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Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It

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Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren’t just for college students.

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Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, is demeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.)  And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.

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Men who have sex with men account for over 80% of syphilis infection rates in the US

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MSM are 106 times more likely to get syphilis than men who exclusively have sex with women

Doctors advise waiting for the skin to heal after shaving before having sex

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A new study of syphilis transmission rates reveals men who have sex with men account for 81.7% of cases in the United States.

This study found gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men are 106 times more likely to get the sexually transmitted disease.

Researchers analyzed data collected in 2015 and compiled the first of its kind state-by-state report on syphilis rates.

The study found gay and bisexual men living in the South had the highest rates of the disease, such as North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.

North Carolina, for example, had 748 cases per 100,000 gay and bisexual men.

Alaska had the fewest cases, with only 73 cases per 100,000 gay and bisexual men.

HIV infects healthy immune cells in the human body by inserting its DNA into the cell’s genome

Fred Wyand, spokesman for the American Sexual Health Association urged people to look at the broader picture.

Wyand said: ‘Better access to healthcare, more welcoming attitudes, better support systems are all important, of course,’ WebMD reports.

‘We need to understand there are challenges faced by many gay and bisexual men greater than what most folks endure,’ Wyand concluded.

For a full list of State-specific cases of syphilis, check out the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Why do men who have sex with men report higher numbers of syphilis?

A further breakdown highlights men who have sex with men accounts for 309 cases per 100,000.

This is in contrast to men who only have sex with women accounting for 2.9 cases per 100,000.

And women with 1.8 cases per 100,000.

Dr Robert Grant, chief medical officer of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation explains why this might be the case.

Grant told CBS News: ‘Now that we have effective therapies for HIV, people who were previously untested and tested infrequently are now getting tested.

‘Sexually transmitted infections tend to go together.

If they come in and ask for HIV testing, we test for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea as well.

‘People have everything to gain and nothing to lose by getting an HIV and syphilis test.

‘This report will help reinvigorate people’s awareness and hopefully send the message that by getting a test and following through with treatment, we can decrease or even eliminate syphilis as a problem,’ Grant said.

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What does ‘sex positive’ mean?

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Sex positive. It’s a term that’s been adopted and broadcast by celebrities, feminists and activists alike over the past few years. Joining the ranks are Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Ilana Glazer, to name just a few of the celebrities opening up dialogue about sex.

But sex positivity isn’t just another buzzword to look up on Urban Dictionary. It’s a framework that counselors, medical professionals and universities are using to educate and talk with young people about issues relating to sexuality and sexual health.

What is sex positivity? And what does it mean to be “sex positive”?

Carl Olsen, a program coordinator in Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center, says sex positivity is a philosophy — an outlook on interpersonal relationships.

He said the term “sex positive” can be interpreted in different ways. For most, it involves having positive attitudes about sex and feeling comfortable with one’s own sexual identity and with the sexual behaviors of others, and destigmatizing sex.

“Most of our programming lands in the area of consent and prevention,” Olsen told USA TODAY College. “Most of the students here have had zero sex ed or abstinence-only [sex education], and that can lead to uncomfortable situations talking about sex. … We are just absolutely cool with however many sexual partners you have had, however many times you’ve had sex or if you’ve had zero sex at all — as long as it is all done consensually.”

Overall, Olsen says sex positivity is about establishing healthy relationships.

Yana Mazurkevich, an Ithaca College junior and activist, went viral last year for her photo series “Dear Brock Turner.” Since then, Mazurkevich has advocated for sexual assault prevention and awareness. Mazurkevich says she assumes the label of sex positive. To her, sex positivity is putting away shame or feelings of embarrassment in order to learn more about healthy sex.

“It allows you to open yourself up to facts, to educate yourself and pass that along to other people,” Mazurkevich says. “Getting yourself out of your comfort zone and learning how to talk about sex is the most vital thing so that you can be comfortable to open your mouth and not be too scared to do anything or say how you feel.”

What are the common myths or misconceptions regarding sex positivity?

Contrary to what some believe, Olsen said that sex positivity is not about having lots of sex.

At its core is the idea of consent and owning your own sexuality in the most comfortable way possible. For some people this means having lots of sex. But for other people it might mean abstaining — and that’s okay.

In current U.S. culture, and often in the college setting, Olsen said women are shamed for wanting and having pleasure from sex. The “virgin vs. slut dichotomy,” as he calls it, dictates that women can only fall into one category or the other, with stigma attached to both.

A lot of this, he says, comes down to socialization. Men can be socialized to believe that they need to have a lot of sex to show masculinity, while women are socialized to fear or feel shame about their bodies.

According to CSU’s Women’s Advocacy Center, another misconception is that sex positivity is only for women. Sex positivity challenges these notions by encouraging people of all genders to understand their own sexuality and to engage in relationships that affirm their desires. This includes people who want to abstain and those who love one-night-stands. As long as it’s consensual, there is no judgment.

