Sex Ed

Do Orgasms Help Women Identify High Quality Mates?

November 13, 2014 by Justin Lehmiller

A woman of reproductive age has the potential to become pregnant from vaginal intercourse regardless of whether she experiences an orgasm. This fact has prompted an ongoing debate about the purpose of the female orgasm. If it is not essential to reproduction, then why does it occur? Numerous theories exist. To name a few, some have argued that the female orgasm is a “sperm retention mechanism,” while others have claimed that it has no purpose and is just a “fantastic bonus.” One additional theory that has received an increasing amount of research attention is that perhaps orgasms serve as a feedback mechanism that provides women with information about the reproductive potential and quality of their partners. A new study just published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology provides some support for this idea.

In this study, 54 female college undergraduates who were in committed relationships with men completed a survey about their sex lives and their feelings about their partners. The results of this survey revealed that several partner traits were linked to women’s orgasm frequency and intensity, as well as their overall sexual satisfaction.

Factors correlated with greater frequency of female orgasm included: having a partner with higher family income (which the authors argue is a proxy for men’s income potential, given that we’re dealing with college students here), having a partner with greater self-confidence, and being more physically attracted to one’s partner. Greater physical attraction to one’s partner was also linked to having more intense orgasms and being more sexually satisfied.

In addition to being linked with physical attraction, sexual satisfaction was associated with a number of other partner traits, including feeling protected by one’s partner, feeling that one’s partner is a “catch,” and having a partner with broader shoulder width.

The authors of this study argue that this pattern of results supports the idea that women tend to have more orgasms and more satisfying sex with male partners who have stronger “mate value” (i.e., men who have good genes and the resources necessary to provide for any children produced). Moreover, the thought is that the quality of this sex could potentially influence with whom women decide to become romantically involved.

Of course, keep in mind that this is a single, correlational study focused on a small sample of college students. So, in and of itself, it is hardly definitive—but it is actually one of several studies in recent years yielding support for this theory.

That said, when it comes to the question of why the female orgasm exists, the only real conclusion we can draw is that the jury is still out.

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To learn more about this research, see: Gallup Jr, G. G., Ampel, B. C., Wedberg, N., & Pogosjan, A. (2014). Do orgasms give women feedback about mate choice? Evolutionary Psychology, 12(5), 958-978.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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