For centuries, the female climax has puzzled scientists and philosophers alike.
Scholars wondered how the orgasm formed in women when it isn’t needed for reproduction, nor is it experienced at high frequencies among women.
Research by Elisabeth Lloyd, endowed professor of history and philosophy of science, might explain the evolutionary role of the female orgasm as well as its implications for sexual health.
Lloyd’s work shows that the orgasm was a byproduct of evolution and provides a non-judgemental approach for women to achieve orgasm.
“It appears as the reason that females don’t have orgasm with intercourse at a very high level has to do with the anatomy of the genitals,” Lloyd said. “If the clitoris is far away from the vaginal opening, then the woman does not tend to have orgasm with intercourse.”
Lloyd holds the Arnold and Maxine Tanis Chair of History and Philosophy of Science. She has dedicated decades of research on the female orgasm, from the anatomy of the clitoris to theoretical explanations of its evolutionary purpose.
“The measurements are pretty clear, and they’re pretty predictive,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd has examined, among other issues, statistical techniques of measuring genitalia and methods on how to determine whether a woman achieved orgasm.
“This is a very important discovery because what it shows is that it’s not the man’s fault, it’s not the woman’s fault, it’s nobody’s fault that the woman isn’t having orgasm with intercourse,” Lloyd said.
With her commentaries for various women’s magazines including Women’s Health and Glamour, Lloyd has argued a non-judgemental approach for achieving orgasm in couples.
“She’s not too religious, she’s not uptight and immature,” Lloyd said. “There’s nothing wrong with her.”
As for the evolutionary role orgasms play, Lloyd believes the female orgasm arose out of the way men and women form in embryo development.
The genitals of an eight-week-old male embryo form due to the evolutionary necessity of the male orgasm.
For females, the anatomy of a female orgasm remain a byproduct of this necessity.
In her 2005 book, “The Case of the Female Orgasm,” Lloyd argued this byproduct explanation and also brought light to the harm of sexist scientific approaches on the female orgasm.
As an affiliate faculty member of the Kinsey Institute, Lloyd also published a paper with Justin Garcia, associate director for research and education of the Kinsey Institute, on the rate of orgasm with sex of lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women.
They studied each of 19 different sexual acts, included deep kissing, genital fondling, oral sex and penetration, that go on in sex between heterosexual, gay and bisexual women.
Lloyd continues her research in more surveys.
“This is the first paper that does a systematic study of the lesbian orgasm rate, and so this is a groundbreaking study that we did,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd began as an undergraduate in biology at the University of Colorado before discovering her love for questions of how people think about science and understand scientific theories.
She switched her major to science and political theory and went on to perform graduate work in the philosophy of science at Princeton University and evolutionary biology at Harvard University.
Since she was a graduate student, Lloyd found many of the theories of the female orgasm in need of more evidence.
Only one theory had serious evidence supporting it, and that theory was rejected by most scientists in the field, Lloyd said.
“I thought everything was working ass-backward,” Lloyd said.
As her work was picked up by scientists and philosophers, Lloyd published a series of papers on female orgasms.
“My work resuscitated a theory that had fallen by the wayside,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd’s work also found statistical flaws in another prominent study about the female orgasm.
Ryan Ketcham, a Ph.D. candidate in the history and philosophy of science, has taken courses under Lloyd, and he has found them extremely useful and enlightening.
“I’ve learned most by acting as her research assistant and working with her as she ends up researching and writing articles,” Ketcham said.
Lloyd is involved in a lot of different conversations and debates, Ketcham said.
“I would suggest that there is a common theme in all of it — it’s consistently involving scientific theories and their relationship to evidence,” Ketcham said.