The female orgasm is a part of human evolution that we simply haven’t been able to wrap our heads around. It flies in the face of all evolutionary theories for sex we currently have, and no matter how much we’ve tried figuring it out, any decisive explanation as to why it exists still eludes us.
Since it’s such a misunderstood part of the human experience, there are many things you might not know about the female orgasm. Even now, we consistently find surprising results during studies on the subject, further deepening the air of mystery around it. Here are ten such surprises.
Wet dreams, or orgasms while sleeping, among men have been extensively discussed in both scientific circles and high school congregations. We know that they occur mostly during adolescence, and other than some unfortunate exceptions, guys tend to stop having them by their mid- to late twenties. There’s nothing particularly surprising about them, except for the first time one wakes up drenched in what is definitely not sweat.
Women having orgasms while sleeping, however, is much less understood and documented. According to studies, around 37 percent of women will experience at least one sleeping orgasm by the age of 45. Unlike men, their frequency increases with age, and it’s not a puberty thing, either.
The interesting part is that sleeping orgasms among women aren’t dependent on any other factors. For the women who experience them, it happens regardless of whether they’re single or married or how sexually active they are.
Women tend to orgasm less frequently than men, and the reasons for that aren’t really known. It doesn’t depend on factors like libido or sexual history, and it’s consistent among all cultures and races around the world. While it will be some time before we can solve that one, scientists have found a surprising factor that may influence the likelihood of orgasm among women: the shape of their lips.
In a study, a number of Scottish women were asked about their history of orgasms from intercourse, and the researchers cross-checked that with the shape of their lips. While we don’t know where they get these ideas for scientific studies from, they did find a surprising correlation between the shape of the upper lip and the likelihood of having an orgasm. Women with more pronounced tubercles (the central, round part of the upper lip) were more likely to orgasm from vaginal penetration.
One of the primary reasons we don’t understand the female orgasm is the difficulty of studying it in laboratory conditions. Because men can orgasm far more easily than women, it’s easier for them to do so during research, but the same can’t be said for women.
In some of the studies that have been successfully conducted, though, scientists have found surprising connections between orgasms and various regions of the brain. While we don’t need scientific research to know that an orgasm affects the brain in a way that few other things do, the effects are far more intense in women than men, affecting seemingly unrelated parts of the brain.
As one study found, one of those parts is the nucleus accumbens, which deals with reward. This region plays a major role in addiction to things like gambling and drugs.
Popular fiction portrays the female orgasm as visibly shattering and all-consuming, with noticeable physical signs you can’t miss. We’re not saying it never happens like that—as that would defy observed evidence in real life—but it certainly doesn’t always happen that way. In many instances, it can be difficult to tell if a woman has orgasmed at all, and not just for their partners. Some women aren’t very good at identifying an orgasm when they have one.
According to research by a neuroscientist, many women report having orgasms without any noticeable contractions or violent shaking of the limbs like we’d generally expect, and science doesn’t know why. It may be because women aren’t often good at differentiating an orgasm from other peak times of pleasure during a sexual encounter, according to the neuroscientist, at least.
We may not be any closer to completely understanding the purpose of the female orgasm, but in all the research we’ve done on it, it’s clear that it has a special connection with the brain. We’re constantly finding new neural pathways between the female sexual organs and different parts of the brain that shouldn’t be connected at all, and a few of them are quite surprising.
Take the research on the connection between the female orgasm and pain threshold. At first, researchers studied it on rats and found that the rats simply did not feel any pain during vaginal stimulation. The pain-blocking effect was curiously similar to the administration of morphine, which prompted scientists to study it on humans. In a subsequent study of women, they found the same results: Vaginal stimulation almost doubled women’s ability to take pain. Orgasms more than doubled it.
We know for a fact that many women aren’t able to orgasm no matter what they do, and it’s not because of any inadequacy on their partner’s part. According to science, around ten to 15 percent of women have anorgasmia, which may sound like a disease but is actually just a fancy word for the inability to orgasm despite their best efforts.
It may sound dysfunctional, but research says that anorgasmia makes perfect evolutionary sense. Studies suggest a definite link between the inability to have an orgasm and genetics, and according to researchers, it’s because those women are evolutionarily choosy about who to orgasm with. In simpler terms, the bodies of some women are designed to not orgasm unless it’s with someone ideal to have a baby with. Looking at how difficult it is to find the perfect partner (at least perfect enough to convince the body), that may explain why so many women never or rarely have orgasms.
It has been a long-standing theory that the orgasm doesn’t have anything to do with the genitals at all. Sure, they act as the organs and nerve endings that require the stimulation to achieve it, but the actual climax happens only in the brain, according to the theory at least. While it will be quite some time before we can confirm that or rule it out, some evidence from people suffering from spinal cord injuries (SCI) does give credence to it.
According to research, women with absolutely no nerve function in their pelvic area due to neurological injuries are still able to orgasm. More surprisingly, it feels the same as how it did before the injury, and it doesn’t depend on the extent of the injury, either. They did find that among the women studied, the ones who had a higher sex drive and greater sexual awareness were more likely to orgasm, though that seems to be generally true among women without SCI, too.
Unlike men, who rarely have any problems achieving orgasm during sexual encounters, women experience them less frequently. There are many theories as to why that may be, though according to one study, it’s because most men simply aren’t symmetrical enough.
In the study, they asked 86 couples about their climaxing frequencies. While it was predictable for the men, who orgasmed nearly 100 percent of the time as expected, for women, the frequency was much higher when their partner was symmetrical. We’re not just talking about the face, either, but overall symmetry.
It may sound surprising, but body symmetry is inherently related to the quality of the genes. It’s not just about attractiveness but also physical and psychological health. It suggests that the female orgasm may be a mate-selection mechanism, but then again, that’s only one of the many theories on why it exists.
Women’s ability—or lack thereof—to orgasm is often thought of as a verdict on the sexual prowess of their partners during intercourse. The partner’s skill in bed can certainly be a factor, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The female orgasm has almost nothing to do with the penetration part of sex. Only 25 percent of women who have orgasms can consistently do so from intercourse alone, and the rest require other things, like sex toys or oral stimulation, to achieve it. It’s also independent of external factors like the size of the penis, attractiveness of the partner, or stress.
It’s not just one study indicating this, either; one author went through 33 studies over the past 80 years to come to this conclusion. So, if you’re a man who cannot get your female partner climax through intercourse, you shouldn’t take it personally and just try other things out.
One of the reasons female orgasm is so mysterious is that it appears to serve no evolutionary purpose at all. Unlike men, it doesn’t do anything for the actual reproduction process. Because of its relative infrequency compared to the male orgasm and lack of dependence on penetration, it isn’t a reliable indicator for sexual satisfaction, either.
While there are many theories on why it exists, one of them makes more sense than the others. According to some scientists, the contractions during an orgasm help the female retain as much sperm as she can, increasing the chances of fertilization. It’s backed by some research, too. In one study, researchers asked some women to collect the fluid ejected from the vagina after sex. They found that among the women who had just orgasmed, the ejected content had a lower amount of sperm than the others.
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