Why women have orgasms: An evolutionary analysis

David A. Puts, Khytam Dawood, Lisa L.M. Welling

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Whetherwomen's orgasm is an adaptation is arguably themost contentious question in the study of the evolution of humansexuality. Indeed, this question is a veritable litmus test for adaptationism, separating those profoundly impressed with the pervasive andmyriad correspondences between organisms' phenotypes and their conditions of life from those who apply the ''onerous concept'' of adaptation with more caution, skepticism or suspicion.Yet, the adaptedness of female orgasm is a question whose answer will elucidate mating dynamics in humans and nonhuman primates. There are two broad competing explanations for the evolution of orgasm in women: (1) the mate-choice hypothesis, which states that female orgasm has evolved to function in mate selection and (2) the byproduct hypothesis,which states that female orgasm has no evolutionary function, existing only because women share some early ontogeny with men, in whom orgasm is an adaptation. We review evidence for these hypotheses and identify areas where relevant evidence is lacking. Although additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn, we find that the matechoice hypothesis receives more support. Specifically, female orgasm appears to have evolved to increase the probability of fertilization from males whose genes would improve offspring fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1143
Number of pages17
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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