There’s no question that orgasms feel amazing, but scientists have long debated why female orgasms exist in the first place. Studies have shown they may do everything from help people feel closer to their partners to relieve headaches, but scientists were stumped about what, if any, purpose they served. Now, a recent article in the Journal of Experimental Zoology is theorizing that there was an ancient purpose for our climaxes. The theory, researched by scientists from Yale University and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, suggests that the female orgasm may have once been responsible for triggering ovulation, which is when the female body releases an egg that can then be fertilized for reproducing.
Researchers came across the idea through studying the sex lives of other mammals. “This finding was a somewhat lucky coincidence,” Mihaela Pavlicev, PhD, one of the article’s authors, tells SELF. The scientists arrived at the conclusion by paying close attention to other animals’ use of the “cuddle hormone,” also known as the mix of prolactin and oxytocin your body releases due to orgasm. (Read: that warm, fuzzy feeling you get after coming.)
Many other female mammals besides humans release those “cuddle hormones” while getting it on, but in some of those mammals, those hormones are required to trigger ovulation—for those species, getting pregnant is only possible when the female has an orgasm.
On the other hand, women who are of a reproductive age usually ovulate every month (excluding some of those who takehormonal birth control), regardless of orgasms, frequency of sex, or seasons, and our reproductive systems could take or leave those lovely orgasmic hormones. The scientists behind the theory even concluded that—wait for it—for our ancestors, the clitoris was inside the vagina, as opposed to the relatively faraway distance it is today. As a result it was a lot easier for those ancestors to come during intercourse.
“Coincidentally with when predecessors of primates evolved to [regular, monthly] ovulation,” Pavlicev explained, “they also evolved genitalia in which the clitoris is at [the current distance] from the vagina. As a consequence, the likelihood of experiencing orgasm during reproductive sex is lower.” Yup, the way our anatomy is wired makes it harder for us to come than those who came before us.
A positive note to this discovery, of course, is the reminder that if you don’t always experience orgasm during sex, that’s totally normal. This is especially true of vaginal intercourse, in which the clitoris usually isn’t directly stimulated. “Not experiencing orgasm during sex is by itself not a pathology, and no partner is to blame for it. It is just due to female anatomy,” Pavlicev said.
For many women, coming during sex may require manual clitoral stimulation. If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable explaining these very normal needs to your partner (spoiler alert: A quality partner should never make you feel ashamed of such things), just remember that you’ve got evolution on your side. “I think that perhaps [these findings] free the pressure [to come during intercourse] a bit,” Pavlicev tells SELF. So, friends: go forth and orgasm. It feels great, with or without a purpose.