May 19, 2005 at 10:41 am #5805
Interesting summary of scientific debate about function of female orgasm that has relevance for the expectation between partners cultivating together.
My view is that orgasm is the underlying cosmic pattern of function within all creation, and mirrored microcosmically within males and females. Standard darwinian theory is too narrow to acount for the role that inner consciousness has on physical evolution.
This is the spiritual view: that energy body patterns the physical body. But there is feedback from physical body that changes energy body and spiritual body patterns. This is the aspect standard darwinian theoriests are looking at, and it seems to me to be at least half true.
Form – Formless are endless feedback loop.
A CRITIC TAKES ON THE LOGIC OF FEMALE ORGASM
By Dinitia Smith
New York Times
May 17, 2005
Evolutionary scientists have never had difficulty explaining the male
orgasm, closely tied as it is to reproduction.
But the Darwinian logic behind the female orgasm has remained elusive. Women
can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant – doing their part for
the perpetuation of the species – without experiencing orgasm. So what is
its evolutionary purpose?
Over the last four decades, scientists have come up with a variety of
theories, arguing, for example, that orgasm encourages women to have sex
and, therefore, reproduce or that it leads women to favor stronger and
healthier men, maximizing their offspring’s chances of survival.
But in a new book, Dr. Elisabeth A. Lloyd, a philosopher of science and
professor of biology at Indiana University, takes on 20 leading theories and
finds them wanting. The female orgasm, she argues in the book, “The Case of
the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,” has no evolutionary
function at all.
Rather, Dr. Lloyd says the most convincing theory is one put forward in 1979
by Dr. Donald Symons, an anthropologist.
That theory holds that female orgasms are simply artifacts – a byproduct of
the parallel development of male and female embryos in the first eight or
nine weeks of life.
In that early period, the nerve and tissue pathways are laid down for
various reflexes, including the orgasm, Dr. Lloyd said. As development
progresses, male hormones saturate the embryo, and sexuality is defined.
In boys, the penis develops, along with the potential to have orgasms and
ejaculate, while “females get the nerve pathways for orgasm by initially
having the same body plan.”
Nipples in men are similarly vestigial, Dr. Lloyd pointed out.
While nipples in woman serve a purpose, male nipples appear to be simply
left over from the initial stage of embryonic development.
The female orgasm, she said, “is for fun.”
Dr. Lloyd said scientists had insisted on finding an evolutionary function
for female orgasm in humans either because they were invested in believing
that women’s sexuality must exactly parallel that of men or because they
were convinced that all traits had to be “adaptations,” that is, serve an
Theories of female orgasm are significant, she added, because “men’s
expectations about women’s normal sexuality, about how women should perform,
are built around these notions.”
“And men are the ones who reflect back immediately to the woman whether or
not she is adequate sexually,” Dr. Lloyd continued.
Central to her thesis is the fact that women do not routinely have orgasms
during sexual intercourse.
She analyzed 32 studies, conducted over 74 years, of the frequency of female
orgasm during intercourse.
When intercourse was “unassisted,” that is not accompanied by stimulation of
the clitoris, just a quarter of the women studied experienced orgasms often
or very often during intercourse, she found.
Five to 10 percent never had orgasms. Yet many of the women became pregnant.
Dr. Lloyd’s figures are lower than those of Dr. Alfred A. Kinsey, who in his
1953 book “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” found that 39 to 47 percent
of women reported that they always, or almost always, had orgasm during
But Kinsey, Dr. Lloyd said, included orgasms assisted by clitoral
Dr. Lloyd said there was no doubt in her mind that the clitoris was an
evolutionary adaptation, selected to create excitement, leading to sexual
intercourse and then reproduction.
But, “without a link to fertility or reproduction,” Dr. Lloyd said, “orgasm
cannot be an adaptation.”
Not everyone agrees. For example, Dr. John Alcock, a professor of biology at
Arizona State University, criticized an earlier version of Dr. Lloyd’s
thesis, discussed in in a 1987 article by Stephen Jay Gould in the magazine
In a phone interview, Dr. Alcock said that he had not read her new book, but
that he still maintained the hypothesis that the fact that “orgasm doesn’t
occur every time a woman has intercourse is not evidence that it’s not
“I’m flabbergasted by the notion that orgasm has to happen every time to be
adaptive,” he added.
Dr. Alcock theorized that a woman might use orgasm “as an unconscious way to
evaluate the quality of the male,” his genetic fitness and, thus, how
suitable he would be as a father for her offspring.
“Under those circumstances, you wouldn’t expect her to have it every time,”
Dr. Alcock said.
