Dossiers Sexologiques 7

1 March 2008

It’s finally been found! The elusive “G spot” so many men have been struggling to find for years has been detected by Italian scientists. Research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine shows that women who reported having vaginal orgasms (as opposed to clitoral) on average had thicker tissue between their vagina and urethra. Regardless of the fact that only twenty women participated in this research and that the thicker tissue might be the result rather than the cause of vaginal orgasms this story made it to the front page of BBC News and The Guardian.

If this is true, it means a quick ultrasound test could save you trouble of worrying about whether you’re hitting the right spot or not, as it could tell you whether you do or don’t have a G spot.

G spot aside, female orgasms have been troubling men and scientists alike for decades. Scientists, especially evolutionary biologists, have struggled to find adaptive significance of orgasms in women. In men it’s easy: orgasm promotes ejaculation and helps to transfer sperm. In women, the orgasm doesn’t seem to play such a simple role.

First of all, the female orgasm is difficult to define. Not all women have orgasms. Some women can have multiple. Some can have orgasms without stimulation of clitoris, others cannot. Some can have more intense orgasms when pregnant. There is an enormous amount of variation in how many and what kind of orgasms women can have, and also in what drives them to have an orgasm. In the line of sociobiological thinking that aims to understand adaptive value of traits in animals and humans, scientists have hypothesised about what adaptive evolutionary role female orgasms might have. From suggestions that orgasms play a role in pair-bonding, through those that say that orgasms might increase the likelihood of abortion and so decrease paternity uncertainty for male, to those that postulate orgasm to be a cryptic female choice in which women are exerting post-copulatory choice in the light of multiple mating and potential sperm competition, there is no lack of imagination.

What is lacking in many of these 20 or so adaptive accounts is conclusive evidence or, in some cases, proper statistical analysis, argues Elisabeth Lloyd in The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. She concludes that evidence does not support any of these adaptive accounts beyond reasonable doubt and the most parsimonious explanation for the existence of female orgasm in humans is that it is a by-product of the developmental pathway that allows orgasms in men. This is similar to the way nipples in men are a by-product of developmental pathway which leads to nipples in women, where they are adaptive. Be it adaptive or not, it’s a cool feature to have; much better than nipples in men…