Anatomical evidence indicates that female dolphins have a working clitoris

This photo shows the excitement of a dolphin. Credit: Dara Auerbach

Like humans, female dolphins have a functional clitoris, according to a study published Jan. 10 in the journal Science. current biology. The results are based on the finding that the clitoral-like structure placed in the vaginal entrance of the bottlenose dolphin has many sensory nerves and erectile bodies.

“A dolphin’s clitoris has many features that suggest it serves to provide pleasure to females,” says first author Patricia Brennan, assistant professor of biological sciences at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.

Scientists have known that dolphins are very social. They have sex throughout the year as a way to form and maintain social bonds. It has also been observed that the female dolphin has a clitoris in the vagina in a location that would make arousal during copulation bearable. There have also been reports of females rubbing each other’s clitoris with their moths, fins, and claws.

In the new study, Brennan and colleagues decided to take a closer look at the dolphin’s clitoris. They looked carefully at the clitoris of 11 females who died naturally. They examined them for the presence, shape, and composition of the bodies of erections. They also looked at how nerve fibers pass through tissue. What they saw supports the idea that dolphins’ clitoris work.

“Just like the human clitoris, the dolphin’s clitoris has extensive areas of erectile tissue that fill with blood,” Brennan says.

Anatomical evidence indicates that female dolphins have a working clitoris

This photo shows the excitement of a dolphin. Credit: Dara Auerbach

She added that the shape of the erectile tissue changes as the animals become adult, indicating that they are gaining a functional role. Studies further show that the body of the clitoris has large nerves and many free nerve endings just under the skin, which are much thinner than the adjacent skin. They also found that genital bodies are very similar to those previously described in the human clitoris and the tip of the penis, which are known to be involved in the pleasure response.

Overall, Brennan says, the bodies of erections in dolphins are “surprisingly similar” to the shape of the bodies of erections in humans.

“Because the dolphin aquarium is so different from a human, it was amazing to see how similar the shapes are,” she says. “The size of the nerves in the body of the clitoris was also very surprising. Some were more than half a millimeter in diameter.”

Brennan said they got curious about the dolphin’s clitoris while studying the evolution of the vagina in dolphins.

Anatomical evidence indicates that female dolphins have a working clitoris

This image depicts the large nerves in a dolphin’s clitoris. Credit: Patricia Brennan

“Every time we dissected the vagina, we’d see this incredibly huge clitoris, and we were curious to see if anyone had examined it in detail to see if it functioned like the human clitoris,” she says. “We knew that dolphins have sex not only to reproduce, but also to strengthen social bonds, so it seemed likely that the clitoris could be functional.”

The researchers note that there has been little study about the clitoris and female sexual pleasure in nature. In fact, even the human clitoris wasn’t fully described until the 1990s.

“This neglect in the study of female sexuality has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behavior,” Brennan says. “Studying and understanding sexual behaviors in nature is an essential part of understanding the animal experience and may have important medical applications in the future.”

Her team will continue to examine the clitoris and genitals of dolphins and many other vertebrates to help fill in these gaps.

New insights into the shape and function of a dolphin’s clitoris

more information:
current biologyBrennan et al.: “Evidence for a functional clitoris in dolphins,”… 0960-9822 (21) 01544-X, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.11.020

the quote: Dolphin females have a working clitoris, anatomical evidence suggests (2022, January 10) Retrieved January 13, 2022 from

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