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Female Dolphins Have Functional Clitoris ‘Surprisingly Similar’ to Humans, Research Shows


Female dolphins, like humans, have a functioning clitoris, according to research published today (January 10, 2022) in the journal Current Biology. The findings are based on the identification of a clitoris-like structure in the vaginal entrance of bottlenose dolphins that has a large number of sensory nerves and erectile bodies.

According to the assistant professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Patricia Brennan: “The dolphin clitoris has many features to suggest that it functions to provide pleasure to females.”

Dolphins are known to be very sociable, according to scientists. They have sex all year as a means of forming and sustaining social relationships. It was also discovered that dolphin females had a clitoris in the vagina, which would make stimulation during copulation possible. Females have also been observed touching each other’s clitorises with their snouts, flippers, and flukes.

This photograph depicts dolphin arousal. Phot Courtesy: Dara Orbach

Brennan and colleagues chose to investigate more closely the dolphin clitoris in their latest investigation. They examined the clitorises of 11 females who died naturally. They looked for the presence, shape, and arrangement of erectile bodies in them. They also examined how nerve fibers moved across the tissues. What they discovered lends credence to the idea that dolphins have a functional clitoris.

“Just like the human clitoris, the dolphin clitoris has large areas of erectile tissue that fill up with blood,” Brennan says.

She went on to say that when animals grow older, the structure of their erectile tissue changes, implying that it takes on a functional purpose. The findings also demonstrate that the clitoris body has many free nerve endings and big nerves immediately beneath the skin, which is significantly thinner there than in the neighboring area. They also discovered genital corpuscles in the human clitoris and penis tip, which are known to be involved in the pleasure response.

Overall, Brennan claims that the structure of dolphin erectile bodies is “surprisingly similar” to the shape of human erectile bodies.

“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.”

Brennan stated that they were interested in the dolphin clitoris when studying the development of vaginas in dolphins.

“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,” she says. “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.”

This image depicts the big nerves in the dolphin clitoris. Photo Courtesy: Patricia Brennan

The researchers point out that little research has been done on the clitoris and female sexual pleasure in nature. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the human clitoris was properly characterized.

“This neglect in the study of female sexuality has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behaviors,” Brennan says. “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.”

Her team will continue to examine the clitoris and genitalia of dolphins and many other vertebrates to help fill in these gaps.

Reference: “Evidence of a functional clitoris in dolphins” by Patricia L.R. Brennan, Jonathan R. Cowart and Dara N. Orbach, 10 January 2022, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.020

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