A deeper dive

New research points to another trait that humans and dolphins have in common: the structure of the clitoris.

By Keely Sexton

Dolphins are renowned for their similarities to humans in intelligence, communication and social interactions, but new research points to another trait we have in common: the structure of the clitoris. The news, from research led by Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Patricia Brennan, made a splash and was reported in Gizmodo, the New York TimesThe SmithsonianThe New Scientist and SciTechDaily.

Stephen Colbert even took on the topic on The Late Show, featuring Brennan’s research in his regular segment, “Meanwhile” — named “Marine-while Vagine-while” in honor of the topic. [Section begins at 1:12.]

While the subject of sexual pleasure invites a certain amount of lighthearted attention, vaginal morphology is an understudied area in biology and worth serious scrutiny. 

Justa Heinen-Kay, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who was not involved with the paper, noted that research in the area is lacking, partly because past researchers believed that “female genitalia were…simple and uninteresting.” 

Brennan and colleagues used soft tissue scanning techniques and microscopic analysis to describe the structure of the dolphin clitoris, which is packed with nerve endings and erectile tissue. 

“This is pretty good evidence that dolphins are probably experiencing pleasure through clitoral stimulation,” said Brennan. 

See Patricia Brennan describe her findings.

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