Female dolphins have a “large and functional” clitoris that allows them to feel pleasure | Science


At this point in the 21st century, one would expect the anatomy of mammals to be described in detail, especially of animals as studied and admired as dolphins. But the truth is that gaps in the anatomy are still being filled today. Of the females, specifically. Until now, the sex of female dolphins had not been properly analyzed. And that’s why this finding is published today: dolphins have a functional clitoris, in a way similar to human, so they can feel pleasure with sex.

“Our anatomical observations suggest that the clitoris of bottlenose dolphins has well-developed erectile spaces, is highly sensitive to tactile stimulation, and is probably functional,” the study concludes. The clitoris is large, well developed and located at the entrance to the vaginal opening, as described, so stimulation is unavoidable during penetration. “Female dolphins probably experience pleasure when the clitoris is stimulated during sexual intercourse, homosexual behavior and masturbation,” notes the scientific work, published in Current Biology.

“We know very little about the sexuality of females in the wild, compared to males. There were more male researchers and they asked what they were doing were different “

Patricia Brennan, study author

The scientific team presenting these results was able to do so after carefully studying the sexual anatomy of a dozen female bottlenose dolphins, after previously analyzing fifty different data from each vagina. These dissected specimens, corpses preserved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, present specimens of all ages, which makes it possible to ensure that it is a common development for all females.

They looked at the anatomy of the clitoris as a whole and then performed other experiments to identify each type of tissue present in the structure. At all ages, the clitoris has tissue that allow it to erect, blood vessels, muscles, and multiple nerve clusters. “Our anatomical examination of the clitoris of the bottlenose dolphin reveals a complex organ with many similarities to the clitoris of other model systems that are known to have a pleasure response, including humans,” they say.

The main difference with the human clitoris is that dolphins do not have nervous bodies hugging the vagina, as happens in women, according to Patricia Brennan, one of the authors of the study. “The truth is that they are very similar in the shape of erectile tissue, the presence of a tissue that maintains the shape of erectile tissue when it is filled with blood, the innervation with many free nerve terminals that reach just under the skin and the presence of sensory structures that are associated with pleasure ”, develops this researcher, from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts (USA).

Dolphins that enjoy homosexual sex

Brennan and co-author Dara Orbach have developed a list of structures and details that help to study the evolution of pleasure in other animals, not just primates, where “it is already known that females feel pleasure and manifest it during sexual interactions.” Understanding the roots of sexual pleasure, they explain, “can elucidate the role of the female orgasm.”

A pair of bottlenose dolphins about to mate.
A pair of bottlenose dolphins about to mate.Dara Orbach

In a way, the image of dolphins is a victim of its own success. They are pigeonholed into that childish stereotype of a vitalistic and playful animal, a brilliant juggler, who stars in childhood dreams. But under water it is an animal with a very rich sexuality, dedicated to pleasure and social enjoyment, in which homosexual relationships between males and females occur as much or more than heterosexual ones. “Direct stimulation of the clitoris appears to be important during female-to-female sexual interactions in bottlenose dolphins, which rub each other’s clitoris using snouts, fins or flukes,” the study describes. In that sense, they would be like the bonobos of the underwater world: they enjoy sex with the other members of the group to establish and maintain social ties.

Sexual intercourse is known to be pleasurable for females in some species that copulate at any time, not just during periods of heat or intended to procreate, such as humans and bonobos. And dolphins copulate throughout the year, too. But as Brennan explains, it’s not just females of these species that have clits. “Others that are studied in the laboratory like rats, mice and guinea pigs also have clitoris that seem to have all the functional attributes. It is possible that in species that are more social the clitoris develops more, but we do not have enough data to compare ”, he summarizes.

Gaps in female sexuality

Until now, there have been general descriptions of the dolphin clitoris, but no detailed studies, explains Brennan, who announced these findings at a conference a few months ago. “In general we know very little about the sexuality of females in nature, compared to males,” he laments. In part, it’s because scientists were concerned about their reputations if they studied topics directly related to sex, the researcher believes. “But it is also because there were typically more male researchers and the questions asked were different. Now, with more representation of women in science, they can begin to change the questions, to better understand biology ”, she summarizes.

For a long time, when the sexual anatomy of these mammals was studied, they limited themselves to describing the male penis and assuming that the vagina is a simple glove that adapts to its shape. Brenan and Orbach pioneered the description of animal vaginas, which led to countless surprises. And also some challenges: these two scientists invented an instrument from a mini beer barrel to inject salt water under pressure into the penis of cetaceans, to simulate their erection.

Studies like yours help us understand the role and motivation of female sexual behavior. “If there is pleasure in sex in all of nature, females should develop more interest in having more sex, which would be evolutionarily favored,” says Brennan. It would also serve to select the sperm of the males that can stimulate them more effectively or establish social ties with other females that favor the rearing of children in the group, as happens among bonobas. “From a medical point of view, understanding the functional characteristics of the clitoris in different animals can help solve problems related to pain during sex, and the inability to feel pleasure that occur in some women,” adds the researcher.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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