The female dolphin clitoris is similar to a human one, scientists discover

By Monica Athnasious

Published Jan 11, 2022 at 01:00 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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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.”

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