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Are female orgasms a 'bonus'?
October 13th, 2011
07:14 AM ET

Are female orgasms a 'bonus'?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

What do female orgasms and male nipples have in common? It’s a question that is helping inform research into the purpose of female orgasm (other than simply as a form of pleasure).

Investigators want to know whether the female orgasm is an “adaptation” or “byproduct” of evolution. In other words, does the female orgasm, like the male orgasm, have its own evolutionary raison d’etre and contribute directly to reproductive success? Or is it just an awesome bonus? Make that totally awesome.

This question of whether the female orgasm is an adaptation or a byproduct came to the fore in 2005 with the publication of “The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution,” in which Indiana University professor Elisabeth Lloyd rigorously examined 21 theories that sought to promote the female orgasm as an adaptation and, ultimately, found all of them lacking.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have had some thought-provoking conversations with Lloyd on various topics – such as whether premature ejaculation makes good evolutionary sense – and recently, her work has been once again garnering much-deserved attention.

· One such theory involves “pair bonding,” the idea that orgasm bonds a couple emotionally so that they’re more likely to pursue parenthood.

· Another theory states that female orgasm is a part of mate selection: A woman will choose her mate based on his ability to bring her to climax.

· And a third main theory involves the belief that the contractions of female orgasm will draw sperm up the reproductive tract and into the uterus.

In her book, Lloyd argues that studies show that the vast majority of women do not experience orgasm as a result of intercourse alone, or do so inconsistently, so how could the female orgasm be an adaptation? If the female orgasm, like the male orgasm, was essential to the propagation of humanity, wouldn’t it need to occur consistently via sexual intercourse?

Instead, Lloyd argues to view the female orgasm through the lens of the “byproduct” theory, which holds that orgasm is a trait that is so heavily selected in males (reproduction wouldn’t happen without it) that women retain an inherent capacity – after all, men and women are physiologically the same during the first eight weeks of gestation: Penises grow out, clitorises grow in, but they share the same organic structure and tissue.

According to Lloyd, “It is crucial to note that the penis and the clitoris are the ‘same’ organ in men and women. ... [T]he nervous and erectile tissues involved in orgasm in both sexes arose from a common embryological source.”

This same byproduct theory also explains why men have nipples: The biological necessity of nursing our young makes the nipple so highly selected in women that male embryos develop immature structures as an evolutionary byproduct. Similar to the clitoris, the male nipple contains highly sensitive tissue that contributes to male sexual arousal and pleasure. Male nipples: arousing? Yes. Necessary? No.

Yet a study of twins and siblings published recently in the journal Animal Behavior questions the byproduct theory of female orgasm. Researchers looked for similarities in orgasm function between 10,000 Finnish female and male twins. And although there were significant similarities between same-sex twins, the researchers found no such correlation in orgasm function between opposite-sex twins, a correlation one would expect if female orgasm is a byproduct of male orgasm.

All this debate of adaptation vs. byproduct shouldn’t really matter to the average person who just wants to enjoy orgasms. The problem, though, is that we tend to believe that what’s “natural” is better, even orgasms. And if we do argue that the female orgasm is some sort of “evolutionary norm,” then what should be said of all the women who do not orgasm consistently – that they are somehow not normal?

As a sex counselor, I frequently receive e-mails from women who are unable to achieve orgasm via intercourse and wonder, “What can I do to change this? What’s wrong with me?”

Well, if we stop thinking of female orgasms as something that should naturally result from intercourse, then we can also stop feeling that there’s one right way to have orgasms. In this sense, the byproduct theory offers a more expansive and encompassing view of female sexuality.

Unfortunately the term “byproduct” doesn’t exactly resonate with a sense of the exalted, so perhaps we should stick to Lloyd’s later rephrasing of the female orgasm as a “fantastic bonus” – or as I like to say, totally awesome!


soundoff (1,434 Responses)
  1. sparty524

    All I know is that I want to be a man in the next life if there is such a thing...

