Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revisiting the Female Orgasm

Sometime ago now I wrote a tongue in cheek post about the evolution of the clitoris relying heavily on the conclusions of the late paleo-evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould that sought to provide a structural as opposed to adaptive explanation for the evolution of the clitoris. The conclusion reached there was that the penis and clitoris are homologous and that it is only through embyronic sexual differentiation that the two become "distinct" parts of their respective genitalia. Now in that post I did not treat the various adaptive explanations that many have proposed for the clitoris such as that a clitoral orgasm might help "draw up" sperm further into the reproductive tract thus increasing the chances of propagation or that it is a part of "bond pairing", the idea being that a female is more likely to stay and therefore continue to reproduce with a male that is able to fulfill her sexually via clitoral stimulation. There are many others and I chose not to engage with these adaptive theories because, again, that post was meant primarily to be humorous and entertaining.

Why am I then revisiting that post? Well, I came across an article on CNN that deals with exactly this issue and, interestingly enough, cites a recent study from Animal Behavior which questions the validity of the byproduct theory of the evolution of the clitoris:

Yet a study of twins and siblings published recently in the journal Animal Behavior questions the byproduct theory of female orgasm. Researchers looked for similarities in orgasm function between 10,000 Finnish female and male twins. And although there were significant similarities between same-sex twins, the researchers found no such correlation in orgasm function between opposite-sex twins, a correlation one would expect if female orgasm is a byproduct of male orgasm.

I'm not going to debate the findings of this recent research because I'm simply not qualified to do so though I do think it is flawed. And though I wrote about this with considerable levity in that earlier post this is actually an important issue when it comes to female sexuality. As the CNN article states we tend to reflexively value things that we hold as being more natural. But the female clitoris has historically been viewed as less than natural because of the (seemingly) lack of a role it plays in the reproduction of the species. Because of this it was seen as unnatural and hence improper for a woman to experience an orgasm other than through sexual intercourse. Sigmund Freud for example noted that it was fine for a young girl to experience an orgasm through self stimulation of her clitoris but that when she got married she should put away such childish behavior and thereon only attempt to achieve orgasm through intercourse thereby consigning an untold number of married women to sexual oblivion because as I noted in that earlier post the majority of women cannot achieve orgasm except through direct or at least indirect stimulation of their clitoris.

I suppose this is why I am attracted to the "byproduct" theory of the evolution of the clitoris because it easily disarms those who may be tempted to argue that stimulation of the clitoris is unnatural or unwarranted. And though I joked about it in that earlier post, the subject of the evolution of the female orgasm really is no laughing matter since at stake here is the justified sexual satisfaction of millions of women.

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