Among the theories that Dr. Lloyd addresses in her book is one proposed in
1993, by Dr. R. Robin Baker and Dr. Mark A. Bellis, at Manchester University
in England. In two papers published in the journal Animal Behaviour, they
argued that female orgasm was a way of manipulating the retention of sperm
by creating suction in the uterus. When a woman has an orgasm from one
minute before the man ejaculates to 45 minutes after, she retains more
sperm, they said.
Furthermore, they asserted, when a woman has intercourse with a man other
than her regular sexual partner, she is more likely to have an orgasm in
that prime time span and thus retain more sperm, presumably making
conception more likely. They postulated that women seek other partners in an
effort to obtain better genes for their offspring.
Dr. Lloyd said the Baker-Bellis argument was “fatally flawed because their
sample size is too small.”
“In one table,” she said, “73 percent of the data is based on the experience
of one person.”
In an e-mail message recently, Dr. Baker wrote that his and Dr. Bellis’s
manuscript had “received intense peer review appraisal” before publication.
Statisticians were among the reviewers, he said, and they noted that some
sample sizes were small, “but considered that none of these were fatal to
Dr. Lloyd said that studies called into question the logic of such theories.
Research by Dr. Ludwig Wildt and his colleagues at the University of
Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany in 1998, for example, found that in a healthy
woman the uterus undergoes peristaltic contractions throughout the day in
the absence of sexual intercourse or orgasm. This casts doubt, Dr. Lloyd
argues, on the idea that the contractions of orgasm somehow affect sperm
Another hypothesis, proposed in 1995 by Dr. Randy Thornhill, a professor of
biology at the University of New Mexico and two colleagues, held that women
were more likely to have orgasms during intercourse with men with
symmetrical physical features. On the basis of earlier studies of physical
attraction, Dr. Thornhill argued that symmetry might be an indicator of
Dr. Lloyd, however, said those conclusions were not viable because “they
only cover a minority of women, 45 percent, who say they sometimes do, and
sometimes don’t, have orgasm during intercourse.”
“It excludes women on either end of the spectrum,” she said. “The 25 percent
who say they almost always have orgasm in intercourse and the 30 percent who
say they rarely or never do. And that last 30 percent includes the 10
percent who say they never have orgasm under any circumstances.”
In a phone interview, Dr. Thornhill said that he had not read Dr. Lloyd’s
book but the fact that not all women have orgasms during intercourse
supports his theory.
“There will be patterns in orgasm with preferred and not preferred men,” he
Dr. Lloyd also criticized work by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an emeritus professor
of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, who studies primate
behavior and female reproductive strategies.
Scientists have documented that orgasm occurs in some female primates; for
other mammals, whether orgasm occurs remains an open question.
In the 1981 book “The Woman That Never Evolved” and in her other work, Dr.
Hrdy argues that orgasm evolved in nonhuman primates as a way for the female
to protect her offspring from the depredation of males.
She points out that langur monkeys have a high infant mortality rate, with
30 percent of deaths a result of babies’ being killed by males who are not
the fathers. Male langurs, she says, will not kill the babies of females
they have mated with.
In macaques and chimpanzees, she said, females are conditioned by the
pleasurable sensations of clitoral stimulation to keep copulating with
multiple partners until they have an orgasm. Thus, males do not know which
infants are theirs and which are not and do not attack them.
Dr. Hrdy also argues against the idea that female orgasm is an artifact of
the early parallel development of male and female embryos.
“I’m convinced,” she said, “that the selection of the clitoris is quite
separate from that of the penis in males.”
In critiquing Dr. Hrdy’s view, Dr. Lloyd disputes the idea that longer
periods of sexual intercourse lead to a higher incidence of orgasm,
something that if it is true, may provide an evolutionary rationale for
But Dr. Hrdy said her work did not speak one way or another to the issue of
female orgasm in humans. “My hypothesis is silent,” she said.
One possibility, Dr. Hrdy said, is that orgasm in women may have been an
adaptive trait in our prehuman ancestors.
“But we separated from our common primate ancestors about seven million
years ago,” she said.
“Perhaps the reason orgasm is so erratic is that it’s phasing out,” Dr. Hrdy
said. “Our descendants on the starships may well wonder what all the fuss
Western culture is suffused with images of women’s sexuality, of women in
the throes of orgasm during intercourse and seeming to reach heights of
pleasure that are rare, if not impossible, for most women in everyday life.
“Accounts of our evolutionary past tell us how the various parts of our body
should function,” Dr. Lloyd said.
If women, she said, are told that it is “natural” to have orgasms every time
they have intercourse and that orgasms will help make them pregnant, then
they feel inadequate or inferior or abnormal when they do not achieve it.
“Getting the evolutionary story straight has potentially very large social
and personal consequences for all women,” Dr. Lloyd said. “And indirectly
for men, as well.”
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