    October 13, 2011 at 09:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chedar

      You want to be a man in your next life? Only when you follow the 5 precepts (that is the only thing you need) without straying and fooling around and coveting another man's wife or coveting another woman's husband. Then your desire will come true. Good luck.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse |
    • Tellin'itlikeitis

      Why? Women will inherit the earth anyway.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Q: What do you call that useless piece of tissue attached to the penis?
      A: The man.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse |
    • nwtiki

      That's what your girlfrield told you as well.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
    • Married Man

      You have got to be kidding me. Women have it made. You get to manipulate men into becoming your whipping posts. You have a world that adorns your beauty... through makeup, modeling, underwear, tv shows, jewelry, pageants, etc... You simply smile and flirt and have your way with any salesman. The world seems to revolve around women. You have it very easy.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse |
    • Married Man

      ... and on top of it all, you get to have MULTIPLE orgasms.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse |
    • the king

      are you crazy? You can get excited with no visible protrusions from pants, can orgasm without a mess unless you're special, and can orgasm anywhere. My wife can have orgasms(multiple) by moving around in a chair

      October 13, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
  2. Forenglandjames

    Finish the job James, if you can.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alec T.

      Nice reference!

      October 13, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
  3. agreewithsparty

    me too!!!!

    October 13, 2011 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. JT

    Or course a man would right an article about whether a female orgasm is optional. Just typical.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Epidi

      I was thinking the same thing, lol!

      October 13, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse |
    • Zerg Cerebrate

      Lol, did you even bother to read the article?

      October 13, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse |
    • VegasRage

      Probably because he rarely satisfies and needs to find cause to feel better about it.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • gpolice

      No, a man didn't right the article but he did write it.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      This male written article was based on a woman's research idiots.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse |
    • IEK

      Did you fail reading comprehension in school?

      October 13, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
    • Zeppelin

      Project much, Vegas?

      October 13, 2011 at 11:06 | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      JT, I read the article again just to be sure. The word "optional" never appears. He does use the phrase "totallly awesome" though. Twice.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse |
  5. Edsr

    I really don't know..........but.......each time I touch a woman she always goes ooo....ah......ooo.....ah........one of my ladies once confided in me and said she has never had 5 orgasms with one man except me....so....I guess I am somewhat effective.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Epidi

      LOL, I can say the same about my husband. He says I am the only woman that ever gave him multiples (one orgasm right after another) and didn't know men could do that.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      psst.. the "I've never had any man make THAT happen before! You're the best!" line is a standard tool in every woman's ego-stroking toolbox. I've been told that I'm the biggest and the best by almost every woman I've been with. So either I have an abnormally large unit that I know how to use better than most men (which I'm not so much of a narcissist to believe), or women know we love to hear that and are playing along.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:34 | Report abuse |
    • James

      Aw, there was no truth to it, she was just trying to make you feel good!

      October 13, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
    • Fred Evil

      Only 5? Keep practicing, you'll get better!

      October 13, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse |
    • A

      If you really are as good as she claims you are, then you would absolutely know it. Trust me.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • Barbara

      Don't get too excited. All of us women want guys to think they bring us to orgasm. We feel sorry for them when they can't.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:37 | Report abuse |
    • VelveteenLady

      Just how big is your . . . ego?? Women can get plenty of satisfaction from intercourse WITHOUT having an orgasm. Did you ever think that your "lady" is telling you what your male ego is desperate to hear? It's not clear to me why men equate successful female satisfaction with orgasm. They are nice to have, at that time, but are not an indication of male prowess. Rather, if they occur with intercourse, they are the direct result of the female partner knowing her own body well enough to guide her partner to do things just right. Get over yourself.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse |
  6. Mr. Wild Game

    All I know is make she she goes first, and repeatedly if possible. After that, I'm alllllllllllllllllllllllll gooooooooooooooooood!!!!!!!

