Why do women have orgasms? The question has long confused scientists; after all, orgasm isn’t necessary for conception, and women can orgasm even when they’re not having reproductive sex. Now, a new study brings an interesting new theory into the mix: Women’s orgasms could be a vestige left over by evolution itself.
In a paper published Sunday in the Journal of Experimental Zoology, Mihaela Pavlicev of the University of Cincinnati and Gunter Wagner of Yale University describe how, over millions of years, evolutionary history suggests reproduction could help explain the female orgasm after all.
“For orgasms, we kept it reserved for humans and primates,” Pavlicev told The New York Times. “We didn’t look to other species to dig deeper and look for the origin.”
As the biologists point out, while human females are on an ovulatory cycle, therefore releasing an egg once a month, there are other female mammals that only release an egg after they’ve mated with a male. By studying the history of early mammals, Pavlicey and Wagner concluded that humans’ early ancestors likely also relied on sex to trigger ovulation before we evolved ovulatory cycles.
According to the study, early female mammals developed the clitoris inside of the vagina so that when mating, it would trigger the release of the egg. This way, the animal could have a higher chance of reproduction with every sexual encounter, and they’d be less likely to waste an egg. But as the New York Times explains, as some mammals began to evolve to live in social groups, mating became much more regular, and as a result, these mammals eventually evolved to have ovulatory cycles. Because of this, the clitoris also evolved and moved outside of the vagina, since orgasm was no longer necessary to help females become pregnant.
While the theory doesn’t exactly explain why females have orgasms today, both biologists hope that it helps foster a dialogue in the science community and encourages further exploration on the topic.
“I think you’re looking at the whole woman’s reproductive system a little differently when you have a model for how it might have evolved,” Wagner told the New York Times.
For now, its less evolutionary purpose seems like a good enough reason for its existence to me.