Thursday, March 06, 2008

Functions of the female orgasm

I have been looking at the negative effects of anti-depressant drugs, such as Prozac, and the cynical role big pharmaceutical firms play in making consumption of these drugs so widespread. Eventually I will post on this material but probably won’t come up with much more substantive content than this excellent article in The New York Review of Books.

A subsequent letter to the NYRB examines the adverse effects of anti-depressants on sexual performance. As is well-known seratonin-enhancing antidepressants such as Prozac cause sexual dysfunction and restrict people’s ability to fall in love but I was struck by a description of the function of orgasm in women that was developed as part of this argument:

‘... female orgasm has many functions. Among them, it aids sperm retention and enables women to discriminate between self-centered as opposed to dedicated partners—partners who might be more likely to help them rear their young. Female orgasm may also help women choose men with better genes, as women are more orgasmic with men who are healthy and symmetrical, markers of good testosterone load. Female orgasm may also enhance feelings of attachment, because it stimulates the release of oxytocin and prolactin. As these drugs [the antidepressants] impair or eliminate female orgasm, they interfere with delicate biological mechanisms designed to aid mate choice and partner attachment....

In short, the sex drive operates in conjunction with many other neural systems that govern desire, mate choice, romantic love, and attachment, perhaps even mechanisms that detect facial attractiveness, immune system compatibility, and other neural systems we unconsciously use to mate, breed, and rear our young.....’

Of course men don’t get off without direct effects either when they consume anti-depressants – they reduce the capacity to court, inseminate and attach to a potential partner but the description of the function of a female orgasm – the way it sorts out caring males from non-carers - I had not seen before.

I am interested in factors which increase and decrease libido. Of course the snigger factor and a residual prudery towards the explicit examination of sexual matters provide obstacles to discussion.


Anonymous said...

Its amazing what evolutionary stories people can make up with no real evidence. I imagine it _may_ help then get excersize, eat steak, jog around the block, chirp like a bird, count to 50 backwards in steps of 6.2 etc. And there's probably neural underpinnings to all that too. We know, because if they didn't have a brain, they couldn't do any of it.

Steve said...

The quote didn't quite make it explicit how its sorts out the carers from the non-carers. But I assume it is because a man who takes the time to make sure his partner has an orgasm is more caring than one who races to finish first and then just falls asleep?

There might have been a slither of truth in that in caveman times, I guess, but I suspect that the idea that a man who is a good lover is a good man morally is a very misleading idea for women to hold onto now. (And I certainly knew of one woman who believed this wholeheartedly.) I mean, isn't it exciting for all men to know their partner is having an orgasm too? I would assume now that it is just something that nearly every man aspires to, whether or not he has any intention of being faithful to the woman concerned, or hang around and look after any kids produced.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, its silly. Surely female orgasms serve exactly the same evolutionary purpose as male orgasms - to make people want to have sex and reproduce. In the absence of contrary evidence why assume anything more complicated than that?

It's the ex-post counterpart of ex-ante lust.

hc said...

Disappointed in these 3 responses. They seem needlessly antagonistic toward a story that makes some sense.

Conrad, You can't test evolutionary theory - its just an explanation that works. This explanation does seem consistent with a natural selection story.

Steve, MNen can be selfish or caring and the latter types will probably be the best child-rearers. Sounds OK to me.

Derrida derrida, What you say in about the function of genitalia sounds already but the word 'surely' is missplaced. The story here works.

Anonymous said...


I just got an error so sorry if you get this twice.
These are theories that predict nothing. They are therefore stories and not real science.
You can look up the famous case of "why men have nipples" and the explanations for that before we knew the real answer.
You can also look up face prefereances too and see what happened there. THe initial experiments found that males prefer more feminine faces in partner selection, and we got great evolutionary theories to go with it. The problem was, when they bothered to test females, it turns out females like feminine faces too! The strange thing was, when this data was found, the theories didn't get changed at all as they obviously predict everything (and hence nothing) successfully.

Anonymous said...

For some time in human history neither men nor women needed anyone else in order to get an orgasm. Perhaps even in Victorian Britain. I've also seen temple carvings in India that suggest that this has been possible for a few thousand years. But maybe in some pockets of humanity that's not the case; here all aspects of the human condition have functional interpretations. These guys remind me of nineteenth century theologians explaining every archeological discovery using the bible.

Also, I gather that there is regularly a difference between the identity of male partner and fathers of children. This is similar to Bonobos who have orgasms (or they fake it well).

Steve said...

Yes, HC, rabee raises a point that also occurred to me last night. For the "carer selection" theory to have much credibility from an evolutionary point of view, wouldn't you have to assume that proto-human fathers actually helped care for the kids, rather than doing other survival and gene-spreading activities while the women looked after the kids? If we don't know how such proto-human family raising was done (and I assume we never will with certainty,) it's just speculation. (And given the way apes live, speculation I don't find particularly convincing.)

