The hot news is literally rocking the biological world right now. Anatomical evidence suggests that female dolphins have a working clitoris, just like female humans. Let’s find out more about this incredible new research published yesterday in Current Biology.
How do you even study a dolphin’s clitoris?
We know so little about marine mammals and their reproductive systems. In fact, it is really hard to study such a well-hidden organ, and researchers usually have to rely on post-mortem examinations to understand how it all works. So this is exactly what the researchers from Mount Holyoke College (MA, USA) did. They looked at the bodies of 11 female dolphins who died of natural causes. They paid particular attention to the outer and inner structure of the females’ clitorises. First, they examined them for the presence, shape, and configuration of erectile bodies. Then, they looked at how nerve fibers ran through the tissues.
An erectile sensory organ
What Dr. Brennan and her team found is a potential for the tissue in the clitoris to expand; biologists call it erectile tissue. It seems to act the same way as it does in humans. When stimulated, the blood vessels in the tissue swell because the blood flow increases. The engorged tissue causes the organ to enlarge.
What further surprised the team was the number and the size of nerves in the organ structure, which not only resembles human clitorises and penises but also suggests that female dolphins can feel pleasure down there. The clitoris is also located right at the entrance of the vagina, allowing proper stimulation during copulation.
Can dolphin females feel sexual pleasure?
Dolphins are one of many species – including humans – to mate, not just for reproductive purposes. Females do have sex all year round even when they are not fertile. So why do dolphins have sex? Maybe this new study brings us a partial answer: maybe dolphins have sex because it feels good.
However, this study does raise new questions. Despite being very social, dolphins are not always known for being romantic. If males cannot gain a female’s sympathies, they won’t shy away from aggression and harass the female until they get their way. This behavior eventually begs the question: can female dolphins also feel pain the same way humans do? Other questions arise from this discovery: Evolutionary speaking, what is the purpose of pleasure? Can female dolphins get orgasms? Do other cetacean species have functioning clitorises as well? One thing is for sure: we are excited to read future research on the female reproductive system.
P.L.R. Brennan, J.R. Cowart, and D.N. Orbach. Evidence of a functional clitoris in dolphins. Current Biology. Published online January 10, 2022. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.020
Check out our previous article on dolphin vaginas:
Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.