The Origins Of The Female Orgasm

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Questions about women’s orgasms are still common, but evolutionary biologists are more concerned with the why than the how.

For the first time, evidence has been found that orgasm represents an adaptation of the mechanism seen in other animals where sex stimulates ovulation.

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The female orgasm origin. Picture shows Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm from “When Harry Met Sally” via Youtube

Orgasm involves a complex set of neurological triggers, making it something unlikely to evolve by chance.

Such phenomena usually require strong pressure from natural selection, with those who experience orgasm being more likely to have healthy offspring.

More Orgasm, More Children?

Yet we know that, unlike for men, a female orgasm is not necessary for conception. And it’s certainly possible to see how, once women started having orgasms it might encourage more sex, and therefore more children.

Once childbirth became as dangerous and as painful as it is now an extra incentive to get down and dirty was probably particularly useful, but Dr Mihaela Pavlicev of the University of Cincinnati was more interested in deeper origins. After all, natural selection needs something to act on, a sort of proto-orgasm in this case.

Some animals maximize reproductive efficiency by waiting until they have sex to ovulate, and use the act of copulation to get things started. Why waste all the biological effort of producing an egg if there is no partner around to fertilize it? Rabbits are one species that do this, and their capacity to reproduce rapidly when conditions are right is legendary.

Orgasm Experiments on Rabbits

In PNAS, scientists describe treating rabbits with fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor known to interfere with orgasm in humans.

The rabbits in Pavlicev’s study were 30 percent less likely to ovulate after copulation when treated with fluoxetine compared to controls. Further tests showed the drug was having its effect through the central nervous system, rather than directly affecting the ovaries. Combined these suggest sex stimulates orgasms in women and ovulation in rabbits through similar neuroendocrine pathways, making it more likely the two have a common origin.

But why orgasm is so easy for some women and hard for others? Why for most women the trigger isn’t the sort of sex that leads to conception? This still remains unanswered.

Is it easy or hard for you to have an orgasm? [PNAS, Cindi Darnell, IFL]

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