However, some students still find that they encounter criticism for being open about their sexuality.

Mazurkevich says her sex-positive attitude has caused some people to judge her. “I hate the word ‘slut.’ It should be out of the dictionary,” she told USA TODAY College. “I think people should have as much sex as you want as long as they are safe, smart and consensual.”

Is there an app for that? You know there is

The University of Oregon has taken a unique approach to using sex positivity as an educational tool on campus. In a joint effort between the Office of Title IX, the Health Center and numerous student groups, the school released a smartphone mobile app titled SexPositive.

The app combines technology and language targeted at 18-23 year-olds to help students make healthy sexual decisions. The goals of the app are to decrease transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and sexual violence, and to increase healthy communication.

“The university takes a broad approach to educating our students about behaviors and choices that may affect their current and future health, and their overall quality of life,” said Paula Staight, health promotions director for the university health center in a statement to the campus community last year. “Being informed and adding to a student’s existing knowledge is a powerful prevention effort.”

How long has sex positivity been around?

The term sex positive has only become widely acknowledged during the past decade, though the foundation has been around since the 1920s, when psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud, argued that sexuality was normal and healthy, and wrote that a good and healthy sex life led to improved overall well-being.

As feminist movements grew, changed and popularized over the years, the term has been used and molded to help liberate communities from patriarchal or heteronormative assumptions about sex and relationships.

And today, sex positivity is more common than ever. Take for example, the women of Girls or Broad City. Sex positivity has come to be categorized by realistic and unfiltered portrayals of sex and what that means to the young people navigating it.

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Untying that knotty BDSM

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Not abusive or deviant, this sexual kink is based on communication, consent and trust, says a ‘professional’ Sub(missive) Asmi Uniqus. Here’s a quick myth buster

By Barry Rodgers

“While it’s great that people are exploring their sexuality,” says Asmi Uniqus, an active BDSM practitioner and lifestyle coach, “it’s frustrating that there are so many misconceptions.” For example, BDSM does not have to be driven by sex or risky forms of play that involve drawing blood, asphyxiation or other such extreme practices.

According to Uniqus, “BDSM is a different form of expression of intimacy, love and care. It is sacrosanct consent. It’s about shared responsibility for safety and sanity, and detailed communication. Anything that violates consent, manipulates it or abuses the trust is not BDSM,” she says. “When trust supersedes the possibility of harm, the result is something incredibly erotic and intimate.” She would know. Uniqus has been a lifestyle submissive for over 10 years and has written several e-books on the subject. Here are some myth busters:

1. You can’t trust anyone blindly. Basic safety checks, personal responsibility and support systems are a must.

2. Uniqus calls it one of the most nurturing and intimate forms of human contact and play. “In vanilla or non-BDSM space, people can jump into bed without conversation, negotiation, or emotional connection. In BDSM, the players always arrange things in advance with clear, intimate communication.

3. Finding the right partner to ‘play’ involves communicating what works and what doesn’t. For instance, the Dominant partner may be a sadist, but the Sub may not want pain. “However, while not many people communicate clearly in vanilla sex, in BDSM that choice of not communicating isn’t there,” says Asmi.

4. “There are pre-decided safe words,” she clarifies. “These may or may not indicate that I want to close the book on the entire session. ‘Red’ may indicate closing the book, while ‘amber’ is for when I’m done with a particular aspect of it. ‘Green’ means I’m in my comfort zone.” When using gags, people decide on non-verbal cues to indicate distress.

5. Submissives in erotica are portrayed as doormats manipulated into ‘slavery’ by smarter dominants. “I am not coerced into being a submissive,” says Uniqus, “It is a lifestyle choice. The sexual aspect of my relationship is completely separate from other aspects of it.”

6. Alpha men, who always call the shots and men, in general, are expected to be in control all the time. For them, it helps to ‘let go’ in a safe environment, with a trusted partner.

7. “For some, BDSM may not be about sex,” says Uniqus. “There is an emotional connect between a submissive and dominant, but there may not necessarily be sexual contact. Some submissives are into domestic servitude and derive pleasure out of maybe just washing their partner’s dishes. I could kneel at my dominant’s feet without shedding a thread of cloth and still be satisfied. It is as gratifying as a sexual act.

8. Then, isn’t BDSM the same as submitting to one’s elders or authority figures? “In a socio-cultural context,” answers Uniqus, “we do submit to our elders’ authority, but we do not develop sexual bonds with them. BDSM may not always be about sex, but it has an undercurrent of physical and sexual intimacy, even when fully clothed,” she says.

9. “Choosing BDSM as a lifestyle just because you’re going through a bad phase in life is the wrong way to approach it,” says Uniqus. “Fifty Shades of Grey did help bring BDSM out in the open in India, and when its popularity increased, people’s sensitivity towards it decreased. Now 20-year-olds want to try it because it is a fad.” She warns that considering the legal ramifications involved, with some kinky acts coming under the purview of Section 377 (anal penetration, or oral pleasure, for instance), it is important to figure out which activities are medically and legally safe.

