Happy National Orgasm Day

Today, I have just learned from Katherine Feeney’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald, is National Orgasm Day. What that is and how you celebrate it remains a little opaque to me*. Will there be organised pageantry and fireworks later on? Should one share this knowledge with a loved one? Or simply mark the occasion alone?

National-Orgasm-Day

But my recent post on the function of orally-induced orgasm stimulated so much discussion, I thought I’d dip into the pages of Archives of Sexual Behaviour for an appropriate reading to mark NOD. And the journal did not disappoint.

The paper I chose, so steaming hot out of peer review that it has only just been published online, concerned female orgasm as a signal. Readers of my previous column might recall my irritation that the social feedback of unselfish stimulation and orgasmic response seemed to be a missing dimension in the Evolutionary Psychology paper that precipitated that post.

Today’s paper tested two predictions concerning womens’ orgasms as signals. First, that orgasms signal a woman’s sexual satisfaction and thus her likely fidelity as a partner (the Female Fidelity hypothesis). And second that women orgasm to signal an increased chance of conception (the Sire Choice hypothesis). Yes, I know it seems a little man-centric to frame these questions with reference to the man, rather than the subject of the orgasm herself. But at least we’re talking about orgasms as part of the give-and-take commerce of sex and satisfaction.

The authors, Ryan M. Ellsworth from the University of Missouri and Carnegie Mellon’s Drew H. Bailey, administered a questionnaire to 138 women and 121 men, each currently in a heterosexual romantic relationship. Through a rather exhaustive bank of questions, they estimated each participant’s relationship satisfaction, partner investment, sexual fidelity, sexual behaviour and orgasm history.

Women reported orgasming during sexual intercourse 61 percent of the time. More than half of the women (58%) reported faking orgasms sometimes, with 18% of copulations with current partners resulting in faked orgasms. Men, you might not be surprised to learn, underestimated the rate of faked orgasms. Only 21 percent reported that their partners faked, and only estimated that women faked about 5 percent of the time. Women who faked a lot also reported having fewer real orgasms.

The other main findings by which Ellsworth and Bailey tested their hypotheses included:

  • Women satisfied in their relationships also reported orgasming more intensely and more frequently.
  • Women whose partners invested plenty of effort in them and their relationships also had more intense and more frequent orgasms.
  • Women who reported past infidelity reported having more orgasms.
  • Women who report being open to future opportunities for infidelity reported having more orgasms, and more intense orgasms.
  • Women who reported having past infidelity or openness to future infidelity also reported more frequently faking orgasms.
  • Men in satisfying relationships reported higher rates of partner orgasm and lower rates of partner faked orgasm.
  • Men who have been unfaithful to their partners report that those partners have fewer orgasms.

Taken together, these results suggest that female orgasm and faked orgasm are involved in the quality and dynamics of the relationship, but in more nuanced and complex ways than predicted by the two hypotheses being tested. Female orgasm does not seem to signal female fidelity, and frequent, intense orgasms don’t seem to convince men of their partner’s fidelity. Instead, it seems that faked orgasms are associated with past and likely future infidelity.

It seems more likely that genuine orgasm is either a happy cause or a thrilling consequence of relationship satisfaction. So far so good, but it also seems that a high rate of both true and faked orgasm makes for an especially high chance of infidelity. Given the prevalence of the faked orgasm, and men’s ineptitude at detecting it, perhaps this is one of those cases in which the fake is at least as interesting as the original?

Well, scientifically at least.


* I have elsewhere seen it claimed that National Orgasm Day is to be celebrated on every day that ends in a “Y”

Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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Penis size may be driven by women (oh, and it matters)

How important is penis size?

Authors from the Australian National University, Monash and La Trobe provide the most complete answer yet: the size of a flaccid penis can significantly affect how attractive a man’s body is to women.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (a journal commonly known by its initials as PNAS), Brian Mautz, Bob Wong, Richard Peters and Michael Jennions use a clever experimental manipulation of computer-generated imagery – CGI – to test the effects of variation in penis size relative to height and torso shape (shoulder width relative to waist width) on the attractiveness of male bodies to women.

While they found that torso shape was by far the most important determinant of attractiveness, penis size has about as much influence on attractiveness as height.

It’s the kind of science made for easy-reading 100 word news-porn in the tabloid press (“Size really does matter”). Or for wowser columnists to work up a morning’s indignation that a scientist somewhere did something interesting when everybody knows the rules:

Scientists should be finding new ways to extract coal-seam gas or cure the cancers that tend to afflict late-middle-age columnists (see the recent controversy when Fox News attacked Patricia Brennan’s research on duck penises).

If Tom Waterhouse wasn’t so busy swotting for Friday night football, he’d have already installed Mautz as hot favourite for the next igNobel Prize (for science that makes you laugh and then makes you think).

And yet for such a tabloid-ready topic, the paper itself is a study in how science should proceed in sober and restrained steps.

Evolution of penises

Genitalia tend to vary more dramatically than almost any other physical trait. And evolutionary biology has made stunning progress in resolving why.

For the most part, studies of animal penis size and shape have focused on the effectiveness of various structures in delivering sperm to where it needs to be, in removing sperm that a female had received from previous mates, in stimulating the female to use that male’s sperm, or even inflicting damage on the female so she would not mate again.

One of the more striking features of the human penis, when compared with other primates, is its length. Relative to body size, the human penis dwarfs that of bonobos, common chimpanzees, gorilla and orangutan. And our erect stance and face-to-face social interactions make the penis a highly conspicuous feature.

That conspicuousness has led anthroplogists and pop-scientists alike to speculate on the potential for penises to act as a sexual signal. Some have even suggested that a large penis may be a signal of more general health and vigour, and that the evolutionary loss of the human baculum (penis bone) may make the penis an honest signal because size and arousal can’t be faked. Continue reading Penis size may be driven by women (oh, and it matters)