As it’s Valentine’s Day it would be quite appropriate to talk about the science of attraction and love. However the physical and biochemical process behind it has to be broken up into lust, attraction and attachment as it is. What’s more fun to talk about is what many people will probably be having on this sacred day: an orgasm. Well at least that’s what people will be aiming for, however with reports of over 3/4 women having faked an orgasm (and a quarter of men supposedly) who knows if that magical event will ever even happen?! Well, lets talk through an orgasm in a scientific way shall we? I’ll focus on the enigma of a female orgasm to be precise; maybe it could help spot a faker…
Firstly, whoever the scientists are behind some of the papers I’ll reference have one hell of a job. Lets take Brewer & Hendrie (2011). They showed that “copulatory vocalizations in women are not a reflexive consequence of orgasm” a.k.a if she screams and shouts that’s because she wants to be noisy and doesn’t mean anything about whether she’s close or even ‘there’. The same study also went so far as to say that in that sample, a female orgasm occurred least through vaginal penetration, so that’s probably not your best shot tonight guys and girls… My favourite line from the paper’s abstract: “copulatory vocalizations and indicate that there is at least an element of these responses that are under conscious control, providing women with an opportunity to manipulate male behavior to their advantage”. Classic.
So what happens during a female orgasm? Well now we know screaming and shouting doesn’t mean jack. Puts et al (2012) give a very nice review of the whole process, but here are the basics: the woman experiences both feelings of intense pleasure and release at sexual climax. Physiologically, this includes increased heart rate, blood pressure and crazy random muscle contractions downstairs. The whole pleasure part comes from releases of chemical in the brain; oxytocin is a hormone released at orgasm in both sexes and has a role to play in the pleasurable sensations. Add to that our good friend dopamine and suddenly the brain is awash with happy juices (not sure if I should use the word juices in this context ever again…). Komisaruk et al (2006) goes into great depth about ‘The science of orgasm’ (so much so there’s 358 pages on the subject) including details how not only do the downstairs muscles contract, but there’s also involuntary contractions of the face and arching of the back. So stop listening to her to work out if you’re doing it right and start looking out for the muscle tension, everywhere!
There are two really big debates on the female orgasm. The first is why? And the second is about the ‘type’ of orgasm. Some show a difference between clitoral and g-spot orgasms (Fisher 1973), some just say that stimulation of different sites just results in the same type of orgasm but varying only in intensity (Masters & Johnson, 1966). What I should note is that most of the studies I’ve found on these specific attributes of the female orgasm were conducted in the 60s and 70s… The most recent and comprehensive study I’ve found is King, Belsky, Mah and Binik (2011) who use 503 women’s own descriptions to come up with 4 distinct classes of orgasm. This included the intensity of the orgasm, how it was achieved and ‘where’ it was felt. Basically these scientists sat writing up notes while over 500 women talked dirrrty to them.
On a slightly more serious note, the why women orgasm is hotly debated. Is it a by-product of evolution, does it have a purpose? There’s the mate-choice hypothesis or the by-product hypothesis (Puts et al, 2012). The mate hypothesis believes the female orgasm has a role in mate selection, the by-product hypothesis believes it doesn’t and is just something women have kept from some early ontogeny with men (where it is an adaptation). One key point is it is believed that the female orgasm may promote conception through the contractions of pelvic, vaginal and even oviduct muscles. While we may never know for sure if the female orgasm is an adaptation, scientist are out there working hard on solving the problem of course. It’s a hard life for some.
So happy valentines everybody, I hope this has been enlightening, now go and enjoy your nights.
Puts, David A., Khytam Dawood, and Lisa LM Welling. “Why women have orgasms: An evolutionary analysis.” Archives of sexual behavior 41.5 (2012): 1127-1143.
King, Robert, et al. “Are there different types of female orgasm?.” Archives of sexual behavior 40.5 (2011): 865-875.
Masters, William H., and Virginia E. Johnson. Human sexual response. Vol. 1. Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1966.
Fisher, Seymour. The female orgasm: Psychology, physiology, fantasy. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Komisaruk, Barry R., Carlos Beyer, and Beverly Whipple. The science of orgasm. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Brewer, Gayle, and Colin A. Hendrie. “Evidence to suggest that copulatory vocalizations in women are not a reflexive consequence of orgasm.” Archives of sexual behavior 40.3 (2011): 559-564.