10. There are international books to guide you through the technique, however they have a different cultural context. There’s also Uniqus’s BDSM Concepts: A Practical Guide.

11. Keep a First Aid kit handy, and also arrange a ‘safe call’ i.e. a trusted friend who can come and rescue or support you, should anything go wrong.

12. Monogamy is still the leading form of relationship in the dominant and submissive equation. Couples who enjoy BDSM together, do not feel the need to add other people to the mix.

13. So what happens when only one partner is inclined towards BDSM? “Most spouses stay restricted to an academic interest in the lifestyle. People value families, relationships and marriages,” says Uniqus. “Some people may experiment outside wedlock, but there are also marriages where a spouse has been patient enough to slowly and lovingly initiate the other into the lifestyle, sometimes taking 10 or 15 years to do so.”

14. Those who enjoy pain are not necessarily wired that way because of trauma. “Pain acts differently for different people. For some, it is cathartic. For others, it’s as an aphrodisiac. Think of the adrenaline rush a heavy workout gives you. Although your body is sore, that pain gives you a high,” she illustrates.

Complete Article HERE!

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Researchers Reveal an Evolutionary Basis for the Female Orgasm

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Though a common occurrence (hopefully), the female orgasm has been a biological mystery.

by Philip Perry

Few things are as magical as the female orgasm, whether you are experiencing it, inducing it, or just a casual observer. It is essentially pure art in motion. Yet, there are many things we don’t know about the phenomenon, scientifically speaking, such as, why it exists. Scientists have been pondering this for centuries.

Apart from vestigial organs, there are few structures in the body we don’t know the function of. It seems that the clitoris is there merely for pleasure. But would evolution invest so much in such a fanciful aim? Over the years, dozens of theories have been posited and hotly debated.

One prevailing theory is the “byproduct hypothesis.” The penis gives pleasure in order to drive males toward intercourse and ensure the perpetuation of the species. The sex organs are one of the last things developed in utero. Due to this, and the fact that women develop their pleasure organ from the same physical structure the penis is formed from, the clitoris is therefore a “byproduct” of the penis. You could imagine how some women feel about this theory.

Another is the mate-choice hypothesis. Here, it is thought that since a woman take longer to “get there,” it would pay for her to find a mate invested in her pleasure. A considerate lover would make a good father, the theory posits. Yet, the female orgasm happens rarely during penetrative intercourse, undercutting this theory.

It’s been thought that the act plays a role in conception. Several studies have shown that the woman having an orgasm during intercourse increases the likelihood of impregnation. But how and why is not well understood. Now, a team of scientists suggest that the female climax once played a role in reproduction, by triggering ovulation.  

Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy. By: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. 1606.

Researchers at Yale University posed this theory, in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B Molecular and Developmental Evolution. Gunter Wagner was its co-author. He is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the university. According to him, previous research has been looking in the wrong place. It focused on how human biology itself changed over time.

Instead, these Yale researchers began by analyzing a large swath of species and the mechanisms present in females associated with reproduction. Wagner and colleagues also looked at the genitalia of placental mammals. They focused on two hormones released during penetrative intercourse across species, prolactin and oxytocin.

Prolactin is responsible for the processes surrounding breast-milk and breast feeding, while oxytocin is the “calm and cuddle” hormone. It helps us to bond and feel closer to others. Placental mammals in the wild need these two hormones to trigger ovulation. Without them, the process cannot occur.

One major insight researchers found is that in other species, mammalian ovulation is induced by contact with males, whereas in humans and other primates, it is an automatic process operating outside of sexual activity, called spontaneous ovulation. From here, they looked at those female mammals who induce ovulation through sexual contact with males. In those species, the clitoris is located inside the vagina.

Evolutionary biologists believe that spontaneous ovulation first occurred, in the common ancestor of primates and rodents, around 75 million years ago.  From here, Wagner and colleagues deduced that the female orgasm must have been an important part of reproduction in early humans. Before spontaneous ovulation, the human clitoris may have been placed inside the vagina. Stimulation of the clitoris during intercourse would trigger the release of prolactin and oxytocin, which would in turn, induce ovulation. This process became obsolete once spontaneous ovulation made it onto the scene.

“It is important to stress that it didn’t look like the human female orgasm looks like now,” said Mihaela Pavličev, Wagner’s co-author of this study. “Homologous traits in different species are often difficult to identify, as they can change substantially in the course of evolution.” She added, “We think the hormonal surge characterizes a trait that we know as female orgasm in humans. This insight enabled us to trace the evolution of the trait across species.”

While the hypothesis is compelling, it has drawbacks. The biggest is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, at least currently, to investigate what, if any, sexual pleasure other female animals derive during copulation. Other experts say, more data is needed from other organisms to shore up this theory. Still, it seems the most persuasive argument to date.

To learn more about the biological basis of the female orgasm, click here:

 

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