Who gets the most pleasure out of sex–the man or the woman? According to Tiresias, a prophet in Greek mythology, the woman gets nine times more pleasure than the man. Please, say it ain’t so! –Sean Sherman, Montreal, Quebec

I’ve got some good news and some bad news, Sean buddy. But first one ground rule: we’re going to confine this discussion to the physiological experience of orgasm. The more subjective aspects of sex, important though they may be, are too difficult for us scientists to quantify. Now for the good news: your basic run-of-the-mill male and female orgasms are pretty similar. Kinsey (1953) in particular took pains to emphasize that “the anatomic structures which are most essential to sexual response and orgasm are nearly identical in the human female and male,” and that “orgasm in the female matches orgasm of the male in every physiologic detail except for the fact that it occurs without ejaculation.” I would venture to say this jibes with most folks’ everyday experience.

OK, now the bad news (for men, I mean). Masters and Johnson (1966), while conceding that male and female orgasm were usually pretty comparable, noted two important differences. The first is well known: women can have multiple orgasms without having to rest in between, as men do. This occurs in 10 to 15 percent of women regardless of age. Young men can have multiple orgasms within ten minutes or so, but this ability drops off sharply after age 30.

The second difference has been less publicized: women are capable of sustained orgasm, called status orgasmus. These orgasms may start with a 2- to 4-second “spastic contraction” and last 20 to 60 seconds all told–and if that isn’t nine times the pleasure, it’s definitely in the ballpark. Masters and Johnson published the chart for one woman who experienced a 43-second orgasm in which one can count at least 22 successive contractions.

Depressed? Hey, it gets worse. Status orgasmus is usually the result of self-stimulation, but a woman can also experience it at the hands (or whatever) of a suitably skilled lover. Which means that not only can’t you have the ultimate O, if she doesn’t have one, it’s your damn fault. You want to give up and join the monastery, Cecil will understand.


Readers of More of the Straight Dope, Cecil’s legendary opus, know that despite slurs to the contrary, humans aren’t the only mammals capable of seeing in color. Extensive research has demonstrated that cats are physiologically capable of perceiving color as well–they just aren’t very adept at it, being creatures of the night. Now comes new research indicating that dogs can see in color, too.

Three scientists at the University of California at Santa Barbara adopted the traditional strategy of trying to tempt the dogs with food. The menu, frankly, could have stood some improvement: would you cooperate with people whose idea of a reward was a cheese-and-beef-flavored pellet? Nonetheless, the researchers found three mutts who were sufficiently desperate to cooperate. They showed the dogs three screens lit up from behind with colored lights–two of one color, the third of a different color. The mutts got the pellet if they poked the odd-colored screen with their noses.

The dogs had no difficulty distinguishing colors at the opposite ends of the visible spectrum, such as red and blue, and they proved to be demons with blues in general, quickly learning to differentiate blue from violet. But they bombed at other colors, confusing greenish-yellow, orange, and red.

The researchers concluded that dogs suffer from a type of colorblindness that in humans is called deuteranopia. Normal humans have three types of color receptors, for red, green, and blue. Deuteranopes lack the green receptor, and thus (apparently) can’t tell a lemon from a lime–or, for that matter, a red traffic light from a green one. So if you and the pooch go out and get schnockered some night, make sure you don’t let him drive.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.