The female orgasm: a story about sex and questions about natural selection

It's an Epipactus gigantea, from a spring in the Mojave Desert.

In general, science writers love to tell stories about the quirks of evolution, the strange ways in which Darwinian natural selection has created the living world around us. And there are tons of great stories to tell.  The danger, however, lies in assuming that natural selection has created every interesting trait we find in the living world.  It can be too easy to theorize adaptive advantages and imagine evolutionary stories about how traits could have increased the reproductive success of those who possess it.

My favorite un-adaptive story comes from Elisabeth Lloyd’s brilliant book, The Case for the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, published in 2006.  She writes about two of my favorite things: sex and science. But this is real science, a serious meta-analysis, not pop-sci sex fluff (which can be fun too sometimes, don’t get me wrong) But Lloyd’s book is fascinating. Continue reading