The antics of the ocean’s biggest bully, the dolphin, have been well documented in the past. We’ve all heard how they use blowfish to get high, right? There are even some myths that they bully sharks and toss newborns around. But, perhaps worst of all, groups of male dolphins have been known to bully lone females into mating. Now, more research into the incredibly interesting creature has surfaced and it’s surprisingly positive. Dolphins may have sex for pleasure, just like us.
According to a research paper published on Monday 10 January 2022 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Current Biology, female bottlenose dolphins, in particular, experience sexual pleasure much like humans do, which may play a significant part in their copulations. The mammal often engages in ‘social’ sexual activity (aside from typical mating) as a means to create and cultivate social bonds—participating in countless pairings, both heterosexual and homosexual, and with multiple body parts. While this information may not be new, scientists from this latest paper have unveiled that the creature’s sexual nature is tied quite intrinsically to the female dolphin’s clitoris—one, they say, that is much like what we humans have.
Investigations into the anatomy of the clitoral tissue of the female common bottlenose dolphin revealed a myriad of ample sensory nerves and spongy tissues in the mammal’s genitalia that mirror our own. Such sensory abundance suggests higher sensitivity to physical contact, the researchers suggested, with evidential behaviour shown in female-on-female sexual interactions for the creature.
“In dolphins, the clitoris is positioned in the anterior aspect of the vaginal entrance, where physical contact and stimulation during copulation is likely. Clitoral stimulation seems to be important during female-female sexual interactions in common bottlenose dolphins, which rub each other’s clitorises using snouts, flippers or flukes,” the report elucidated.
More interestingly, the dissections and CT scans by the researchers unveiled a plethora of structural elements that indicate semblance to the human clitoris while also highlighting the obvious disparities such as: differing shapes and mass of tissue. The similarities included layers of tissue made up of collagen and elastin fibre as well as sensory nerve endings—much like the ones found in humans.
The female-led research, spearheaded by Doctor Patricia Brennan and Doctor Dara Orbach, was not their first endeavour to uncover information on dolphin genitalia. Science News reported on Doctor Brennan’s research into dolphin vaginal anatomy that preceded her latest discoveries. The previous analysis of the mammal’s genitalia prompted an examination under the clitoral hood, only to discover enlarged erectile tissue located at the entrance of the vagina.
“I have been collaborating with a researcher who was studying vaginas in dolphins. Dolphins have very complicated vaginas, which contain many folds,” Brennan told New Scientist. “The hypothesis was that these folds were there to exclude saltwater during copulation, because it is supposed to be lethal to mammalian sperm. But nobody had actually ever really studied these folds or tried to test the idea.”
“We haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why they are that way. But when we dissected the vaginas, I would look at these clitorises and be just amazed. I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, these are pretty big, well-developed clitorises’. And I thought that might be something interesting to look at,” she further shared with the publication.
For The New York Times, the research may signify a positive shift in scientific study which has historically prioritised the investigation of male genitalia and ignored “female choice in sexual selection.” “Female genitalia were assumed to be simple and uninteresting,” Doctor Justa Heinen-Kay from the University of Minnesota, who was not part of the research, told the publication, “But the more that researchers study female genitalia, the more we’re learning that this isn’t the case at all.”
‘But what’s the point?’ you may be wondering. Well, such research could only better help our understanding of human behaviour suggested Brennan. These mammals “might have something to tell us about ourselves,” Brennan told ScienceNews, “We have a lot to learn from nature.”
The wellness industry is thriving, for better or for worse, and with it, various vaginal products are appearing on the market. While some products are used to ease menstrual pain or increase sexual healing through pleasure, others are sold purely for the purpose of ‘finessing’ our genitals. Why is this trend happening now and how much of a problem is it?
Of course, this is not the first time that women are being targeted with false and unnecessary health advice. Gwyneth Paltrow, also known as the mastermind behind GOOP, recommended vagina steaming in order to balance hormone levels and cleanse the uterus, which gynaecologists strongly advise against.
A few years ago a new trend appeared that advised women to peel a full cucumber and penetrate themselves with it—not for the purpose of pleasure, but to ‘reduce odour’ and add ‘moisture’. Health professionals were quick to point out that this practice can actually lead to a number of diseases. In other words, your vagina does not need a ‘cleanse’, and unless a medical professional examined you and told you otherwise, basic hygiene should be enough.
