Orgasm Wars - the real purpose of the female orgasm

The Orgasm Wars Evolutionary – human biologists discover the purpose behind female orgasms.

For years, scientists have been debating the function of female orgasm. Now they've finally figured it out.

For women, the psychology of sexual satisfaction turns out to be much more sophisticated than most scientists have been willing to concede. Of course ever since Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson made the subject of human sexual response safe for respectable scientists, laboratory studies of the physiologic "hows" of sexual arousal have flourished.

Sperm Competition, with Women as the Ultimate Judges

Clues for a reasonable adaptation hypothesis were readily available by the late 1960s, when The British Medical Journal published an exchange of letters about the muscular contractions and uterine suction associated with women's orgasm.

It was only three years ago that two British biologists, Robin Baker and Mark Bellis, tested the so-called upsuck hypothesis. They were building upon ideas articulated by evolutionary biologist Robert Smith, who suggested that since women don't have orgasms during every act of intercourse, female orgasm may create an environment that favors the sperm of certain partners, over the sperm of others.

Baker and Bellis sought to learn just how female orgasms might affect which of a lover's sperm is used to fertilize a woman's eggs.

They asked volunteers to keep track of the timing of their orgasms during sex, and, after copulation, to collect male ejaculates from vaginal tracts. The team investigated the semen counts from over 300 instances of human copulation.

They discovered that when a woman climaxes any time between one-minute before to 45 minutes after her lover ejaculates, she retains significantly more sperm than she does after non-orgasmic intercourse.

On those occasions when her orgasm precedes her partner’s ejaculation by more than one minute, or when she does not have an orgasm at all, significantly less sperm is retained. Just as the researchers suggested decades earlier, the team's results indicated that muscular contractions associated with orgasm pull sperm from the vagina into the cervix, resulting in higher chances of conception.

Baker and Bellis proposed that through the subconscious manipulation of both the occurrence and the timing of their orgasm women unknowingly influence the probability of their conception. So while an attached male might be motivated to help his partner achieve orgasm as a means to deter her desire to stray, there is increasing evidence that orgasmic females may be up to something far more clever; subconsciously deciding which partner will sire her children.

Meanwhile, other researchers were making related discoveries about the nature of male attractiveness. Behavioral ecologists had noted that most female mammals prefer males with high degrees of bilateral body symmetry, called developmental stability in the parlance of science. In layman’s terms this results in what we common know as physical attraction.

Nature’s design promotes the selection of the best genetic material for the benefit of all species. Since there is no physical means to determine the true genetic value of any potential mate, all species including humans have evolved to respond to outward, physical cues. There is indeed a supreme logic behind the stereotype of the rugged, handsome, virile male. While it is surely no guarantee, the odds are highest that such a male will sire healthy, physically similar offspring and women will find themselves physically drawn to such a male.

Thornhill and Gangestad reasoned that if women's orgasms are an evolutionary adaptation designed to secure the best genes for their offspring, then women should report more orgasms with relatively attractive mates. Collaborating for a second time, the two, along with graduate student Randall Comer, devised studies to test this theory.

They enrolled 86 sexually active heterosexual couples from among the undergraduates. The average age of the partners was 22 and the couples had been together an average of two years. Then the researchers had each person privately--and anonymously--answer questions about his or her sexual experiences.

The researchers took facial photographs of each person and analyzed the features by computer; they also had them graded for attractiveness by independent raters blind to the study. They measured various body parts to assess bilateral symmetry--the width of elbow, wrist, hand, ankle, and foot bones, and the length of the second and fifth fingers. Earlier studies had suggested all of these were directly associated with the level of health.

Indeed, the hypothesized relationship between male attractiveness and female orgasm proved to be true, the researchers recently reported in the Journal of Human Behavior (Vol. 50, December). From data on sexual behavior provided by the women, those whose partners were most attractive enjoyed a significantly higher frequency of orgasms during sexual intercourse than did those with less attractive mates.

