Of all the questions that have puzzled scientists, you might've noticed one popping up in the news again and again lately: Why do we orgasm? It's not like I'm complaining or anything, but it is an interesting question. And the answers have surprisingly little consensus.
In particular, you might've noticed that scientists seem fascinated with the origins of the female orgasm. It may seem obvious why, since male orgasms are thought to be uniquely necessary for reproduction. But actually, orgasm is distinct from ejaculation, so neither are physiologically necessary. Our obsession with the female orgasm, then, may stem partially from the sexist assumption that female pleasure is less important. And as you'll see, a few of these theories seem suspiciously influenced by gender norms. I'll do my best to present them in a gender-neutral manner, though, because we could ask the same question of any gender.
Regardless of the reason they exist, orgasms appear to occur in other animal species as well as humans, though we can never be sure. In fact, the same signs of orgasm that we show have also been observed in primates. So, their origins probably go way back.
Here are a few theories about why we orgasm.
1. It Was Once Necessary For Reproduction
Rabbits and other animals ovulate in response to genital stimulation, and the authors of a paper in JEZ-Molecular and Developmental Evolution believe that we and these species evolved from a common ancestor. While it's unclear if an orgasm itself triggers the release of eggs, this would explain why the female orgasm evolved.
2. It Helps You Get Pregnant
Another theory is that, whenever the genetic mutation for female orgasm first showed up, those with it were more likely to pass on their genes because it helped them get pregnant. How? Well, one recent study in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology found that women who orgasmed after injecting a semen-like fluid into their vaginas retained more of it. It could be that the contractions help push it upward, or there could be a hormonal mechanism. If orgasms do in fact help us get pregnant, then they could actually play a role in determining whose genes we pass on, since we'd be more likely to get pregnant from people who make us orgasm.
3. Female Orgasms Evolved From Male Orgasms, Which Evolved For Reproduction
Since the penis and clitoris start off the same in the womb, it makes sense that they'd evolve for the same reason. So, some scientists think that male orgasms evolved to reward people with penises for spreading their seed, so to speak, and the female orgasm has the same genetic basis, according to a paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior.
4. It's A Way For Men To Gain Power Over Women
So, remember I said some of these got kinda problematic? According to a new paper in Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, female orgasms have evolved because they make us keep coming back to the people who provided them. This seems weirdly manipulative, and even though it sounds like it could apply to any sexual relationship, the theory is focused on women. The paper proposes that since we want to stick with partners who make us orgasm, we'll have monogamous relationships, encouraging us to make babies and raise them.
5. Because It Feels Good
If we're going by Occam's razor, this theory's got to take the cake. Orgasms feel really damn good, and the better something feels, the more likely we are to do it. Since the drive to reproduce is by definition rewarded by natural selection, any gene that leads us to have sex will probably stay in the gene pool. Boom.
Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter why. Sexual pleasure is worthwhile in of itself, and nobody should have to justify how they experience it — whether that includes orgasms or not.