Female bottlenose dolphins are physically able to enjoy sex as much as humans, a new study has revealed.
Scientists have discovered that female dolphins have a clitoris that sits at the entrance of their vagina – which is a haven of sensory nerves and tissues.
A detailed analysis of the structure of the dolphin clitoris has suggested that marine mammals could experience pleasure when rolling about in the waves, as well as reach orgasm.
Study first author Professor Patricia Brennan, of Mount Holyoke College in the US, explained why understanding the clitoris was the key to understanding the species.
She said: "The dolphin clitoris has many features to suggest that it functions to provide pleasure to females."
The marine mammals may even feel pleasure while rolling about in the waves (Pictured: Scans showing the dolphin anatomy)
Mount Holyoke College)
It is common knowledge amongst scientists that dolphins are highly social creatures who regularly have sex as a way of creating and maintaining social bonds with each other.
After the biologists found the clitoris in the vagina of female bottleneck dolphins, they were able to confirm the likelihood of it being stimulated during sex.
While things got hot and heavy under the waves, the team received reports of female dolphins rubbing each other's clitorises with their snouts, flippers, and flukes.
In the new study, Professor Brennan and her colleagues decided to take a closer look at the dolphin clitoris.
The team saw other dolphins rubbing the newly discovered area with their snouts and flippers
In fact, they carefully looked at clitorises from eleven females who had died from natural causes.
They then examined them for the presence, shape, and configuration of their erectile bodies.
They also looked at how nerve fibres ran through the tissue and were able to confirm that what they saw were "working" clitorises in dolphins.
Professor Brennan said: "Just like the human clitoris, the dolphin clitoris has large areas of erectile tissue that fill up with blood."
The erectile tissues are "surprisingly similar" to those seen in humans, a researcher said
Mount Holyoke College)
She continued by suggesting it had a functional role by saying: "The erectile tissue shape changes as animals become adults."
The team's studies also showed that the clitoris body has large nerves and many free nerve endings right underneath the skin, which is much thinner there than any nearby skin.
The researchers also found genital corpuscles – much like those seen in human clitorises and penis tips – which are responsible for the pleasurable feeling we get during sex.
Professor Brennan went on to explain that the erectile bodies in dolphins are "surprisingly similar" to the shape of the erectile bodies – or tissues, in humans.
The team knew dolphins had a clitoris but there was limited research into whether it functioned the same as a human sensory organ
She said: "Since the entire pelvis of dolphins is so different to humans, it was surprising to see how similar the shapes were.
"Also, the size of the nerves in the clitoris body was very surprising. Some were larger than half a millimetre in diameter."
Professor Brennan said that her team became curious about the dolphin's clitoris while studying the evolution of their vaginas through the ages.
She explained: "Every time we dissected a vagina, we would see this very large clitoris, and we were curious whether anyone had examined it in detail to see if it worked like a human clitoris.
Female bottlenose dolphins have a clitoris sitting at the entrance of the vagina – which enables them to enjoy sex as much as humans
"We knew that dolphins have sex not just to reproduce, but also to solidify social bonds, so it seemed likely that the clitoris could be functional."
The authors confirmed that the clitoris remains a mystery to many and it hadn't been fully researched until the 1990s.
Professor Brennan said: "This neglect in the study of female sexuality has left us with an incomplete picture of the true nature of sexual behaviours.
"Studying and understanding sexual behaviours in nature is a fundamental part of understanding the animal experience and may even have important medical applications in the future."
Since the research took place, Professor Brennan and her team have continued to examine the clitoris and genitalia of dolphins and many other species in order to fill these gaps in our understanding of female sexual pleasure in nature.
The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.