Sometimes science is a hands-on kind of job.
In this edition of DNews, Julian Huguet courageously navigates a sticky situation by asking: Why do scientists stimulate animals to orgasm?
Well, it's the quest for knowledge, really. No, really. Orgasms are a critical component of reproductive process for many species, but we just don't know that much about them. In fact, relative to the history of general biological research, we've only recently begun studying human orgasms in earnest, never mind animals.
Getting humans to orgasm on the record, as it were, is a tricky business in itself. Just ask Masters and Johnson. Getting animals there presents a whole other set of problems. Since researchers can't instruct animals to achieve orgasm themselves, other means must be applied.
As such, researchers have been stimulating animals to orgasm for several decades now, all in the interest of science. The biological purpose of orgasms is fairly clear, for half the world's population, anyway. Male orgasm usually involves the ejaculation of sperm. But females can conceive with or without orgasm.
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Researchers naturally began to wonder whether and why female animals orgasm at all. In 1981, graduate student Mel Allen of the Institute for Primate Studies earned his thesis in a most curious fashion, by manually stimulating female chimps to document their sexual responses.
Allen's published, peer-reviewed conclusion? Female chimpanzees do indeed experience orgasm, as evidenced by spasms, vocalizations, secretions and clitoral tumescence. Science!
In another study, Patricia Brennan of Yale University studied the mating habits of ducks. Male ducks, it seems, have corkscrew-shaped penises. Meanwhile, female ducks have vaginas that corkscrew in the opposite direction. Cruel, but true. Brennan's research explores how the weird specifics of duck orgasm and ejaculation actually allow females to be more selective about their mates.
So yes, stimulating animals to orgasm may be a little squirmy, topic-of-conversation-wise, but it's legitimate science. Anyway, the animals aren't complaining.
New York Times: A Critic Takes On the Logic of Female Orgasm
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