What Dolphins Teach Us About Having a “Fun Time”

Brace yourself, folks. This one might get a little awkward, but I promise you, there’s a point.

Before becoming a newspaper editor, I spent the first six and a half years of my career pursuing a lifelong dream of becoming a dolphin trainer. Now, not many make this professional U-turn, probably because a.) it’s not even remotely natural, and b.) it’s a seismic enough career shift that when you go from one to the other, almost all your professional knowledge is immediately useless. But every now and then the stories floating around in your head have a purpose. What follows is that I seize one of those rare opportunities.

It’s no secret that my formerly insane coworkers are one of the few species who enjoy going crazy for fun. And before you show me YouTube clips of these animals trying to get frisky with humans, let me tell you it’s an extremely rare occurrence.

But with each other? It’s a completely different ball game. A bottlenose dolphin’s sexual creativity can be downright impressive. Boys, girls, inanimate objects… from their lagoon buddies to fences, cinder blocks and PVC pipes, everything is fair game sometimes. And it’s not just during a particular “breeding season.” Dolphins are observed to be busy year round regardless of whether females are receptive to conceive and have babies.

How do we know? As someone who made a living taking care of them, let me tell you that a receptive female dolphin is a sight to behold — and can give you a heart attack if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Close their eyes, they roll onto their sides or stomach, and they float motionless on the surface of the water, so much so that my colleagues and I jokingly called the pose “dead dolphin.”

While it certainly looks like they’re having a great old time, it turns out that science can actually back me up.

Patricia Brennan is a biologist at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, who has made an entire career studying animal genitalia. The next part is for the biology geeks out there, so if you want the details, read on. And if you don’t, that’s completely understandable. Go ahead and skip to the last two paragraphs.

Brennan’s recent research and collaborations have focused on the female parts of dolphins, which she described as “very complicated” in an interview with New Scientist magazine. When dissecting and studying these organs, one part in particular stood out. “I would look at this clitoris and just be amazed,” Brennan told New Scientist. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, these are pretty big and well developed.'”

With dolphins taking every opportunity for sexy recreation, it’s only natural that their physiology would step in and do them a solid.

Brennan’s discoveries didn’t just stop at the size of the clitoris. She reported being “shocked” by how large the nerves in the tissue were, some of which had free nerve endings just under the skin that are known to increase sensitivity. She found erectile tissue that fills with blood, just like in humans, and even found that the skin in the area itself is only about a third of the thickness of the skin around it.

“Once we put all those things together, we were pretty sure that this works in pleasure, just like it does in humans,” Brennan told New Scientist. “It basically provides the morphological evidence that we should close that case and say yes, that’s what a functional clitoris looks like.”

Brennan has several critics who view her work as controversial or uncomfortable, but to her it’s just “basic science” in an area that is sorely lacking in research. “This neglect in the study of female sexuality has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behavior,” Brennan said in a press release. “Studying and understanding sexual behavior in nature is a fundamental part of understanding the animal experience.”

Welcome back, you non-bio nerds. The TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version of everything above is: Research shows that dolphins have a well-stocked toolbox to keep themselves entertained as they get started.

I’m saying all of the above to say this: having fun doing it has apparently been in fashion with Mother Nature for millions of years. And when it comes to having fun, whether you’re a dolphin or human, she’s happy to step in and lend a hand.

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