Explaining the evolutionary significance of the female orgasm has long been a conundrum for scientists. Why does the female orgasm exist if it is not necessary for reproduction to occur? Numerous theories abound, with some scientists arguing that contractions of the uterus could increase the odds of conception by drawing sperm further into the reproductive tract and others arguing that the female orgasm serves no purpose at all and is simply a “fantastic bonus” for women during sex. One of the more interesting theories I’ve heard is that the female orgasm promotes fidelity, such that when women are more sexually satisfied, they will be less likely to cheat. Along these same lines, it has also been argued that the female orgasm is a signal that heterosexual men use to determine their female partners’ likelihood of staying faithful. The thought is that when men can tell that their female partner has been sexually satisfied, they will have more confidence that their partner will not cheat, thereby reducing the likelihood that she will become pregnant by some other guy. So is there anything to this idea? Do women’s orgasms say anything about their actual or perceived probability of committing infidelity?
A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior sought to test this idea . They recruited a sample of 138 female and 121 male undergraduate college students who were currently involved in heterosexual romantic relationships. Female participants were asked about their orgasm frequency and intensity, and male participants were asked about their partners’ orgasm frequency and intensity. All participants were also asked whether they had ever cheated on their partner and how likely they were to cheat in the future; they were also asked if their partner had ever cheated and how likely it is that their partner will cheat in the future.
Results revealed that women’s reports of orgasm frequency and intensity were unrelated to whether they had ever cheated, as well as their likelihood of cheating in the future. In addition, men’s perceptions of their partners’ orgasm frequency and intensity were not associated with perceptions of their partner's past or future infidelity. Thus, it would not seem to be the case that women decide to cheat based upon how many orgasms they’re having. Likewise, it doesn’t seem to be the case that men make any kind of predictions about their partner’s likelihood of staying faithful based upon whether their partner appears to be orgasming.
The researchers did find that female infidelity was related to faking orgasms. The more orgasms a woman had faked, the more likely she was to have cheated previously and the greater her likelihood of cheating again. In other words, fake orgasms say a lot more about a woman’s odds of staying faithful than actual orgasms.
So if the female orgasm isn’t a cue for women’s fidelity, what is it? The authors of this study argue that although the female orgasm wasn’t related to women’s cheating behavior, it still has important relationship implications. For example, women who orgasmed more frequently reported that their male partners were more invested in the relationship. In addition, men were more satisfied with their relationship and were less likely to cheat themselves when their female partners were orgasming regularly. In other words, women’s orgasms may not help women to stay faithful, but they may help their partners to stick around.
 Ellsworth, R. M., & Bailey, D. H. (in press). Human female orgasm as evolved signal: A test of two hypotheses. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
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