There may be few questions of human sexuality more rancorous than those about the female orgasm. Scientists agree that women probably started having orgasms as a by-product of men having them, similar to how men have nipples because women have them. As Elisabeth Lloyd, a philosopher of science and theoretical biologist at Indiana University put it in her 2005 book The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution: "Females get the erectile and nervous tissue necessary for orgasm in virtue of the strong, ongoing selective pressure on males for the sperm delivery system of male orgasm and ejaculation." But why we ladies still have orgasms is hotly debated.
Male orgasms exist, it's widely believed, to encourage men to spread their seed. On face value, it would be easy to say that women orgasm for the same reason: to encourage them to have sex and make babies. But in practice, compared to male orgasm, female orgasm is very difficult to achieve. There's a lot of variation even within individual women, and 10 percent of women never have them at all. And, unlike male orgasm, female orgasm isn't a prerequisite for pregnancy.
So why do women have orgasms at all? There are two firmly opposed camps on this question. The first group proposes that it has an adaptive function in one of three categories: pair bonding, mate selection and enhanced fertility. I'll break these down. The pair-bonding theory suggests that female orgasm bonds partners, ensuring two parents for the offspring, while mate selection offers that women use orgasm as a sort of litmus test for "quality" partners. The enhanced fertility theory, meanwhile, proposes that uterine contractions during female orgasm help to "suck up" sperm into the uterus.
The by-product camp, on the other hand, claims that female orgasms are to this day an incidental by-product of male orgasm, not an evolutionary adaption. "There's no documented connection between women who have orgasm at all, or faster, having more or better offspring," Lloyd says.
The schism between the two camps deepened this month with the publication of a new study of twins and siblings in Animal Behavior that seems to rule out the by-product theory of female orgasm. Researchers Brendan Zietsch at the University of Queensland in Australia and Pekka Santtila at Abo Akedemi University in Finland asked 10,000 Finnish female and male twins and siblings to report on their "orgasmability" (their word, not mine). They looked for similarities in orgasm function between female and male twins. If the by-product theory of female orgasm is true, they say, this similarity should exist. Due to the inherent differences in orgasm between women and men, females were asked to report how often they had orgasms during sex and how difficult they were to achieve, while males were asked how long it took them to reach orgasm during the act and how often they felt they ejaculated too quickly or too slowly.
Zietsch and Santtila found strong orgasmability correlations among same-sex identical twins, and weaker yet still significant similarities between same-sex non-identical twins and siblings. However, they found zero correlation in orgasm function between opposite-sex twins. "We show that while male and female orgasmic function are influenced by genes, there is no cross-sex correlation in orgasmic function -- women's orgasmability doesn't correlate with their brother's orgasmability," explains Zietsch. "As such, there is no path by which selection on male orgasm can be transferred to female orgasm, in which case the by-product theory cannot work."
Zietsch says he doesn't have a favorite theory on the evolutionary function of female orgasm, but if forced to guess he'd say that it provides women extra reward for engaging in sex, thus increasing frequency of intercourse and, in turn, fertility. (There's no proof of this yet, though, as Lloyd points out.) Zietsch continues: "I've shown in another paper, though, that there is only a very weak association between women's orgasm rate and their libido, so the selection pressure on female orgasm is probably weak -- this might explain why many women rarely or never have orgasms during sex."
Lloyd and other proponents of the by-product theory agree that weak selection pressure could be acting on female orgasm, but not enough to maintain it over the eons of human evolution. Rather, if female orgasm bestows any reproductive benefits onto the human race, it would be by happy accident. Unsurprisingly, Lloyd has a lot of bones to pick with the recent study. Comparing different orgasm traits in women and men is a textbook case of apples and oranges, she says.
Kim Wallen, a behavioral neuroendocrinologist at Emory University and frequent collaborator with Lloyd, explains it thus: "Imagine that I wanted to compare height in men and women. In women I used a measurement from the top of the head to the bottom of the foot. In men I used how rapidly they could stand up. Would I be surprised that each measure was correlated in identical twins within sexes, but uncorrelated in mixed-sex twins? Such a result would be what was predicted and completely unsurprising. Zietsch and Santtila have done the equivalent of this experiment using orgasm instead of height."
