It's hard to keep up with all the theories about why the female orgasm exists. Scientists have proposed everything from its ability to suck in sperm to its tendency to make you stick with the partner who gave you it to its potential to motivate you to have sex. Brent Reider, an author and referee for medical and scientific peer review journals and designer of several FDA-cleared medical devices including the Yarlap, thinks these theories are all wrong — and has an entirely different one.
Reider has a particular beef with the sperm theory. “If you read the research on ‘Sperm Sucking’ theory, it is almost silly,” he tells Bustle. “To make the sperm theory work is like explaining how the sun and planets orbit the earth.” (Or, in this case, the penis.) The problem with it, he says, is that the most common way women orgasm doesn’t even involve sperm.
“Numerous studies confirm stimulation of the clitoris, directly or indirectly, is the sole non-controversial effective trigger of female orgasm,” he says. “If the purpose of arousal is the conveyance of sperm, why is the clitoris so easily aroused from positions not intromission specific? Instead, the clitoris is perfectly positioned for self and partner — not necessarily reproductive partner — stimulation.” In addition, a study in Animal Behavior found no correlation between how often women orgasm and how many kids they have.
So, why did the female orgasm evolve, then? This is where it gets interesting. Reider authored a paper in the Journal of Women’s Health, Issues and Care arguing that the female orgasm helps tone the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are vital for childbirth, holding the abdominal organs in place, holding the rest of the body up, and preventing urinary incontinence, hip pain, and knee pain.
“These are the same muscles that contract during orgasm,” the paper reads. “But considerably more than half of the women who tone their pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises find it difficult to determine if they have performed these exercises correctly.” Orgasming, however, is impossible to get wrong. Orgasms are basically brief but powerful kegel exercises. (In addition to explaining why our orgasms evolved, this theory makes a great case for having more of them.)
Elisabeth Lloyd, author of The Case of the Female Orgasm, thinks Reider could be onto something. “I find it plausible to think that one of the many benefits of female orgasm may be the toning of the pelvic floor,” she tells Bustle. However, she thinks the main reason the female orgasm evolved is probably that it evolved from the same structures as the male orgasm.
To understand this, we need a biology lesson. Male and female genitals are made out of the same structures, just organized differently, which is why they’re the same for the first few weeks of a fetus’ existence. So, there’s a lot of overlap in the genes that control each. For this reason, if a trait is beneficial to males, it might evolve in females as well.
Such was the case with the orgasm, says Lloyd. Male orgasms motivate men to spread their DNA, since they usually accompany ejaculation. While female orgasms may motivate women to have sex, too, the promise of pleasure is usually enough of a motivator in of itself.
So, whatever DNA led to the development of the orgasm in the penis probably led to the same thing in the clitoris. And the fact that this feature also helps tone the pelvic floor probably doesn’t hurt. “Females get all the necessary nerves and tissues through embryological development from our common origins with males, and can use those orgasmic tissues however we please,” says Lloyd.
Reider believes acknowledging the potential role of the female orgasm in toning the pelvic floor is vital for women’s health. He also believes it’s vital for overcoming sexist ideas about sex, like that penis-in-vagina sex is the most important kind and that the purpose of sex should be for reproduction.
“Think of how an androcentric view of the orgasm keeps women from reaching their full potential, even in sports!" he says. "The myth is near diabolic in its destructive power put on women. We have had women in tears of joy call us when they realize how much power they had in curing their health issues. The female orgasm is wonderfully effective and marvelously affordable healthcare.”