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29/08/14

Come one, come all: the female orgasm

Philippa Skett explains the biology behind the Big O
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Look kid, it’s up to you…the big L, or the big O?” 

These hallowed words were immortalised through the cinematic legacy of American Pie back in the glorious 90’s.  Uttered by Natasha Lyonne, she outlined that the alternative to telling a girl you love her is simply to deliver a mind blowing orgasm. 

The pressure exerted by the extreme commercialisation of Valentine’s Day today may lead you into thinking this is a decision you must make too, perhaps some time this evening whilst in the dark depths of Metric. Did Shakespeare not put it as eloquently simple as “To cum or not to cum?” 

However, a lot of questions still surround the female orgasm. Does it even exist? Is it correct to say the clitoris is truly God’s bribe for childbirth? Isn’t the G-Spot some sort of nightclub? The adjective most associated with the female orgasm is “elusive,” confining it to a state of uncertainty akin to a bus turning up on time, or that apparent last computer on the fourth floor of the library. 

However, the female orgasm is a very real, and very emotive phenomenon. It is recognisable by muscular contractions throughout the pelvis, a giant wave of hormonal release throughout the body, a change in brain function, and the potential for breakfast to be brought to you in bed the next morning, if all goes to plan. 

But just how does a female orgasm? Orgasm in females is generally achieved by clitoral stimulation, or sometimes (but rarely) via direct vaginal stimulation. The entirety of the clitoris is actually shaped like a sort of wishbone, which mostly hangs internally like an odd muscular curtain around each side of the vaginal walls. The external protrusion, known as the glans but usually just referred to as the clitoris itself, contains over 8,000 nerve endings, and is the homologous equivalent to the head of the penis.

Upon arousal, the glans doubles in diameter as it fills with blood, and, as stimulation continues, other tissues throughout the entirety of the genitalia fill with blood too, in a process called vasocongestion. Muscles contract and compress a vein within the clitoris, so blood can no longer drain out of the tissues at all, but simply continues to build up. Think of this as a far more superior female boner that won’t require hiding under a baggy hoodie should it rear its head, as all this is going on internally and out of sight. 

Increased vasocongestion finally sets off a muscular reflex – the blood that was trapped in the surrounding tissues of the clitoris is finally expelled with some force by other muscles including those surrounding the vagina and uterus, leading to the characteristic, climatic contractions of the female orgasm. 

Unfortunately, scientists are still unsure what physiological link there is to the female orgasm and her proclaiming religious outbursts, grabbing bed sheets or even pulling hair from her partners head, as research into the female orgasm is still very much in its infancy. One surprising dysfunction among scientists is the understanding of the “G-Spot,” for example. The Grafenberg spot- named after a German gynaecologist in the 1950s is a considered to be a small area of the vagina that some say feels like a walnut, whilst others remark that it feels like the slightly bumpy head of a bald man. 

The existence of the G-Spot is actually yet to be scientifically proven, but research has discovered some potential physiological evidence of it using ultrasound; those that experience vaginal orgasms (without clitoral stimulation) have been found to have a thicker anterior vaginal wall, possibly due to the presence of the infamous G-Spot.  It is thought to contain a large number of nerve endings too, and vaginal stimulation of this area is reported to result in more intense orgasms than clitoral stimulus alone.

However, with one study reporting that as many as 80% of women are unable to climax with vaginal stimulation, and yet another showing that even some identical twins experience differences when it comes to such stimulation, the G-Spot is unreliable at best at packing that punch. When push comes to shove, or rather flick comes to lick, clitoral stimulation may prove better than probing for a spot that may not even exist. 

But why do females even orgasm at all? A debate currently rages between evolutionary biologists as to whether or not the female orgasm is an advantageous adaptation for reproduction. Some argue that orgasms facilitate emotional connections between sexual contact and monogamy in humans based on the same hormones being released during climax and through long term relationships. However, with some of the most promiscuous of primate species also able to orgasm too, this may not be the case. 

Others argue that muscular contractions of the cervix cause it to “dip” into the vagina, encouraging sperm into the uterus in a manner not unlike clubbers being shepherded into TigerTiger on a Friday night. However, with the possibility of pregnancy occurring without orgasm, and orgasm also practically a separate ball game to penetrative sex, the cervical dip theory seems unlikely too.

It has therefore been suggested that, rather anti-climatically (ironically), female orgasms are simply an evolutionary accident – they serve no real purpose, but do have that orgasmic perk. With the evident homologies between the clitoris and the head of the penis, and both developing in the same way before birth, it may be that the female orgasm is purely a serendipitous, if not mind-blowing evolutionary hangover of incomplete sexual dimorphism. 

Fortunately, multiple orgasms are much more interesting than male nipples, which seem to be equally theoretically pointless, if not literally so.

Although this may not answer that ultimate dilemma suggested by American Pie, getting to grips with the theory behind the female orgasm may prepare you for the practicalities of it, a little like learning to drive a car, or completing that lab practical you have next Monday. 

Hopefully with some of this science at your fingertips, the Big O may not seem as overwhelming, and Friday evening may go down with a tad more enthusiasm than was previously expected. 

Felix Science wishes you a Happy Valentines Day. 

 

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