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Question to the Sexpert:
“This may be a silly question: why do women have orgasms? I mean, women can get pregnant and have babies without ever getting off. So why does it exist?”
Short answer: nobody knows. It’s times like these when I think very briefly of how nice it would be to have some sort of literalist religious beliefs where the answer to every “why?” is “cause God said so.” It would save a lot of column writing time, freeing me up for endless 80s dance parties in my living room.
Yet you’re not the only one who’s posited this query, noticing that on a strictly biological level, our species’ perpetuation only requires male orgasm (or, more accurately, ejaculation) during heterosexual intercourse. Whether or not a pregnancy results depends on the woman’s menstrual cycle, not her enjoyment. If we needed women to have their fair shake too, many of us would not exist today.
As such, researchers have cooked up a few theories, 21theories according to Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd.
In this school of thought it’s argued that the uterine contractions associated with female orgasm create a vacuum-like suction that pulls semen upwards, increasing the odds a swimmer meets an egg. This theory can be lumped in another physics-related idea that a post-orgasmic woman remains on her back longer, preventing the seed from spilling out. There’s not really evidence for either one of these though.
WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?
In many species an adult male will kill the offspring of other males, to maintain his dominance. If, however, he doesn’t know who a baby’s dad is, but he knows he has hooked up with the kid’s mom, he’ll leave the baby alone, just in case it’s his. So some primate females have adapted a strategy of banging as many males in the group as possible, to ensure the safety of their children.
According to this theory, women orgasm because it drives them to sleep with as many men as possible, especially in a row, to confuse paternity. Since our society has institutions like marriage, religion and sexual guilt, we can’t say for certain, but this theory is almost certainly false.
ROUND ROBIN TO FIND THE WINNER
Women don’t always orgasm with intercourse, as we know. Some don’t orgasm at all. But it’s found that for those who sometimes do, they’re most likely to do so with a guy with symmetrical facial features, (a general indicator of attractiveness and health).
We also know that in order to get a woman off, it usually requires some degree of attentiveness and giving. So perhaps women (consciously or not) selectively orgasm with the guys that show the most potential as a mate. That is, will this dude be a “hit it and quit it” type douche or does he show promise as a considerate lover and genetic winner?
Yet ask nearly any woman and she’ll tell you about many any orgasm she’s had supplied by a total dipshit she wouldn’t let care for her plants, much less her kids.
WHAT ABOUT LOVE?
Orgasms are accompanied by a rush of chemical reactions in the brain, chemicals that calm us, make us hungry, sleepy, excited and slightly fonder of the person who provided the sensation. If bonding in this way makes it more likely a resultant child will be cared for, then it makes sense we’d be benefited by bonding with our orgasm donors. Sounds good; but again, no evidence really.
DAMN, LET’S DO THAT AGAIN
Orgasms make sex self-reinforcing. You don’t need to be told to do it to want to do it. But again, female orgasms are not reliable. They may happen in only certain circumstances, if at all, and when they do, they might come one after another.
BF Skinner studied rats and their behavior and how it could be shaped by rewards and punishment. He discovered intermittent reinforcement as a powerful means of encouragement: that periodically rewarding someone for something is much more likely to work than rewarding them every single time and the effect of the training lasts longer.
Apply these principles to sex and you’ll see why women would want to keep coming back for more, which increases the odds of getting knocked up.
WOMEN GET TO CAUSE MEN GET TO
In what is currently the most accepted theory, it’s suggested that women have orgasms simply because men do. For the first eight weeks in utero, embryos are identical sexually: neither male or female. The genital tubercule can develop as either a penis or a clitoris, depending on the chromosomes. So since males orgasm from having this bit of flesh messed with, so too do females, since it’s ultimately the same bit of flesh. It’s all a matter of the orgasmic potential of the bundle of nerves between your legs.
But that’s a really unsatisfying reason for a lot of people. And there is a lot of societal drama wrapped up around female orgasm. Freud believed there was only one appropriate way for women to come, Cosmo thinks you should get down with multiples and your G spot, porn wants to you squirt when you do.
The whole thing is presumptuous. What we DON’T know about orgasms could fill a stadium. We have no way of knowing if, when a rhino ejaculates, it sees God and feels waves of pleasure. What we do know is that with skill, patience and the right circumstances, women can orgasm. And what a glorious thing to know, indeed.
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