The Female Orgasm: Why Would Evolution Invest So Much in Such a Fanciful Yet Futile Aim?

Few things are as magical as the female orgasm, whether you are experiencing it, inducing it, or just a casual observer. It is wondrously perplexing.

In the words of one Wanjiru:

It’s like melting and exploding at the same time. You don’t have any control, and it’s maybe the only time in your life when you’re not worried about anything but that very moment; A rising, inexplicable wave coursing through your body, it feels like you have a jazz yet hard rock electrical current running directly through the vagina. It’s just this crazy moment where every single cell is screaming, ‘YES!’.

Simply put, it’s pure art in motion.

Yet, there are many things we don’t know about the phenomenon. The most tantalizing question of all, though, has barely been addressed – namely, what is the evolutionary point of the female orgasm?

An orgasm is not necessary to get pregnant. Penis-in-vagina sex is not the best way to generate one, although that’s still the most efficient way to make a baby. Moreover, evolutionarily, ecstasy wasn’t a core purpose of sexual intercourse. The primary function was and always has been the propagation of the species. Pleasure only ensured that organisms engaged in it more, increasing the chances of reproduction. Currently, it’s the male orgasm, ejaculation, that is responsible for procreation – at least in primates, humans included. Nature doesn’t seem to care whether ladies have an orgasm or not. It seems hard to find a compelling reason why humans need a female orgasm at all.

Why, then, would evolution invest so much in such a fanciful aim?

Just like vestigial organs such as wisdom teeth, appendix, tonsils and body hair, the clitoris – the organ largely responsible for the female orgasm – is an evolutionary leftover. As the female reproductive system evolved, so did the role of the orgasm. Once necessary for conception, it’s now rendered unnecessary and has become superfluous, but one could argue out that it stuck around in female biology due to its secondary role as a pleasurable bonding mechanism.

There is a great variation in clitoris size and location, but the organ steadfastly remains outside of the vaginal canal. This is part of the reason why many women report difficulty in having orgasms from intercourse unless there is additional clitoris-specific stimulation.

Two hormones are released during penetrative intercourse across species: prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is responsible for the processes surrounding breast-milk and breastfeeding, while oxytocin is the ‘calm and cuddle’ hormone that helps us bond and feel closer to others. Placental mammals in the wild need these two hormones to trigger ovulation. Without them, the process cannot occur.

The secret in unravelling the feminine sexual spasm lies in ovulation, the mechanism that causes ovaries to discharge eggs for reproduction. In humans, ovulation happens spontaneously, without stimulation, often on a regular schedule: cyclic ovulation. But in some species, like cats, camels, and rabbits, physical stimulation is needed to prompt the egg to be released — a phenomenon called induced ovulation.

Evolutionary biologists believe that spontaneous ovulation first occurred, in the common ancestor of primates and rodents, around 75 million years ago. From here, it is deduced that the female orgasm must have been an important part of reproduction in early humans. Before spontaneous ovulation, the human clitoris may have been placed inside the vagina. Stimulation of the clitoris during intercourse would trigger the release of prolactin and oxytocin, which would, in turn, induce ovulation. This process became obsolete once spontaneous ovulation made it onto the scene.

This concept is supported by a fascinating finding: the development of spontaneous ovulation parallels a shift in clitoris position. Based on the evolutionary ties between a range of animals, later-evolving creatures, humans included, ovulated spontaneously. And this change coincided with the clitoris shifting northward, further away from the vagina.

It’s at this point that the clitoris lost its function for reproduction.

Oddly, orgasm is the only known human activity that stimulates all areas of the brain at once. And since all brain systems are activated simultaneously, there is sufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

So, by extension, orgasms are good.

Physiologically speaking, the climax is accompanied by a split second entirely devoid of thought. No horde used this knowledge better to their religious advantage than the ancient Egyptians and Greeks who performed Hieros Gamos (Divine Union) to celebrate the reproductive power of the female. Although it probably looked like a sex ritual, it had nothing to do with eroticism. It was a spiritual act. How so? Well, intercourse was the act through which male and female experienced God. The ancients believed that the male was spiritually incomplete until he had carnal knowledge of the feminine. Physical union with the female remained the sole means through which man could become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis — knowledge of the divine. Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven. By communing with woman, man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God. Orgasm as prayer. During the moment of a brief mental vacuum, there was an instant of clarity during which God could be glimpsed. Or so they believed.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this study is the implication that there is an evolutionary reason why women don’t always orgasm; It’s not that there’s anything wrong. It’s just how their anatomy is. In plain words, women who don’t achieve orgasm during sexual intercourse are not defective – just highly evolved.

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