The Strange and Unsatisfying History of the Human Orgasm

This is it! The Big One. My Grand Unifying Theory of Sex. (Not quite Stephen Hawkings, but a whole lot easier to understand.)

Humans, like, I suspect, many mammalian species, have sex lives which are for the most part unfulfilling. From evolution’s point of view, this is a good thing, believe it or not. It improves our chances of successful propagation of our genes.
Yes. What men want, what gets men off, doesn’t do it for women, and vice versa. Our bits are in the wrong place and our instinctive techniques are at odds. Men tend to feel driven to violent thrusting, women tend to prefer strong, gentle rhythm (strong emphasis on tend). Most importantly, though, and the key to my theory is that the physical areas which produce the orgasm through friction and heat, the penis and the clitoris, don’t even normally come into contact because of where they’re placed. Weird. What’s worse, men let it all rip in one great bang and that’s it. A few drags on the post-coital fag and off to sleep with a beaming smile on our faces. But the women can come again, and again, and again, and love it.
How could nature get it so wrong?
My theory, for what it’s worth, is because that old trickster Momma Nature did it deliberately. That’s right. In this all-important part of keeping the species going she made sure that we guys get what we want and our female partners don’t.
Think about it. It all stems from the unchangeable fact that for the hugest part of our time as this species we didn’t have language anything like useful enough to have a discussion about who did what with whom and when. And it wouldn’t have done any good if we had, because we may not have even understood the connection between copulation and fertility anyway. Result: the females were alone in having certainty that the babe in their arms absolutely was theirs. Studies of comparable species show that the odds of a monogamous male wasting his time in feeding, protecting and training offspring who are not biologically his own are very high. Even today, anonymous surveys suggest that as many as 25% of kids are brought up by men who unknowingly are not their fathers.
You callous swine, I hear some people say. Wasting his time? Yes, because evolution is interested exclusively in the individual propagating his or her genes, and raising someone else’s offspring and not having any of your own may be socially worthy in modern terms but evolutionarily this is the ultimate catastrophe.
The male of many species, lions for example, avoid this disaster by killing any existing offspring of a female they hook up with. Humans, being highly communal and co-operative, don’t. So what the male does is take every chance he gets to swing his leg over someone else’s woman. If he spends his efforts raising someone else’s kid, but gets two other mates of two other women to raise his, he’s a winner.
So, since our cultural evolution has far outstripped the rate of the physical, and biologically we’re essentially cavemen and cavewomen in suits and skirts,  we blokes are still wired up to pop our rocks and leave. Get to sleep as soon as possible, because that’s important for the success of the next day’s hunting. Of course, we come back the next day for more of the same with the same partner. Because ‘guarding behaviour’, aka raging jealousy, makes it most likely that the female we coupled with last night and for the preceding period of time really will be carrying our child. So the main strategy is always going to be to hang around and keep the groceries flowing.
But if the male gets a chance to leap the odd back fence while some other guy is off doing …whatever, both he and the neighbour’s missus have a certain investment in laying off their bets with another partner.
That’s right – both of them. Because the female is stuck with an uncertainty neatly corresponding to the male’s: she can’t know if Loverboy No. 1 is actually fertile. When life is brutish, nasty and short, every year of fertility counts more than we can imagine today. Not only does she have to be free of disease or debility, she has to be carrying enough body fat to ovulate, menstruate and produce milk. And have enough healthy years left in her to see the kids through to university at age, say, twelve. Not an everyday guarantee in 150,000 BC. A few months wasted with a husky hunter shooting blanks is another catastrophe.
So, if we observe how The Act, in its default setting, works, we can see exactly why it is the way it is today. The male piles in, has his fun and rolls over for his beauty sleep as soon as she’ll let him go. She is attracted, turned on, stimulated, but during the act the chance that there will be enough of the right sort of clitoral contact to produce that satisfying orgasm is very low. So she clings, holds him in her, wanting more and unknowingly providing those little spermies the optimum environment to complete their long paddle to light up an egg.
And, just as nature designed it, when Big Hunter has rolled off and is stacking up Z’s in the corner – she still wants more! So maybe she’s aware of some youthful eyes glittering in a far corner of the cave, has observed an unattached stud with his mitts in his loincloth while they’ve been at it. Mmmm. Insurance time.
Sadly, of course, it’s no more likely that lover number two is going to hit the G-spot either, or even be interested in doing so. But maybe. You never know.
