For years, scientists have been baffled by why females orgasm. Sure, it feels good to climax. And yes, orgasms have health benefits. But unlike the male orgasm, which is essential for reproduction, the female orgasm doesn’t necessarily serve a clear function. So why do women have them at all?
A new study, which analyzed the biology and physiology of various mammals, as well as their evolutionary relationships to humans, suggests that the female orgasm may, essentially, be leftover from a time early in the evolution of human sexuality when orgasming helped stimulate ovulation.
But with the evolution of spontaneous ovulation ― i.e., the body’s ability to release eggs without having sex, as occurs in humans ― the female orgasm basically became superfluous, at least from a reproductive point of view.
The authors of the new findings, published in JEZ-Molecular and Developmental Evolution on Monday, also point out that in other mammals, such as pigs, the clitoris ― which plays a huge role in orgasm ― is actually inside the female sex canal. (In humans, the clitoris is actually made up of three parts: The glans, or the external, nerve-packed structure; the shaft, which is internal, and the hood, which covers both the glans and shaft.)
“Having the clitoris in the vagina is ancestral, and only in a few groups ― like primates (including humans), it is found outside,” said Gunter Wagner, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with Yale University and an author on the new study. He and his co-researchers relied on published information about living species, their genitals, and their ovarian cycles, as well as the evolutionary relationships between various mammals, which they ran through a computer program that helped provide a best guess for what the ancestral species must have looked like and how ovulation and orgasm fit together.
Wagner believes the new theory has real-world implications for women, and not just because it helps satisfy curiosity about their evolution.
“Sigmund Freud, in 1905, thought that the inability of some women to reach orgasm during intercourse is due to a defect in their psychological maturation,” he said. “As a consequence it was seen as a pathology, and thus women with that condition felt defective ... Our model, in contrast, suggests that inability to reach orgasm in females during intercourse is a natural, evolved condition and not a pathology.”
In other words, the findings may provide some explanation to any woman who has ever wondered why, given that most women require clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm, the clitoris isn’t simply in their vaginal canal. And also offers a scientific, evolutionary explanation for why the heterosexual orgasm gap is so very wide and real.
But the new theory is just that ― a theory. Other hypotheses suggest women orgasm in order to serve as a kind of “litmus test” to zero in on “quality partners,” as Popular Science explains. Or that the pleasure of having an orgasm encourages women to have more sex, which increases the likelihood of fertility.
Of course, whatever the origins of the female orgasm, there’s no question they it feels damn amazing. So be make like Nicki Minaj, and be sure stand up for your right to get yours.