    {Big Fat Smile}

    October 13, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bellatx

      AMEN

      October 13, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
    • Honestlygreen

      Agreed.....;)

      October 13, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      That's an excellent strategy.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse |
  7. DarkLord

    only a man would ask this question.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sbp

      Except the study he's writing about was written by a woman. SHE asked the question.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse |
    • JT

      Well there's a reason she asked the question. And of course the male felt inclined to answer. I should add I'm a male and I think the whole topic is ridiculous. Take care of your partner.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse |
    • anon

      I'm a woman and I think that comment wasn't nice at all. One of the biggest problems in our society now is women don't take care of their men right, and even get nasty. So of course men won't like women, or think they need an orgasm. Seriously, that's just nasty and mean tempered.

      There are many things that pleasure people in our society that aren't what the evolutionists could call "necessary" for the human race. So what? We do them anyway because we dont' have to fight so hard for survival and our attentions are now focused more on life's enhancements. For that matter, male orgasms aren't necessary either. The male releases sperm filled seamen when simply aroused. It's just easier for them is all.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Soooo not what this article is about JT. Way to fail at reading it.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
  8. Hence

    Or maybe God is real and this is exactly how it was designed to be.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • apostate

      idiot

      October 13, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse |
    • Dante

      I agree...I think every organ in our body has a function because God put it there. The thing is that science hasn't yet discovered those functions and they just believe there is no use for them.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse |
    • ParkNuts

      Think for once before spouting off that crap. Ever heard of 'vestigial organs' ??

      October 13, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
    • Fred Evil

      If god intended for women to be left with the short end of the stick, he's pretty much a jerk.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:02 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      lol, I'll trade you my appendix for your tailbone.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse |
    • rhobere

      If God made the reproductive organs, he's an idiot for using the same plumbing for septic waste and pleasure. and he obviously hates women for making it necessary to have a candy-cane shaped dong to reach that sweet spot.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:31 | Report abuse |
    • Don Draper

      wow. cnn has turned into a p0rn site

      October 13, 2011 at 12:04 | Report abuse |
    • Grey's anatomy

      Uh, rhobere, you might want to pay attention in health class next week. It's not the same plumbing for women. Make sure you aren't late to biology either.

      October 22, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
  9. BobZemko

    What's the one food that destroys a woman's s*x drive? Wedding cake.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Good Husband

    I always wait until she does. Been like that for the 10 years we have been married. Yes, I am proud of that!

    October 13, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Terri

      My husband of 25 years is the same way...and he helps with cooking, cleaning, laundry. Of course I help with working on the car, and all those "typical male" jobs as well. I am so lucky!

      October 13, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
    • Don Draper

      @Terri, you help with working on the car ? So, you rebuild a carb now and then and your husband does down on you.. fair trade

      October 13, 2011 at 12:07 | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    Personally, I'm not satisfied unless I get my lady off. Pleasing your partner should be as important as pleasing yourself. And I love watching the "O face" happen, lol.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Terri

      Not me! I just want to know what I know now and be pickier about which guys are worth having around! I was almost 30 before I figured it out this time around.

      October 13, 2011 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
    • Terri

      LOL, sorry Chris, it wasn't your post I hit reply to!

      October 13, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
    • John

      I agree. Me enjoying it is inevitable. Her enjoying it is paramount.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
  12. CAD

    I'm with you sparty524. Me too!!

    October 13, 2011 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. bristoltwit palin... America's favorite dancing cow

    Who cares about orgasms? I rather have a slab of bacon.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. willowcat

    Only an idiot would ask if female orgasm is necessary.... Where do they find these clowns?

    October 13, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. just a guest

    hello Edsr. and for all the males here. I am not sure why we have orgasms. but i can go more than 17, after that i stop counting. Now That is GOOOOOOOD!

    October 13, 2011 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. George B

    What about the research that shows that a woman is more likely to conceive if she's had an orgasm during the act?