Don’t believe me? Female chimpanzees will routinely copulate with every male in the family group. The other very large advantage of this is that any male who has gotten biblical with her will leave her kids alone, because they might be his.
Neat, you must admit, even if something of the short straw for the female.
With men, it’s much simpler:
Higamous, Hogamous,
Woman is monagamous.
Hogamous, Higamous,
Man is polygamous.
…as Mrs. Amos Pinchot, William James, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, and many others are said to have said.
Which really means, because of the aforementioned ‘guarding behaviour’, men are openly promiscuous whereas women discreetly so.
Of course, although for the interests of readability I describe all this as though the protagonists are doing all this in full knowledge of the whys and wherefores, or as if some notional designer worked it all out that way, that’s not how evolution produces behaviour or physiology. Just as no-one up there, be it God, or Evolution as Architect, has any interest in making us behave in a manner which makes us happy. All that happens is that those men and women who by inclination are sufficiently promiscuous to cover their bets but not so promiscuous that they incite jealous rage and an early death will out-reproduce those at either end of the ideal point on the spectrum. That ideal point is to be faithful, do whatever you can to keep husband on song and providing, or your wife faithful, but when opportunity arrives, cover off the risk with someone else. Especially because in early times we lived and moved in smallish groups, with correspondingly small and interconnected gene pools, and the chance of the odd infidelity being exposed by a child of incongruously variant appearance was small.
And yes, without thought and intervention women who rely on coitus to achieve sexual repletion will remain perpetually unsatisfied. Because that lack of satisfaction produces higher rates of successful reproduction. It’s a good strategy.
Enter, the articulate, uninhibited and informed human beings of the 21st Century. How do we deal with it?
The answer is, for a long time, very badly. When we eventually got around to even mentioning it we tried to brand the female orgasm a myth. In Victorian times male doctors called it ‘hysteria’ (from the Greek word for the uterus), i.e. a kind of madness. The good ones invented a machine to discharge the dangerous ‘hysterical paroxysm’,  the bad ones simply carved off women’s clitori or even performed full hysterectomies to settle them down. I had a second cousin who had her entire uterus removed in the early 1950s as an attempt to treat her schizophrenia; even that late in history the belief persisted in some dark corners of the asylum that there was some connection between a woman’s reproductive instincts and insanity.
In the 70s, the feminists came up with an answer which really sucked, and was drivel into the bargain. Women are unsatisfied because men are pigs who don’t care. A miserable time was had by all, because could there be anything more stupid, more filled with self-hatred, than the belief that Nature got it all wrong, that the universe doesn’t work?
All along, women have combated Nature’s heartless design using two principal methods that I know of. Masturbation, obviously, and in a couple of lovers in my life, aggressive and (to me) painful grinding, probably the origin of the notion of the vagina dentata. Ouch!
We’re almost there, but let me chuck in another consideration. Conservative Christians, Muslims and probably Jews like to say that the only purpose of the sexual act is reproduction. As a Catholic, I find that a damn shame. I am proud that the Catholic Church was the first major religious group to recognise the truth of evolution. Many eminent scientists are Catholic and the Vatican even has a Jesuit-run observatory which works at the forefront of astronomy and astro-physics. But when it comes to biology, sociology and palaeobiology as it informs our knowledge of sexual behaviour, they remain firmly cemented in the Stone Age. The idea that human sexuality is exclusively about reproduction is utterly anti-scientific. It defies a large body of evidence.
Homo sapiens is one of many species that use sex for far more than reproduction. Just look at all those homosexual giraffes. Stops the victorious bull male from constant challenge by the unsuccessful losers, I suppose.
But even by that standard we’re out on a limb as one of the few in which the female will willingly engage in, even seek sex when she is not ovulating, and the male will oblige at any time in the menstrual cycle. We have evolved to use sex as a means of communication. Not only that, but I am convinced that for us this is an important and highly effective compensation for the confusing complexity of our verbal and non-verbal communication. In sex we communicate body-to-body, heart-to-heart at a depth and with a simplicity which transcends the verbal.
Especially when both the man and women have orgasms, and very especially when they occur either together or in close sequence, in blatant defiance of Nature’s plan.
So let’s hear it for the clever, delicious woman who gives herself orgasms during sex. Any male who has been lucky enough to experience this has enjoyed the incomparable pleasure of being brought to stupendous orgasm by the sudden rise in intra-uterine temperature and a flood of natural lubricant.
What can I say? Tell your friends. Put it on Facebook. Tell everyone.
It’s the best.


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