Anonymous said...

The idea of orgasm aiding women in their partner choice is a large statement, almost a sweeping statement by that professor (writer of the letter). There are many women who are in dysfunctional relationships, and some may even orgasm during sex with their partners. Orgasm is also known to produce endorphins, the same types of chemicals that are produced during exercise, and there's also a tendency for a proportion of people to be addicted to exercise (or sex), and that sort of addiction eliminates logic; obsessive exercisers may ignore injury, and overuse painkillers, and sex addicts aren't using sex to find the perfect partner (based on orgasm).

I do agree that SSRI's do alter libido, and that's due to my own recent experience (currently 10 days long on Zoloft). It feels as though I've taken a detour, or have taken the exit from the sexual motorway that is, and sometimes I see this current 'sexual focus' in modern life as a social expectation of sorts, and many evolutionary psychologists tend to make hypotheses without any proof, but at the end of the day some medications may be needed in order to overcome various personal hurdles that result from contemporary living and its stress. There appears to be a finite view on sexual function (and dysfunction), but there is also another side, and that's sexual addiction. A woman's hormonal cycle, each month, during her can influence attraction (its intensity). It may be related to procreation, or the body's hormonal cycle, like a signal that may not be 100% controlled (even if one thinks it can be controlled by 'thought').

What I do know, from direct experience as a result of Zoloft, is that I don't have the urge, or the habit to masturbate (for orgasm), and it feels as though I've switched off, I no longer spend time thinking about dating, relationships (or questioning what I'm supposed to be doing -dating, having sex, etc), and it's not as though I'm a sex addict, I'm not. I'm single and have been single for a while, but I've found that I haven't been obsessing so much over that, ie I've returned to my former self, not the person that society (the sum total of work colleagues, 'dates', etc) shaped me into. Whether that can be classed as sexual dysfunction or not, I don't yet know. But I do know that the long term has to be considered above the 'orgasm'. An orgasm is a small factor in life. A person spends 8 hours a day (or more) working (or educating themselves in order to gain a qualification)in order to provide themselves with a reasonable quality of living. Orgasms don't do that, they don't pay the bills for the majority of people, and if people - at some point - need SSRI medication, in order to help them navigate around a emotional/psychical maelstrom, then that would be more important than the 'sex'. Sex is fleeing.

hc said...

Anastasia, You seem to regard sex as an intrusion rather than a source of pleasure. With that view of course there is no problem in using drugs for depression at least with respect to their effects on sexuality. They might help with the depression and reduce your intrusive libido.

I agree that we do live in an excessively sexualised society.

Anonymous said...

That may be true. Today's modern mating rituals can be a tad aggressive and/or presumptuous as well. Sometimes they're superficial (eg speed dating), so there can sometimes be a question of meaning.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure any of that about the female orgasm is correct. From reading Evolution 101: The Female Orgasm , it is not about sperm retention or any of those issues, it is an evo-devo issue (evolution-development in the womb). The female sexual organs develop from the same material as the male sexual organs. The male sexual organs develop a orgasm for obvious evolutionary reasons, and these remain in the female. This is much the same as why males have nipples, which actually serve an evolutionary purpose in the female.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous has it right. Just because a nice story can fit the theory doesn't make it true.

In fact, pretty much any evolutionary theory which refers to males in the pair-bonding, "life partner" sense is likely bullshit, as humans are not naturally monogamous and the vast majority of pre-historic humans did not marry or mate for life.

Males evolved to try to dump as many loads as possible, and females evolved to try and get the best load in them that they could. Fatherhood in a caring sense is a fairly recent invention.

Anonymous said...

Women today seem to be piss weak and take all sorts of placebos that they hope may ameliorate their depressed condition. Conditions that are largely a function of believing the Shite that oozes from the TV screen and into the female approval seeking mechanism.

They even choose to believe that the companies that manufacture their little helpers give a toss about their problems.

Instead of controlling ones thoughts and accepting responsibility for them, it is far easy to medicate the problems and thought away then blame it on a chemical imbalance.

The sorriest creature is of course the knavish male eunuch on Anti-depressants who has forfeited any legitimate claim as a representative Male of species. This includes prescribing doctors as pimps for pharmacorp monopolies and who profit from the misery and despair of others.

Doors4me said...

Is there anything factual to support Clarkes comments? If not, let me jump on his bandwagon. I suggest 'Nasal delivery technology' should be developed to help out those millions of women who suffer from orgasm problems. Men have been hammered with silly radio commercials that claim to offer 'help for millions of men' suffering from 'erectile problems'. So lets beat female orgasm blues with nasal empowerment. Then we can all live happily and orgasmically togather again.

