Female dolphins have a functioning clitoris

Female dolphins have a functioning clitoris

The presence and functioning of the clitoris in humans have long been ignored and knowledge about this organ of pleasure remains fragmented. It is therefore evident that little is known about the anatomy of the clitoris and its role in other animal species, such as bottlenose dolphins.

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Between 2014 and 2018, researchers observed a single case of adoption in a group of dolphins in French Polynesia. A small Electra dolphin taken in by a female Bottlenose dolphin and raised alongside her adoptive mother’s own calf. In video, astonishing images of the trio evolving on the side of Rangiroa atoll.

In some species such as humans and bonobos, intercourse is known to be performed not only for reproductive purposes but also to provide pleasure to partners. Dolphins also perform sexual acts throughout the year, as opposed to species that only perform them during the breeding season, and this behavior has been interpreted to create as well as strengthen social connections. However, the establishment and maintenance of such links through intercourse requires that there is a pleasure organ in dolphins.

Establishing and maintaining such bonds through intercourse requires that there is a pleasure organ in dolphins.

In female dolphins, the presence of a clitoris has already been highlighted at the entrance to the vagina, a location where the stimulation by a penis can generate pleasure. At the bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus, observers have also reported behaviors between females likely to provide pleasure to one of them and therefore strengthen social bonds. These behaviors involve, for example, the stimulation of clitoris of an individual thanks to rostrum or fins. If it is not possible to verify that the stimulation of the clitoris provides pleasure in female dolphins, theanatomy of this organ can provide clues as to its function.

An organ of pleasure … in several species

An article published in the newspaper Current Biology reports results obtained following the analysis of the clitoris of eleven female dolphins, which died of natural causes. The organs were removed and examined in particular by means of microtomography at X-rays as well ashistology. X-ray microtomography images show the presence of a large area of ​​erectile tissue that is similar in shape in young and adult individuals. Some of the shape of this tissue is similar to that seen in humans, and its curvature suggests that it can be stretched.

A) External visualization of the clitoris of a bottlenose dolphin (UC, urethra, CB and CH, clitoris);  B) 3D reconstruction of the erectile tissue of the clitoris in a sexually mature bottlenose dolphin.  Scale: 1 cm.  © Brennan et al., 2010

There are also more erectile spaces in sexually mature individuals compared to juveniles, which allows the authors to assume that the clitoris does have a role in individuals who practice a sexual act. Histological sections also revealed the presence of numerous nerve ends and the authors therefore believe that the thin skin of the clitoris is very sensitive. Thanks to these various elements of analysis, the authors explain that this organ is complex and presents similarities with the clitoris of other species, including humans and that it is probably a source of pleasure during matings between males and females but also during intercourse homosexuals and of masturbatory behaviors. Thanks to the study of non-model organisms, the researchers make it possible to determine the functioning of the clitoris in groups phylogenetically distant from each other and to try to understand what is the role of the clitoris. orgasm in females.

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