Sex Q&A

Sex Question Friday: Do Animals Have Orgasms?

February 28, 2014 by Justin Lehmiller


Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:

Do animals have orgasms during sex?

Great question! When most people think about the human orgasm, they envision this very intense physiological and psychological event in which a series of muscular contractions coincides with feelings of pleasure. When it comes to animals, I can tell you something about the physical side of things because that part is easily observable; however, the psychological element is an unknown because animals cannot tell us what the experience is really like for them. At present, it is therefore impossible to say whether animal orgasms are truly the same as human orgasms because we’re missing that psychological piece.

That said, if we just focus on the physical aspect of orgasm, observational studies of many animal species suggests that orgasm-like experiences are not uncommon. For instance, let’s consider a 1974 study of stumptail monkeys published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. This study was based on over 500 hours of observation by a scientist who clearly likes monkeys…a lot. During this time, 143 distinct sexual acts were witnessed. During heterosexual events, males frequently appeared to have an orgasm after 2-3 minutes of mounting:

“Male pauses and for about 10 sec manifests muscular spasms with frowning round-mouthed look and rhythmic expiration vocalization.”

In case you’re wondering what that “frowning round-mouthed look” is referring to, it’s basically a very sciencey-sounding way of saying they were putting on their O-faces (i.e., their mouths were open and in the shape of an O). The journal article actually comes complete with sketches of what a monkey O-face looks like and, for me, that was the clear highlight of the article.

So do female stumptails experience orgasm too? Yes, but they were actually observed most clearly in female-female sexual events. Twenty-three instances were observed in which one female mounted another, and in a few of those cases, the mounter appeared to reach an orgasm that appeared very similar to those experienced by their male counterparts (i.e., 10 seconds of muscular spasms accompanied by the same facial expression and vocalizations).

This study, combined with the results of several others focusing primarily on other primate species, suggests that humans probably aren’t the only ones who have orgasms. Again, however, whether the orgasmic experience is psychologically perceived the same way for animals remains an open question.

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To learn more about this research, see: Chevalier-Skolnikoff, S. (1974). Male-female, female-female, and male-male sexual behavior in the stumptail monkey, with special attention to the female orgasm. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 3, 95-116.

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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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