestyle had something to do with it -- Michel Odent in his book The Scientification of Love writes that the more often we do things that facilitate the flow of oxytocin, the more open the receptor sites become to receiving oxytocin. Another factor yet is that my body is in no shape at all to give birth. I have spent so much of my life sitting in chairs, even reclining on soft surfaces. How could that not have an effect? And I have had other health issues as well that I am positive have affected my body's ability to adjust smoothly to the movement of a baby through it.