Dolphin arousal

This photograph depicts dolphin arousal. (Credit: Dara Orbach)

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — Female bottlenose dolphins are physically able to enjoy mating as much as humans, reveals a new study. Scientists report that female dolphins have a clitoris that sits at the entrance of their vagina, which is a haven of sensory nerves and tissues.

A detailed analysis of the structure of the dolphin clitoris suggests that the marine mammals may experience stimulation when rolling about in the waves, pleasure themselves, and could even reach orgasm. “Our study suggests that female dolphins likely experience pleasure when the clitoris is stimulated during copulation, homosexual behavior, and masturbation,” the authors write.

Dolphin arousal
This photograph depicts dolphin arousal. (Credit: Dara Orbach)

It is common knowledge among scientists that dolphins are highly social creatures that regularly have sex as a way of creating and maintaining social bonds with each other. After the biologists found the clitoris in the vagina of female bottlenose dolphins, they were able to confirm the likelihood of it being stimulated during sex. In fact, the team received reports of female dolphins rubbing each other’s clitorises with their snouts, flippers, and flukes.

“The dolphin clitoris has many features to suggest that it functions to provide pleasure to females,” says first author Patricia Brennan, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College, in a statement.

Similarities in the dolphin clitoris to that of humans

For their research, Brennan and her team studied the clitorises from eleven female dolphins that had died from natural causes. They then examined them for the presence, shape, and configuration of their erectile bodies. They also looked at how nerve fibers ran through the tissue and were able to confirm that what they saw were “working” clitorises in dolphins.

“Just like the human clitoris, the dolphin clitoris has large areas of erectile tissue that fill up with blood.” says Brennan. “The erectile tissue shape changes as animals become adults.”

Scientists say that the clitoris body has large nerves and many free nerve endings right underneath the skin, which is much thinner there than any nearby skin. Examination results reveal genital corpuscles, much like those seen in human clitorises and penis tips, which are responsible for the pleasurable feeling we get during sex.

Dolphin clitoris nerves
This image depicts the big nerves in the dolphin clitoris. (Credit: Patricia Brennan)

Professor Brennan explains that the erectile bodies in dolphins are “surprisingly similar” to the shape of the erectile bodies, or tissues, in humans. “Since the entire pelvis of dolphins is so different to humans, it was surprising to see how similar the shapes were,” she says. “Also, the size of the nerves in the clitoris body was very surprising. Some were larger than half a millimeter in diameter.”

Understanding these behaviors ‘fundamental part of understanding the animal experience’

Researchers became curious about the dolphin’s clitoris while studying the evolution of their vaginas through the ages.

“Every time we dissected a vagina, we would see this very large clitoris, and we were curious whether anyone had examined it in detail to see if it worked like a human clitoris,” notes Brennan. “We knew that dolphins have sex not just to reproduce, but also to solidify social bonds, so it seemed likely that the clitoris could be functional.”

Few studies have shed light on the clitoris relating to pleasure in nature, and it hadn’t been fully researched until the 1990s.

“This neglect in the study of female sexuality has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behaviors,” says Brennan. “Studying and understanding sexual behaviors in nature is a fundamental part of understanding the animal experience and may even have important medical applications in the future.”

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

South West News Service writer Georgia Lambert contributed to this report.

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