Female dolphins have a clitoris very similar to that of humans

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Dolphins have active sex lives, with frequent banter not just for breeding. One of the reasons may be that the prominent female dolphin clitoris provides sexual pleasure.

A further close examination of the clitoral tissue of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) reveals many similarities with the human clitoris. The abundant sensory nerves and spongy tissue in the genitals of our female finned friends suggest that dolphins’ clitoris may be very sensitive to physical contact, researchers report on January 10 in Current biology.

The results suggest that the bottlenose dolphin’s clitoris likely provides pleasure during sex, which is on top of that since dolphins have sex all the time, says Patricia Brennan, evolutionary biologist at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. , Mass.

Both heterosexual and homosexual sex are common among wild dolphins, including female-to-female sex. “It looks like women stimulating each other’s clitoris,” with muzzles, fins or moats, says Brennan. Females also masturbate by rubbing their clitoris against objects on the seabed.

Like female reproductive anatomy in general, the clitoris – in many species, not just dolphins – is poorly studied unlike male genitals. the first rigorous study of clitoral anatomy in men was only published in 1998.

During Brennan’s recent research into the vaginal anatomy of dolphins, the large size of the common bottlenose clitoris piqued her curiosity (NS: 12/15/17). The paucity of previous research prompted Brennan and her colleagues to examine the organ and look under the hood – including under the wrinkled clitoral hood – an area of ​​enlarged erectile tissue near the vaginal entrance where penile contact and stimulation. during copulation are likely.

By excising the clitoris of dolphin specimens that died of natural causes, Brennan’s team discovered that the dolphin’s clitoral body is supplied by large nerves abundant on the surface of the skin. “So just like humans,” she says, “these are areas of high sensitivity. “

CT scans and dissection also revealed many structural features similar to the human clitoris, although different in shape and with more spongy tissue. As in humans, the dolphin’s clitoris has erectile bodies with dense layers of connective tissue, made up of collagen and elastin fibers that maintain structural integrity under pressure. The team also found genital corpuscles, encapsulated sensory nerve endings called “pleasure bodies” in humans.

The shape of the clitoris also differs between young and adult dolphins, the researchers report. Juvenile females have a C-shaped clitoris, while it is larger and S-shaped in females of childbearing age. These curved shapes, Brennan predicts, represent a relaxed state rather than engorged. “When this tissue fills with blood, it will straighten out,” she explains.

The new findings are “striking but not surprising,” notes Teri Orr, a physiological ecologist at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces who was not involved in this study. Orr, a former postdoctoral fellow at Brennan, studies genitals across species. Like bonobos and chimpanzees, she says, the dynamics of dolphin groups involve bonding and seeking pleasure through sex.

However, there are at least two other potential hypotheses for the evolution of an enlarged clitoris in female dolphins, Orr says. The thicket of nerves supplying the clitoris may reflect its embryologic root shared with the penis in men. During development, both originate from the same types of tissue, and the penis is also well supplied with nerves, so it’s no surprise that the clitoris is too.

Additionally, the dolphin’s clitoris may play a role in stimulating ovulation, speculates Orr. Across species, theories abound as to why stimulation of the female clitoris can lead to orgasm, and perhaps coevolved pleasure and fertility.

With a historical and persistent gender bias in reproductive biology research, there is a lot about female sexuality in all species that we still don’t know. The dolphins “might have something to tell us about ourselves,” Brennan says. “We have a lot to learn from nature.

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