Recently, there has been a worrying increase in various products being sold for the purpose of ‘beautifying’ the genitalia. There are now serums, charcoal masks, various scented perfumes and even highlighters to make your beautiful vagina even more… well beautiful, and this market keeps on growing despite medical professionals’ disapproval of it. Not only are these products unnecessary, but they also promote a false idea that our genitals need to appear a certain way, which can create insecurities for women while also capitalising on them.
TWO L(I)PS is a skincare company dedicated entirely to the vulva, which specialises in selling products such as activated charcoal masks for $28 and brightening serums for $150. While all products are dermatologically tested, their necessity should be put under question. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good charcoal mask, but only for my face—never have I considered applying one to my vulva.
The charcoal masks are said to “soothe, detoxify, brighten and moisturize the vulva,” and were in fact so popular that the company sold out of them two months after their initial launch (they are now back in stock). One of the brand’s serums, priced at $120, is made out of the skin whitening agent Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-36, and comes with the instruction to apply SPF 30 sunscreen the following days. Make your own judgement, but it sounds quite concerning to me that sunscreen would be needed in that area after using a serum.
Another company, The Perfect V, explains on its website that its products are “always for beauty’s sake. It is pure, indulgent pampering and love for your ‘V’. It is a multi-tasking luxury skincare formulated to rejuvenate, enhance and beautify the ‘V’.” Notice how the company never refers to the vulva or vagina by its name—instead, it is just the ‘V’, and if you buy their products, you can beautify your ‘V’ to become the perfect ‘V’!
It is certainly confusing that a company created by adults for adults won’t refer to genitalia by its real name, and should be taken as a warning sign. Perhaps it comes from the stigma surrounding women’s genitalia, but this only makes it all the more ironic that a brand entirely dedicated to selling products for our vulvas can’t even acknowledge that it is in fact called a vulva.
Among the products being sold by The Perfect V, which all claim to be both dermatologically and gynaecologically tested, there is a special $43 highlighting cream that promises to ‘illuminate’ your vulva and make it shimmer. This product can be compared to a highlighter you may apply to your face during your make up routine, only, in this case, it is meant for your vulva.
Everyone should be free to do whatever they want with their own bodies, so if you want to illuminate your vulva, please feel free to do so. My aim isn’t to judge customers, but more to highlight a bigger problem: the stigmatisation of the appearance of female genitalia. This is an increasing issue, and cosmetic surgeries, such as labiaplasty, have seen a 400 per cent increase in the last 15 years.
The stigma doesn’t just stop at the appearance of the vulva itself—it also touches upon other aspects, such as the vagina’s natural scent, its moisture or lack of such, or its pubic hair. One of The Perfect V’s best selling products is a beauty mist described as both “a natural skin conditioner and deodorizer,” that supposedly moisturises your skin and leaves your vulva smelling of roses. Another company called V Magic sells lipstick for your vagina, which supposedly moisturises and deodorises your vagina, too.
Similarly, the ‘Clit Spritz’ is a product sold by The Tonic, a wellness company specialising in CBD products. The ‘Clit Spritz’ is described as a “sexily-silky, gorgeously-scented oil designed to stimulate, lubricate and rejuvenate your lady bits.” Using the expression ‘lady bits’ once again stigmatises genitals. It is important to note that the company is selling the ‘Clit Spritz’ as a lubricant—a product that is both necessary and great—but the product’s description is vague and implies that your clitoris needs a ‘gorgeous scent’, which it doesn’t.
Not only are some of these products beyond ridiculous, but many medical professionals advise against applying and using them as they can affect a healthy PH balance and lead to infection. Vaginas can naturally clean and moisturise themselves, so unless your doctor told you to use a specific product, you don’t need one.
That is not to say all products are useless—the company Fur, for example, sells a concentrate to help eradicate ingrown hairs while soothing irritation. Many wellness companies do focus on creating products that help, while others focus on beautifying your genitals. It is up to you to decide which product suits you best, but perhaps try to do some research on each product before buying any.