‘The Female Orgasm Is A Byproduct Of The Male Orgasm, The Female Equivalent Of Male Nipples’

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David Barash. Photo: Arun Sehrawat
David Barash. Photo: Arun Sehrawat

In this session of THiNK 2013, evolutionary biologist David Barash, reputed to be one of the most ‘dangerous’ academics of the United States, discussed the evolutionary mysteries of female sexuality, and whether humans are hardwired for infidelity, war and revenge.

Barash started the session by discussing concealed ovulation, stressing that it is something humans take for granted: “We are the only primate, only mammal species which keeps our ovulation secret… yet we don’t know why”. He outlined a number of hypotheses that have been advanced to explain this unique phenomenon. Whilst some scientists have postulated that concealed ovulation is an evolutionary ploy to keep the male in attendance, others have argued the opposite – keeping the ovulatory time hidden enabled the woman to move freely as it was impossible for a male to guard or monitor her entire cycle.

Another peculiarity to our species, said Barash, are breasts, as no other mammal species develops such pronounced mammary tissue unless in a state of pregnancy. As breast size has no correlation with a woman’s ability to lactate, Barash advanced the idea that breasts may just be a deceptive mechanism favoured by evolution. He also touched upon the often controversial topic of the female orgasm, arguing that there is no simple explanation for why women have orgasms at all, given that the female orgasm has no correlation with reproductive success. Although some insist that the female orgasm is a test of competency for male status and dominance, Barash argued that this phenomenon might have no adaptive value at all – “Maybe the female orgasm is a byproduct of the male orgasm, the female equivalent of male nipples”.

Barash emphasised that very little in human behaviour is hardwired – “We are the most flexible, adaptable living things on the planet, capable of rising above genetically influenced traits. He asked the audience – why are dogs or cats housebroken so easily, whereas a human baby will take years to become toilet trained? Because all primate species evolved in trees, hence humans have a deep-seated inclination not to be toilet trained. Barash concluded by saying that, “The fact that we’re toilet-trained is a remarkable fact and something we should be proud of, and hopefully a primate that can become toilet-trained can become planet-trained one day”.

By Sara Sudetic

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