    October 13, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hello

      That's probably true as the muscle contractions help the sperm move upward, and stay there. But if your in your reproductive years, and have nothing wrong with you, then you shouldn't have much of a difficulty anyway.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse |
    • Know It All

      Actually, I have read research that suggests just the opposite. Something about acidity.. Go figure.

      October 13, 2011 at 13:34 | Report abuse |
  17. alateos

    Yes, it is a bonus in the sense that as a male you just bought yourself another entrance ticket.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. ParkNuts

    I'd agree with the second theory. A woman wants to be with the man that can give her one.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rhobere

      one could argue that if she's already let him enter her, she's already done selecting a mate.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
    • Don Draper

      @rhobere,

      You have to think about the desire for repeat visits

      October 13, 2011 at 11:52 | Report abuse |
  19. bacteria

    My favorite part was "the vast majority of women do not experience orgasm as a result of intercourse alone" Sucks to be those guys! So glad my wife is in the minority 🙂

    October 13, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      So she says...

      October 13, 2011 at 10:52 | Report abuse |
    • Danny

      "the vast majority of women do not experience orgasm as a result of intercourse alone"

      So how do these women achieve orgasm? By spending the man's money...

      October 13, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse |
    • mimi_nef

      The vast majority of women do not experience orgasm by intercourse alone.

      However, the vast majority of us are able to convince men that we have.

      October 13, 2011 at 22:24 | Report abuse |
  20. alateos

    And who is exactly the female in the article's pic?

    October 13, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. amy

    It's only a necessity if you'd like a 2nd round.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Selena

    Bob Zemko, you obviously don't understand how marriage works.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. tatatoothy

    What fun is there if both parties don't climax?

    October 13, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. AJ

    Too much of reading (such articles) will not help your life. Just be natural. The more you know the little you do.

    October 13, 2011 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. hello

    Your wife loves you and is kind enough of a woman to not want to hurt your feelings. Either that, or she is just wanting to keep the peace.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. MikeBronx

    Well, it's a race, and I beat you to it everytime, so ha!! (Seinfeld)

    October 13, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. mysogynist

    awesome- rotflmfao

    October 13, 2011 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. RobCM

    Has the orgasm become a battle of haves and have nots?

    October 13, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. J Jackson

    Being a man, I know how important it is for a woman not only to have an orgasm but experience an uncontrollable reaction that will literally have her talking in tongues. If given the right stimulation, Women bodies can do much more than have an orgasm... after 44 years, I know the trick...and it start with CONTROL men!!!!... you have to be able to go the distance...

    October 13, 2011 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don Draper

      Go the distance ? It is much easier to just buy her a package of batteries once in a while

      October 13, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse |
    • irock

      I learned how to get mine off before intercourse even happens, BTW , I can lick my eyebrows.

      October 13, 2011 at 14:45 | Report abuse |
  30. Erik

    this is some research I'd love to get involved with

    October 13, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Erik

    this is some research I could easily get behind

    October 13, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. banasy©

    I find that poop really gets me off, I know it's a weird fetish but to each their own right?

    October 13, 2011 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J Jackson

      what about poop gets you off???

      October 13, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse |
    • Don Draper

      I hope I never have to go in your bathroom

      October 13, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
  33. J Jackson

    If she doesn't get hers, you can always say, "What Happen, we had the same amount of time..."

    October 13, 2011 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. zip

    Nothing, and I mean nothing, is cooler than watching a woman come three or four times. In fact, I think I'm going to make it happen right now.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Kristin

    Is the female orgasm important? It is to this female. 😉

    October 13, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • midogs2

      Was there ever a question?

      October 13, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
  36. Notmyrealname

    Of course female orgasms are necessary. Otherwise, our fragile male egos would shrivel and die.

    Seriously though, what kind of man would not want to bring his female partner to orgasm after glorious orgasm? I mean, it's a powerful rush when you feel you'll put in some good work and serviced your partner to her complete, "I need to go to sleep now" satisfaction.

    Just saying...