Even the data on sexual experience provided by the men showed the women had more orgasms with the most attractive men, regardless of the experience level of the male.

It's important to note what did NOT correlate with female orgasm during sex. Surprisingly, the degree of a women’s romantic attachment to the male did not increase the frequency of orgasm. Nor did the sexual experience of either partner. Similarly, the use or lack of use of any birth control method had no relationship between female orgasm and the use of contraception.

Nor can the study results be explained by the possibility that the attractive males were dating unusually sexually expressive women. Their partners did not have more orgasms during foreplay or in other sexual activities. Male attractiveness correlated with a high frequency of female orgasm only during copulation.

The findings support evolutionary psychologists' "genetic superiority" hypothesis: Simply put, women have orgasm more often with their most attractive lovers, regardless of the status of their personal relationship, thereby increasing the likelihood of conception.

Cheating Hearts – Men and Women

Here's the cruelest part of Thornhill and Gangestad's findings: The males who most inspire high-sperm-retention orgasmic responses from their female partners seldom invest more in their relationships than do other men, and in fact such investment had no bearing on the female’s physical responses.

Studies show that attractive men have the shortest courtships before having sexual intercourse with the women, on average 1.2 dates less than less attractive men. They invest the least money and time prior to achieving intercourse and, if previously in a relationship, they cheated on their mates more often than less attractive men. This finding is a stark contrast to often quoted bonding hypothesis, which promotes the theory that women with investing, caring mates will have the most orgasms with that man.

The women who took part in the study were no saints, either. The questionnaires included inquiries about the concept of faking orgasms. Only one women reported faking an orgasm during intercourse with a male that she considered to be very attractive. Faking, however, was much more common among women who reported sexual intercourse with men labeled as somewhat attractive or less, reported as occurring 29% of the time.

Clearly earlier theories were not too far off the mark when they proposed that a man looks for cues of sexual satisfaction from his mate for reassurance of her fidelity. Faking orgasms might be the easiest way for the woman with more that one lover to avoid the suspicions of her primary partner.

Baker and Bellis found that when women do engage in infidelity, they retain less sperm from their main partners (their husbands, in many cases), and more often experience copulatory orgasms during their trysts outside the primary relationship, unwittingly retaining higher levels of semen from their lovers.

Taken together, these findings suggest that the female orgasm is less affected by a long-term bonding with a nice guy, and is more about the subconsciously deliberate evaluation of male genetic makeup and maximizing the likelihood of conception from the males, or males, with the best genes.

Patterns of female orgasm point to one important conclusion about our evolutionary past--that sexual restraint did not prevail among women. But that's only part of the evidence. Another piece of the puzzle is male ejaculation.

Baker and Bellis found that the number of sperm in men's ejaculate changes, and it varies according to the amount of time that romantic partners have spent apart. The longer a woman's absence, the more sperm in her husband's ejaculate upon the couple's reunion. Males increase ejaculate size, it seems, to match the increased risk that a mate was inseminated by a competitor.

In an ancestral environment of truly monogamous mating, there would have been no need for females to have orgasm or for men to adjust ejaculate size. Both are adaptations to a sex life which potentially could include the possibility of the inclusion of other partners.


If we use these study's findings to understand how we humans are designed to behave in the sexual domain, says Randy Thomhill, Ph.D., then we are better equipped to deal with problems that arise in relationships. He points to the following results as among those we should take to heart:

· A woman's capacity for orgasm depends less on her partner's sexual skills, but on her subconscious evaluation of his genetic merits.

· Women's orgasm has little to do with love or experience, and more on physical attributes.

· Good men are indeed hard to find, and women will respond physically to the presence of such a man.

· The men with the best genetic makeup often make the worst mates.

· Women are no more built for monogamy than men are. They are designed to keep their options open, and are not opposed to a long term bonding with one male while seeking sexual pairings with other males.

· Women can fake orgasm to divert a partner's attention away from their infidelities.

Published date: 20070101
Source: Psychology Today
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