Wallen also points out that previous research has shown that traits under strong selective pressure show little variability, while those under weak pressure tend to show more variability. With human orgasm this bears out in that men report almost always achieving orgasm during sex, while the ability to orgasm during intercourse varies widely among women. (Penis and vagina size – both necessary for reproduction -- show little variability, suggesting they are under strong selective pressure, Lloyd says, while clitoral length is highly variable.) Wallen asserts that Zietsch and Santtila, "chose to compare apples to oranges because the evidence is so strong that men's and women's orgasms are under different degrees of selective pressure, the very point they were trying to disprove." Yikes.
To their credit, Zietsch and Santilla acknowledged the limitations of their study, both in the paper and in Zietsch's email to me. More work obviously needs to be done. "Figuring out the function of female orgasm, if any, will probably require very large genetically informative samples, fertility data, and detailed information on sexual behaviour, orgasm rate, and the conditions and partners involved," Zietsch says. "I do have plans, but the debate probably won't be settled quite some time to come."
If, at this point, you're as frustrated as me, you might be wondering what we do know about female orgasm. Well, we're closer to knowing why they're so few and far between during sex. In a paper published online this January in Hormones and Behavior, Lloyd and Wallen found that the farther away the clitoris is from the urinary opening, the less likely it is that the woman will regularly achieve orgasm with intercourse. If this holds up in future experiments, Lloyd says, it would establish that a woman's ability to have an orgasm during sex rests on an anatomical trait that likely varies with exposure to male sex hormones in the womb. "Such a trait could possibly be under selection," she says, "but this would have to be investigated. So far, no selective force seems to appear."
Jennifer Abbasi is a science and health writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She has seen every episode of The X-Files. Have a question about the science of sex? Email Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
so when did "orgasmability" become a word?
I am not a doctor or scientist. I am just your average human. My best guess why the males and females share common physical, social and psychology traits is we are the same human species. The similarities could just occur because the female in mating is not a kangaroo and the man is not bubble bee.
Yes, male and female human species share like characteristics.
I not surprised.
@eregorn8, I think it was about the same time "transmogrificatability" came into our common lexicon. :-)
Ok from a guy who has been with well more than his share of women, I can categorically say that for the most part, a genuine real and hard orgasm for a woman will legitimately change the way she interacts with you. Call it love or devotion or addiction, but she wants that feeling again. There are endorphens released as so on and so forth. Women from a sociobiological standpoint are built to find one or very few mates. Thus it is only logical that she is biologically rewarded for sticking to the same mate. Trust me when I say that when a chick isnt into you, she has a lot harder time getting off. It seems like common sense from where I stand. But I have been with lots of women...
Oxytocin, alias the trust hormone may come into play to all you describe as well. It does get release a lot during touching.
My question is this. Did you understand the word?
If the answer is yes, then it is valid. Language is an evolution, it needs to get used some time.
Butun ðu behéfðu us stefna ealdgecynd aldgeddung.
(Poor attempt at "Unless you have us speaking Old English.")
English majors and their snobbery towards new words only hinders their ability to communicate.
If fidelity is maintained, the use of a new word, no harm causes it does.
(Oddly that sentence is not nailed by grammar check nor spell check (at least not by LibreOffice), yet is harder to understand than a new word.)
As far as the statistics:
Cultural aspects have really messed with women through the ages. Men still are left to their own when choosing mates, but women have massive pressures. Sexual attraction is complex, and involves every sense we have in both strong and subtle ways. In the past few centuries, everything from arranged marriage, to women being told they need to find a provider, I am curious what percentage of those 10% can't have an orgasm because their "orgasmability" is hindered from social selections instead of natural selections. Possibly even to the point of generations of mucked up breeding and causing mutations that would not normally appear.
I apologize, as pointed out by my co-worker that is an English major, most English majors are not snobby about words.
This sounds like a nature vs nuture argument (pair-bonding=nature; by-product=nuture when really it's the other way around).
While pair-bonding has it's scientific merit in the natural selection of the mate most fit to bare children for a particular female (which would reflect their status amongst female in a clan), it also sounds like a theory born of the concept of scientifically legitimizing fairy-tale style love. In this instance Clitoral length seems be more logically quantifiable in mate compatibility as it pertains to pair-bonding.
As far as the by-product camp is concerned, evolution of a physiological function as the result of a biological counterpart's ability seems relevant but unlikely. The majority of biological make up that we have been allowed to witness in our corner of the universe has some kind of logical design or another. For this, females evolving the ability to have orgasms as a result of the male ability seems only barely logical.