Anonymous said...

whether i agree or not at the very least the article has triggered some great discussion.

Keep it up guys

Cheers Banjo Smyth

G. Keith Walker said...

Interesting post and comments, however I thought an orgasm was meant to relieve stress? Recent scientific study has indicated that a womens brain releases a myriad of chemicals, which cause her to relax after having an orgasm. In fact a simultaneous orgasm, the act where both partners achieve bliss together, appears to not only bring about euphoria and relaxation but sleep as well. I don't think an orgasm is needed to bring about pregnancy though. As for the gent' who spoke about women complaining? Imagine if you where sexually frustrated for years and years! The problem I've found in the past, of which I was guilty too, is that men, nor women understand what it takes for a women to have an orgasm via copulation! Ironically it took me 43 years to understand! In fact I'll be posting my findings and results in the near future, and would welcome you all to learn and try the techniques I've been using with success for the past year. I personally think we all need simultaneous orgasm to get a "complete release" to allow the mind to reboot! To blazes with the drug companies!

Anonymous said...

Neil Maizels from Melbourne says:"It is a left over bit from when it was essential for men and woman to disengage following sex- for survival. One wouldn't want a huge creature to come at such a vulnerable moment and eat one up.Would one?

So, the orgasm is akin to a dog wagging its tail. Wholly non essential now but it happens. It was also a built in mechanism-if you will, to have a break from sex- if women and men did not have climaxes they would end up being sore-bleeding-injured and one of those things that is lovely to do but would be feared by many- Also there were chores to do and no disability or Dole at the beginning of time.
Hope this helps.
Neil Maizels Melbourne
Come by some time and have a gelati. I am in the phone book. My forte is sexual dysfunction. I am an (anal)yst!

G. Keith Walker said...

Dear Mel' it's unfortunate that you seem to think ecstasy is akin to a dog wagging it's tail. Further I think you may have a misconception as to how one "meaning a couple" achieve what is by far the epitome of bliss. 1st clue it's not bang bang bang, harder and faster does not good sex make!!! in fact theres a saying, it's not the length of the tide, but instead the motion of the ocean!!! Great love making provides for only pleasure not pain.

Anonymous said...

I just think Harry Clarke is an out and out arsehole. His wife thinks he is a complete moron. His affectations and his OVD is beyond weird.......Go to hell Harry Clarke.

Anonymous said...

Please ignore comments attributed to me in this blog.
They are not from me, and posted by a mischief-maker.
Apologies for any confusion,

Neil Maizels

Anonymous said...

Viagra is one of the best known pills for erectile dysfunction but is also said to reduce men's fertility by decreasing the ability of their sperm to fertilize an egg. Do not buy viagra without a doctor prescription.

Anonymous said...

Do you know that oysters fed with the anti-impotency drug Viagra have shown effective results against erectile dysfunction? Thats called two in one effect!!

Anonymous said...

Volume 55, Number 4 · March 20, 2008

Prozac and Sexual Desire

By Helen E. Fisher, J. Anderson Thomson Jr.

In response to Talking Back to Prozac (December 6, 2007)

Anonymous said...

Female orgasm is great but also should be seen as part of a whole seduction strategy when one is referring to the general idea of women achieving an acceptable degree of sexual satisfaction in life. The benefits of female's orgasm, same individualy than globaly, have been demonstrated
enough, there is no really neccesity of pointing the obvious, the issue is not this, really, but the social problems that can affect men or women -stress, unconciousness, anxiety, anger,prejudices, etc- as for not being clear and aware of these more than proven facts.

On the other hand, related to this matter, male orgasm when not practiced well -taking the sexual partner into account for example- as it's been stated by milenary tantric sexual traditions for instance, has the potential of affecting men in negative ways -i.e. by decreasing their longevity, energy levels and general wellbeing- but this is not the case for women, sorry about it folks. Satisfying women sexually can be more an economical aspect than one may thought.

phosda said...

the best begetters make the worst partners, which would explains why women get off with their lovers and pay their husbands off by faking it.

marire said...

I'm a 41 year old woman and althow i enjoy having sex with my housband, i'm disapointed for the fact that i've NEVER had an orgasm. I hear that for many women it just comes natural , but sadly it isn't my case.

Althow i know many women have the same problem, and my comment is of no surpise to anyone, i want to do my best and find a solution.

I've been thinking that maybe my housband isn't as tender and loveable as he should, but curiosity has never pushed me so far as to cheat on him with another man. Should i? Could change be a solution?

I've tried all sorts of pills and aphrodisiacs, but nothing so far...

If you have any advise, please reply to this comment. I've just started posting for a couple of days, so i'll be checking in often :)

Thank you!