Dolphins could be having orgasms and indulging in a roll in the waves purely for enjoyment, new international research suggests.
Scientists in the US have for the first time examined the dolphin clitoris in close detail and discovered it is remarkably similar to the organ in humans.
Analysis of the structure of the dolphin clitoris suggests the marine mammals could experience sexual pleasure and potentially climax.
“In other mammalian species with year-round copulation, such as humans and bonobos, sex is known to be pleasurable for females, often through clitoral stimulation that leads to orgasm,” said lead researcher Dr Dara Orbach, a research associate at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
“Our anatomical observations suggest the clitoris is functional in bottlenose dolphins, but further research, including physiological and behavioural analyses, are necessary to test if sexual experiences can be pleasurable for female dolphins.”
Orbach and her colleague Dr Patricia Brennan, assistant professor of biology, discovered that the clitoris in female bottlenose dolphins is large and well developed.
The structure of the tissue suggests it may expand – for example, in response to stimulation – and bundles of nerves under the clitoral hood may increase sensitivity and the potential for pleasure, as has been found in the human clitoris.
Previous studies suggest sex plays an important role in social bonding among dolphins.
Like humans, primates and rats, they are known to copulate all year round, even during times when they cannot conceive.
Orbach said behavioural and physiological evidence such as changes in breathing and heart rate would be required to confirm whether dolphins experience sexual pleasure, but the underlying structure of the clitoris has “multiple attributes that are similar and unique to other animals that experience orgasms”.