While the reason for females having orgasms as a narcotic reaction to reproduction is very relevant, this doesn't necessarily mean that they were not originally designed for this. The article points out that females are less succeptible to orgasms than males. For which case, the question should not be what, but why, because I believe that the purpose is the same as for males; narcotic stimulus following sexual intercourse to perpetuate its act in the natural interest of reproduction for the species. Sounds like something every animalistic species on the planet is endowed with for species survival through reproduction. Though, I could be wrong. For that any zoologist can weigh in on the chemical reactions between animals in sexual intercourse.
I'm actually a physicist (the anti-english major) so I communicate using vague hand gestures and scribbled formulas. (I actually mis-spelled physicist the 1st 3 attempts).
I'd just say, 100 points to anyone who uses the words introduced here.
A. "Yes doctor, my orgasmability has dropped in recent months..."
D. "There's a pill for that!"
People always forget that 90% of men's sperm is designed to kill off and block all the other foreign sperm inside a woman's vagina. Evolution teaches us that females of our species got into heat and had sex with many partners in a short period of time. This has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. The males have been competing in hordes to be the one that gets the lady pregnant. This likely explains the popularity of religion. It was devised to keep women as sexual shut-ins that would guarantee a male his offspring. There is no religion that does not seek to control a woman's sex life (that I'm aware of). Anyhow this would help explain the female orgasm. A male has his orgasm (as quickly as in 20 seconds in some apes and human teenagers) and walks off to allow the next male his chance at an orgasm. The female must have much more stimulation (and thus partners) to eventually succeed in orgasm. Thus the female get all the best sperm available and is in a position to have the most superior sperm reach her egg.
In this case the males get an orgy and then get to disappear and go hunting or whatever. Meanwhile the woman ends up pregnant and ends up raising the kid by herself. Sound familiar?
@Paxalot Good theory, but as humanity is (assumedly) not the only species that orgasms, and is the only species with religion, I doubt a connection.
dont guys have orgasms as well? i often hear guys moan alot.
The people of the world only divide into two kinds, One sort with brains who hold no religion, The other with religion and no brain.
- Abu-al-Ala al-Marri
Here's a different theory: Orgasm in women exists to facilitate conception *and* childbirth.
During orgasm oxytocin is released in the woman, this is a hormone that is well known as the "love" hormone, it increases a woman's trust, and bonding in her partner. This same hormone is present in high levels during birth, and during breastfeeding.
Orgasm in function is very similar to labor contractions, even in strength of contraction. Orgasm also opens up the cervix.
It's a rare phenomena now, but there are also documented cases of orgasm during birth.
Now for my theory. Women are meant to experience orgasm as reward for fertility. Birth is not meant to be the painful experience it is today (we have the early Church to thank for introducing the expectation of pain with labor, and modern media and hospital practices for continuing it). Child birth has also been removed from the sexual act that began it, so many women feel "dirty" or "pedophilic" if they enjoy their labors and births on an orgasmic level.
Tell me, if you're in a modern hospital room, raised to believe that childbirth is a horrific event, with a bunch of doctors and nurses staring at your crotch, would you be able to orgasm easily?
Unfortunately there aren't many places in the world today that haven't been touched by Christianity or Missionary influenced medicine, so testing this theory is practically impossible.
Actually, if you think about it...if women enjoy sex they are more likely to get pregnant and for the past couple of thousand years+ being pregnant has been very dangerous for women and even today poses a great health risk. So maybe women who orgasmed more easily died off more in the past thus leading to orgasm not being essential to breeding. It may also contribute to why women have more developed social sensitivity because selecting a mate is more about survivability of the offspring (i.e. will the father take care of the child if the mother dies) then the father's overall health (which is why 80 yr. old rich men still produce kids).
While all this is very polished, all this does is tell that a sister and brother's orgasms aren't connected but it completely fails to actually address the outlined theory as stated:
"The pair-bonding theory suggests that female orgasm bonds partners, ensuring two parents for the offspring, while mate selection offers that women use orgasm as a sort of litmus test for “quality” partners. The enhanced fertility theory, meanwhile, proposes that uterine contractions during female orgasm help to “suck up” sperm into the uterus."
Article titles like these are why scientists don't get laid.
Men and woman are different in life. I hope you find a match that nurtures all the inspires you in life. We all should learn the concept of nurturing. Just love the one your with.
"Article titles like these are why scientists don't get laid."
speak for yourself buddy! :)
I thought this had been figured out scientifically years ago! Male sperm (Y) are faster than female sperm (X), but the female sperm are more hardy. When a woman has an orgasm, the accompanying "squirt" fluids create a better environment (PH, etc.) for the male sperms to survive. In a harsher environment, the female sperm are more likely to win the race because the male sperm die out on the journey.
