Thoughts On Female Orgasm

The female orgasm has been receiving more attention by scientists lately; not just sexuality scholars and therapists who are interested in helping women achieve orgasms, but also researchers curious about the evolution of the female orgasm. In contrast to the male orgasm, which is easily explained by its purpose in facilitating reproduction, the female orgasm can seem downright perplexing.

This blog post by Greg Laden explains the dilemma rather well:

It is essential that males have orgasms or there would be no reproduction. Therefore there is male orgasm-related physiology. Just as males accidentally have female nipples because of a quirk of developmental biology, the theory went, females accidentally have some left over bits of orgasm-making machinery in their bodies so we end up with the occasional and largely unexpected female orgasm. But the orgasms have no adaptive purpose.

This summary is only one perspective, however, and one that assumes that women’s physiology must mirror men’s. Rather, as the essay continues, we get a more complex picture of how patriarchal assumptions have been inadequate in informing the science attempting to explain women’s orgasm. Using evidence from primate studies and archaeology, the author makes the case that food production and social geography played a large role in the co-evolution of human sexual behaviors. And in light of the fact that long-term and complex relationships have been a feature of human sexuality for a while, and orgasms for both genders seem to be a part of human erotic behavior, the female orgasm isn’t just some quirk of evolution–it’s an important part of human sexual evolution.

Around the same time as I was puzzling over this issue, I read a piece about how women’s orgasmic-sounding moans tend to peak more around men’s orgasms than around women’s orgasms. The explanation offered is that women’s vocalizations turn men on, and whether women are doing it consciously or not, their sounds in bed facilitate male orgasm.

Reading these essays together, I believe one can make the case that women’s orgasms–the sounds, the physiological responses, the whole package–are a complex phenomenon, tied more to the social aspects of sex than to its physical aspects. Maybe female orgasm doesn’t, on the surface, perform as “important” a function as sperm-delivery, but its existence may help provide the social-sexual glue that aids relationship formation and maintenance. Not bad for a “little death,” eh?

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About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.