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In The Case of The Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, Elisabeth Lloyd critiques twenty-one adaptationist accounts regarding the female orgasm by detailing methodological errors, by looking at biased data, and by looking at biased background assumptions including androcentricism. Lloyd then provides a non-adaptive account called the byproduct view (BV), and Lloyd posits that the female orgasm is physiological. For this paper, I will detail adaptationism, a few of Lloyds criticisms, and the byproduct account.
Lloyd writes that an adaptation is a trait that is favored (throughout the population), and the trait is selected for the fitness of the population. Providing evidence for an adaptation in evolutionary biology, remarks Lloyd, is not an easy task, so Lloyd provides four criteria to discuss adaptations(Lloyd 2005, 6). For paper, I will only list the criteria instead of describing the criteria. The criteria are as follows: the adaptation must be genetically rooted; the adaptation should contribute to success reproductively; the adaptation must be understood mechanistically in that one has to understand how the trait helped in reproductive success; and the adaptation should be confirmed divorced from the trait in that the adaptation can be tested for presently; however, this form is not always an ethical option (Lloyd 2005, 6).
Lloyd details twenty-one traditional adaptationist views in Bias in the Sciences and criticizes each adaptive account regarding the female orgasm. One criticism is that there are methodological errors within the science regarding female orgasm. The studies provide data from smaller sample sizes, and the data is prone to human error in that face-to-face questioning could promote more bias including lying. Another criticism Lloyd provides is that not only is the data prone to error, but the data does not support the evidence for the adaptive views, views which are androcentric. Androcentrism is male oriented, and the data is used by adaptationists to support views such as male and female sexuality being the same in that females react the same way men do during copulation. Furthermore, the data is used to support accounts such as pair-bonding in that the woman would not leave the man thus creating a bond and providing assurance to the man regarding offspring.
After critiquing the twenty-one adaptive views regarding the female orgasm, Lloyd then argues that the BV is more compatible with the data than the adaptationist views. The BV, advocated by Donald Symons, is a non-adaptive view. The central claim of BV is that the female orgasm is a byproduct of development in utero. While the embryo is developing, the embryo is chromosomally female until hormones cause the penis to develop. Since the clitoris is embryologically like the penis, the nerve endings also function in the same way in that the nerve endings incite pleasure. The female orgasm is not selected for and is not an adaptation because of the high variability within the data that show the female orgasm does not occur frequently enough during heterosexual copulation. Lloyd cites Symon by explaining that the female orgasm has potential, but the female orgasm is not selected for since the evidence shows that the occurrence of female orgasm has a low frequency during copulation, and the response to sex varies across the data further supporting the byproduct account. The byproduct account is a more favorable view because adaptations require a genetic component, help with reproductive success, shown that the orgasm helped with reproductive success, and finally the orgasm must be replicated in further experiments. The data does not adhere to the methodology.
In further experiments, Lloyd describes that when seven hundred women were tested, a sample of the women orgasmed, but the women did not even know that orgasm was occurring. From this study, one can infer that the face-to-face surveying could have been biased because women could have been unable to discern orgasm and report that orgasm was not experienced. The data do not show that orgasm helps with reproductive success, and the genetic component of female orgasm is not represented in the data because of the low frequency of orgasm within heterosexual sex. Furthermore, studies in non-human primatology, primarily bonobos, show that orgasm occurs with same sex intercourse and not heterosexual. The data from this study seem to indicate that orgasm is not necessary for reproduction because of the infrequency of orgasm in relation to non-human primate reproductive fitness. Bonobo females do not orgasm during heterosexual copulation but rather homosexual, so the adaptive theory does not align with the data as well. Lloyd cites researches from the Kinsey Institute by saying that link from orgasm to sexual reproduction has no evidence (Lloyd 2005, 146).
Lloyd provides a detailed account of twenty-one adaptive views in the evolutionary sciences that are biased. Not only does Lloyd provide an alternative account, but Lloyd also defends her byproduct view and anticipates criticism by arguing that the BV does not discount the importance of the female orgasm. Instead, Lloyd’s critique exposes the bias in the evolutionary sciences by analyzing the methodological approaches the adaptationists use by providing data that do not correspond to the adaptive views, and by showing how androcentrism facilitates the biased views present within the community.
In the Journal for Sex Research, Merideth Chivers provides a brief synopsis of Lloyd’s critique of evolutionary sciences biased accounts of the female orgasm, but Chivers is not satisfied with the narrow scope of Lloyd’s work in that Lloyd primarily focuses on the physiological aspects and penile-vaginal (PVI) intercourse (Chivers 2005, 104). Chivers agrees with Lloyd in that the arguments for adaptiveness of PVI orgasm is not logical; however, Chivers accuses Lloyd of question begging in that adaptiveness for noncoital orgasm is not explored since the data show that masturbation provides orgasm almost ninety eight percent of the time. Furthermore, Chivers is unsatisfied with Lloyds physiological definition of orgasm because Chivers argues that the female orgasm has a psychological component. Chivers argues that a mechanism of the female orgasm that would support the pair bonding hypothesis is the exploration of the non-coital female orgasm. The orgasm strengthens the pair bond via conditioning from the partner in that the partner would facilitate orgasm other ways, and the pair bond would strengthen because of the increase in oxytocin level (Chivers 2005, 104). Oxytocin is a hormone that aids in cervical contractions and milk secretions in females. Other evolutionary theories use oxytocin as the hormone that aids in pair bonding. Chivers argues that while Lloyd mentions oxytocin release, the oxytocin release affects the physiological response, but Chivers argues that the release of oxytocin also influences a psychological response.
Chivers further remarks that Lloyd is using data from PIV that attempt to show that PIV has a direct link between orgasm and being an adaptation. Chivers offers an alternative hypothesis in that Lloyd should consider looking at “any sexual activity reinforces female sexual receptivity to sexual interactions with a male partner, which may lead to more frequent PVI and a greater likelihood of conception” (Chivers 2005, 105). After chiding Lloyd, Chivers applauds Lloyd for detailing the androcentric bias within sexology literature. Moreover, Chivers laments that the scope of the book is narrow that the readers would either have to be advocates of evolutionary biology or dissatisfied with the lack of detail regarding female sexuality. Though Lloyds book details the biases in the adaptive methodology so well, Chiver’s concedes to Lloyd in that Lloyd provided an avenue for further investigation to be done regarding the female orgasm.
Chivers, Meredith L. “A Narrow (But Thorough) Examination of the Evolutionary Significance of Female Orgasm.” Journal Of Sex Research 44, no. 1 (February 2007): 104-105. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2017).
Lloyd, Elisabeth Anne. The case of the female orgasm: bias in the science of evolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.
Sterelny, Kim, and Paul Griffiths. Sex and death: an introduction to philosophy of biology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
 The four criteria arerelevant because one must know the traditional view regarding evidence for adaptations, and one must know the methodology of adaptationism. Furthermore, the ethical dilemma regarding testing would include human testing such that human testing would involve natural experiments; however, human testing is deemed morally reprehensible in some experimental cases: testing pesticides on humans.