So, having an ejaculation while deep inside, and the woman having an orgasm, work together to create a male child since it's a short trip under good conditions. Ejaculating closer to the vulva (outer area) and the woman not climaxing favors creation of a female child because the sperm must travel farther under less ideal conditions.
Am I just making this up? It correlates with my own personal experience. It also makes sense in an evolutionary way. When the species is stressed and times are tough, the sex isn't as good. As a result, there are more female children produced to help increase the population (assuming all females will be impregnated and a few males will impregnate all available females).
So, the purpose of female orgasms is to increase the probablility of male offspring. Perhaps they should study that hypothesis.
I guess the premise of this article comes from everything that exist in your body, exist for some purpose otherwise it would not be there.
From that point of view you can stop and stair at you body and just wonder all day long, why do I have that or this and why do people do this or that?
How to fun to just ponder!
I can't believe this article didn't mention oxytocin. There is a wide world of wonder waiting for you when you learn about this lovely little peptide.
Another thing: one reason female orgasm takes longer in male-competitive species (in which males fight each other for breeding priority rather than wooing females with songs and plumage) is so that, should the victor turn out to be sterile, the bucks who lost to him -- and mate with the female after he does -- might have viable sperm even if the winner didn't. Delayed female orgasm encourages the female to mate with multiple partners rather than just the first one.
Since humans fall into this category, it's a thought.
Answer is probably a little of column A little column B. It serves as physical function by contracting the cervix, and it bonds her to her partner.
But what is the evolutionary purpose of the clitoris? A woman can have all the orgasms she ever needs if her partner is a good “speaker” and never has to have sex. LOL
Personally, I'd like to see less articles of this nature in PopSci. It's not that they are not interesting, or that they are not science, but...
I subscribe for the sake of my scientifically-oriented sons. But these young men do not need to be reading about how much protein a person gets from swallowing a man's semen or how the length and location of the clitoris contributes to orgasm statistics.
The first article about sex which I alluded to was offensive, to say the least. This second one about sex, not as much, although it borders on details that should not be published unless someone is researching sex-related material. But...that said...if I see ONE MORE article about sex that is graphically detailed and not suitable, in my opinion, for school-aged scientists-to-be, I am canceling my subscription.
lmao @ KingPatrickVII
The people of the world only divide into two kinds, One sort with brains who hold no religion, The other with religion and no brain.
- Abu-al-Ala al-Marri
TertiusGuy!!! GO TO YOUR ROOM YOUNG MAN AND NO YOU CAN NOT HAVE THE INTERNET TONIGHT!
I'm sure female orgasm has something to do with making it easier for the sperm to swim toward the egg, or actually help them physically move along via contractions. You might research this more...almost positive I read it somewhere...
I subscribed to PopSci BECAUSE they produce relevant articles like this. I'm also a high school science teacher; having read that some readers (as above) would be embarrassed to have their children read about the science of reproduction (or cancel their subscrip to the mag) is Sad!!
I would like to propose what I will call the "Awwwwww Ya!" theory of the female orgasm. It goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was an australopithecine with a random mutation that allowed her to feel real good when doing the nasty. Because this feeling did get in the way of breeding she did, and this trait was passed along to her descendants. Because breeding was rough many women who did not experience pleasure while having sex avoided it, while the women who had more pleasure engaged in it more freely. In addition, orgasms during menstration reduce cramping, and thus led to less homocide. Eventually, most females had some degree of pleasurability during sex, but once again, those that enjoyed it made fewer excuses about not having sex and as a result produced more off-spring, and had happier husbands, who prospered as a result of the symbiosis, allowing him to take care of more children.
If this theory is correct and progressive, in another 100k years you won't be able to look at a women without her having an orgasm, and we will all be filthy rich. Awwwwww ya!
"And, unlike male orgasm, female orgasm isn’t a prerequisite for pregnancy"
If this were true, the "pull out and pray" method would be like 97% effective...
The female orgasm is a 100% highly desirable recreational activity as in almost 100% of the male orgasms. The only way a woman can reach orgasm is when is done with her chosen partner at her chosen time. The process requires the rubbing of the vulva with slow and soft strokes and it may take around 15 minutes. The location of the rubbing may have to changed about every 4 minutes as the rubbed area becomes numb. The clitoris should not be touched. There is a similarity between this process and Ravel's Bolero where the tempo is constant, the intensity increases and lasts about 15 minutes and ends in total disaray. There not such a thing as vaginal orgasms.