The Evolutionary Origin of the Female Orgasm

Last week, one particular story flew under the radar. I suspect a lot of stories will do that in the midst of a Presidential Election/Political Sideshow. However, being an aspiring writer who focuses on erotica, sex, and intimate romance, these sorts of stories do catch my attention. They also give me something new to think about as I’m developing my stories.

Believe it or not, there’s an ongoing struggle in the scientific world and it has to do with the female orgasm. Yes, the same science that gives is iPhones, rockets, and crazy glue still can’t decipher the female orgasm. Why is it a mystery? Well, evolutionary speaking, we don’t know why the hell it’s there.

Granted, we’re grateful for the joys of orgasms, male and female alike. I’ve already written about the numerous health benefits that come with orgasms so it’s not like nature isn’t aware of them to some degree. Nature tends to make use of something, regardless of how it came to be. That’s the thing though. From an evolutionary standpoint, we really don’t know how the female orgasm came to be or what purpose it serves.

Human physiology is pretty damn remarkable compared to other primates. In most primates, what science defines as an orgasm plays a part in reproductive success. A male’s orgasm is accompanied by the release of sperm. A female orgasm is accompanied by ovulation. It makes perfect evolutionary sense. A species that experiences orgasm in accord with reproductive behaviors is definitely going to have the right incentive to propagate.

Humans are different though. While the male orgasm is still associated with the release of sexual fluids vital for reproduction, the female orgasm offers no such benefit. A woman need not have an orgasm in order to reproduce. Ideally, it’s just a happy byproduct. Since nature favors survival over meaningless fun though, it still doesn’t explain why the female orgasm is still there. Now, a study published in July 2016 in the Journal of Experimental Zoology offers a potential explanation. Here’s the abstract:

The evolutionary explanation of female orgasm has been difficult to come by. The orgasm in women does not obviously contribute to the reproductive success, and surprisingly unreliably accompanies heterosexual intercourse. Two types of explanations have been proposed: one insisting on extant adaptive roles in reproduction, another explaining female orgasm as a byproduct of selection on male orgasm, which is crucial for sperm transfer. We emphasize that these explanations tend to focus on evidence from human biology and thus address the modification of a trait rather than its evolutionary origin. To trace the trait through evolution requires identifying its homologue in other species, which may have limited similarity with the human trait. Human female orgasm is associated with an endocrine surge similar to the copulatory surges in species with induced ovulation. We suggest that the homolog of human orgasm is the reflex that, ancestrally, induced ovulation. This reflex became superfluous with the evolution of spontaneous ovulation, potentially freeing female orgasm for other roles. This is supported by phylogenetic evidence showing that induced ovulation is ancestral, while spontaneous ovulation is derived within eutherians. In addition, the comparative anatomy of female reproductive tract shows that evolution of spontaneous ovulation is correlated with increasing distance of clitoris from the copulatory canal. In summary, we suggest that the female orgasm-like trait may have been adaptive, however for a different role, namely for inducing ovulation. With the evolution of spontaneous ovulation, orgasm was freed to gain secondary roles, which may explain its maintenance, but not its origin.

There are some telling words within the science jargon, namely the concept of the female orgasm being unreliable during sexual intercourse. I doubt women need science to prove this to them. However, that unreliability may be a big reason why orgasms developed into other uses. The study calls it “adaptive,” something that tends to happen a lot in evolution. If a trait ceases to have one use, it can develop another. That’s how land mammals develop into whales. This kind of adaptation, however, is much sexier.

It’s that adaptation part that helped make human beings the extremely social, uniquely passionate creatures that they are. If orgasms no longer have solely reproductive roles, then it can develop other roles within our species. Those roles include romantic roles. An orgasm doesn’t have to involve reproduction. It can involve love, the bonding of two individuals to create a more cohesive society. It’s that cohesion that helps make humans the dominant species of the planet. A bear may be physically stronger than any human, but humans can coordinate better to take them down. Orgasms are just part of that process.

Now it’s not like we need more reasons to celebrate orgasms, male and female alike, but it is nice to know that they did play a role in the success of our species. Success, on any level, is worth celebrating and orgasms give us plenty of ways to celebrate.

3 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, Uncategorized

3 responses to “The Evolutionary Origin of the Female Orgasm

  1. Pingback: Sex, Drugs, and their Effects | Jack Fisher's Official Publishing Blog

  2. Pingback: Virtual Reality: The Future/End of Intimacy? | Jack Fisher's Official Publishing Blog

  3. Pingback: The Orgasm Gap: Biological Or Psychological? | Jack Fisher's Official Publishing Blog

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