    October 13, 2011 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. lauradet

    I don't care if a female orgasm is an “adaptation” or “byproduct” of evolution. I just know that I love having 5 to 20 back to back until I pass out into a deep sleep.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. jay in florida

    Mother nature never put anything in our bodies as a bonus. If it is there, it is for a very good reason.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • the king

      when's the last time you used your appendix?

      October 13, 2011 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
  39. Nodule

    I love reading all the women moaning about a man writing this article.

    Clearly reading comprehension and understanding is more prevalent in men. This article was written based on the research conducted by a female. Back to school ladies!

    October 13, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Selena

    banasy, you are disgusting!

    October 13, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. bellatx

    QUESTIONS:

    · One such theory involves “pair bonding,” the idea that orgasm bonds a couple emotionally so that they’re more likely to pursue parenthood.

    · Another theory states that female orgasm is a part of mate selection: A woman will choose her mate based on his ability to bring her to climax.

    · And a third main theory involves the belief that the contractions of female orgasm will draw sperm up the reproductive tract and into the uterus.

    ANSWER: ALL OF THE ABOVE.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don Draper

      So most likely, some members of the animal kingdom must experience female orgasms

      October 13, 2011 at 11:59 | Report abuse |
  42. Danny

    "the vast majority of women do not experience orgasm as a result of intercourse alone"

    So how do these women achieve orgasm? By spending the man's money...

    October 13, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. midogs2

    @Jennifer, men love a woman with a great sence of humor. You rock girl.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. backwoods

    I just want to get in and get out before the football games come on.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Mark

    Believe me, if you want breakfast in bed, female orgasms are necessary.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don Draper

      What kind of animal eats breakfast in bed ? This is what tables are for.

      October 13, 2011 at 13:37 | Report abuse |
  46. xLadyMinervax

    I don't care what anybody says – female orgasms can be both a necessity and a bonus. When it IS both, look out men! 🙂

    October 13, 2011 at 11:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RUFFNUTT

      Shut up and suck it.

      October 13, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  47. ubermoderate

    I find the idea of female orgasm playing a role in mate selection intriguing. Could it be that a more virile, stimulating male with more masculine traits is more likely to bring a woman to orgasm, and thus likely be preferred?

    October 13, 2011 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. ok

    I don't even need to use my penis to make a woman orgasm. My sausage like fingers seem to do a really good job! When I introduce the penis, another orgasm is had. Ohhhhh, I could go on, but I've never had a problem with the ladies. I guess you can say I'm gifted. Wait, that has nothing to do with this article....My bad. Um yeah, the female orgasm is nice.....Especially the squirt! 🙂

    October 13, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • irock

      everyone loves little squirrty asian girls...

      October 13, 2011 at 14:47 | Report abuse |
  49. Geezer

    I like to make 'em squirt.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Don Draper

      What is this sick obsession with squirting ?

      October 13, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      DD: exactly. No thanks!

      October 13, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
    • mimi_nef

      It is wonderful, of course. Plus, it's a huge boost to the man's ego. It is serious motivation for them to do it over and over and over, until I'm dehydrated.

      It is, however, extraordinarily messy. I love it while it's happening, of course, but damn!! The mess afterward is crazy. Just when you want to go to sleep, you have to get up, change the sheets, put the wet sheets in the washer...

      I just don't even know if it's worth it any more. Maybe I should get a man who washes the sheets.

      October 13, 2011 at 22:29 | Report abuse |
  50. MarriedMan20

    Isn't this a moot point after marriage since after they say "I do", they don't anymore?

    And BTW, I do most of the cooking, cleaning, take care of the car, the yard. Hate to say it, but most women change their tune after marriage.

    October 13, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • the king

      And that's EXACTLY what caused me to get a new band.

      October 13, 2011 at 13:10 | Report abuse |
    • @.@

      Tell me about it. All mine ever wants to do is sit her ass at the cpu and play facebook games all the time. All I ever asked her to do was to give me a hand at keeping one room clean. I take care of everything else.

      October 13, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
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