Dolphins Have a Fully Functional Clitoris, Study Finds

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A new study has found that humans and dolphins have more in common than we thought. Biologists say they have found clear anatomical evidence that female dolphins have a fully functional clitoris that helps them experience pleasure during sex – just as it does for humans. The findings may one day help scientists trace the evolutionary origins of the sexual organ and sex in general.

Lead author Patricia Brennan, assistant professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and her team have been studying the evolution of reproductive organs in all types of vertebrate animals. Recently, they have turned their attention to dolphins, marine mammals known for their playful and sometimes fearsome natures that resemble humans (in some ways good and bad).

“Dolphins have vaginal folds, and we’ve been studying these folds to try and discover their function and why they are so diverse across species,” Brennan told Gizmodo in an email. “When we dissected all of these vaginas, it was clear that the clitoris was very well developed, so we decided to investigate how well we knew about it.”

Brennan and her team were able to get a closer look at the clitoral tissue of eleven female bottlenose dolphins who died of natural causes. Apart from studying the superficial physical features of the clitoris, they also examined the presence of nerve endings, muscles, and blood vessels. Everything they found points to the same thing: a fully functional fun maker.

For example, Brennan noted, a dolphin’s clitoris is relatively large and filled with plenty of erectile tissue and blood vessels that allow it to engorge quickly. The clitoris also grows in size as the dolphin matures, just as it does with human puberty, and is surrounded by a band of connective tissue that helps it maintain its shape, indicating that it is an important part of the body. And perhaps most importantly, the dolphin’s clitoris is full of nerve endings beneath the relatively thin skin, along with other sensory receptors—both of which, Brennan says, “are likely involved in the pleasurable response as humans.”

It’s no secret that some species of dolphins seem to engage in sexual behaviors outside of their range Strict standards and timing necessary for reproduction (even with humans, according to some Eyewitness accounts). that it widely believed That these dolphins use sex as a social lubricant. During mating, they appear to engage in copious amounts of foreplay shortly before penetrative sex. Both male and female dolphins are believed to masturbate, and there have been reports of heterosexual behavior, including female dolphins rubbing each other’s clitoris using their nose or fins. So it only makes sense that the clitoris would play a major role in all this fun. But the authors say their paper is the first anatomical research that clearly demonstrates this purpose.

Dolphins practice sexual behavior.

Dolphins practice sexual behavior.
Photo: Dara Auerbach

“While it may seem obvious that animals that engage in the same sexual behavior as dolphins should derive pleasure from this behavior, we can now use the morphological features of the clitoris to show that they do,” Brennan said. Although Brennan and her team have previously discussed This research, was their peer-reviewed study now published in current biology.

Dolphins are not the only animal besides humans He seems to be enjoying sex and to do so for non-venereal reasons; It appears that many of our major relatives do as well. But the fact that the clitoris of a dolphin is very similar to the human version, even though dolphins and humans may have been A difference of 95 million years In an phylogenetic family tree, it can indicate that the origins of a member go way back. And due to Risks that can come with sex, it makes sense for pleasure to develop as a motivating factor.

Large nerves in the clitoris of a dolphin

Large nerves in the clitoris of a dolphin
picture: Patricia Brennan

Studying the sexual lives of animals is not an easy task. But Brennan and her colleagues point out that the nature of the female sex and the clitoris has long been studied in animals and in humans Humans. Among other things, this lack of knowledge hinders our knowledge of how sex came to be in the first place.

“Sex is central to evolutionary processes, and our ignorance of female sexuality leads to an incomplete understanding of how sex works in nature.” Brennan said. “You need two for a tango, as the saying goes!”

Brennan’s team plans to continue studying the development of reproductive organs in different animals. This list of projects will go on to include dolphins, as well as snakes, alpacas and even a crocodile.


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