In my last blog, I lauded the clitoris, noting that it’s the only human organ designed exclusively for pleasure and the most reliable route to orgasm for women. I gave passing commentary to the G-Spot, stating that “… while some experts claim that orgasms during intercourse are due to the elusive G-spot, a reputable group of scientists assert that vaginal orgasms aren't due to anything in the vagina at all: they are the result of stimulation to the internal structures of the clitoris....” A reader took issue, telling me she was certain that the G-spot produces orgasms; her proof was her own G-Spot orgasms.
She also said “this author should do her research.” I responded with a long list of scientific citations summarizing the research I had done. The take-home message of my reply was that not all experts agree the G-spot exists. A recent blog likens this expert disagreement to “the sexual equivalent of searching for UFOs: rarely does a year go by without a new study either confirming or disproving the existence of this small area just inside the vagina…”
Just this week, CBS news reported that Dr. Adam Ostrzenski says he has conducted a study which has “confirmed the anatomic existence of the G-spot.” In a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr. Ostrzenski reported finding the G-spot (or more accurately, a string of purple grapes within a bluish sac) in the vagina of an 83-year old female cadaver. A flurry of media activity and blogging resulted. Rather than re-create the wheel, below I excerpt what I deem to be the most compelling analyses, classified into four overlapping categories: 1) Scientific critiques of the study; 2) An analysis of who stands to benefit from the debate; 3) An assessment of the harm to women that emanates from the debate, and 3) A positive message to women on how they can use the debate to enhance their sexual satisfaction.
Scientific Critiques of the Study
Several top sexual medicine researchers are taking issue with the study. Dr. Debby Herbenick, a sexual-health educator at the Kinsey Institute wrote in the Daily Beast, "We don't know how many women (if any) have similar structures.” Because this one cadaver had such a structure, it doesn’t mean that all women do. Bolstering Herbenick’s assertion are articles, published in this same scientific journal, noting that there are anatomical differences among women in this area of the vagina. (References at end of blog).
Another compelling critique comes from a distinguished group of researchers, including Dr. Beverly Whipple, the past-director of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health and the scientist who coined the term "G-spot" in 1981. These researchers, as well as Ricki Lewis writing in Scientific America, note that it is not clear just what kind of tissue Ostrzensk discovered. Lewis tells us, "Dr. O had to return the dissected putative G-spot to the body for burial, so he didn’t have a chance to do the histology that would identify what he’d discovered. The chain of grapes in their bluish sheath, said a friend who is an anatomy authority and would kill me if I used his name here, said it looks like a hematoma, a pooling of blood that happened when the owner of said spot maybe bumped her crotch into something years ago."
The punch line of Wipple and colleagues critiques, quoted in CBS News, speaks for itself: "We submit that the author's claim to have discovered 'the' G-spot does not fulfill the most fundamental scientific criteria.”
Who Stands to Benefit?
Dr. Petra Boyton is to be credited for not only asking this illuminating question, but for her thoughtful reply. In a statement issued by Science Media Centre, Dr. Boyton tells us that, “The media benefit from this as it generates debate and allows a discussion of sex that isn't too frank but does sound scientific. Drug companies benefit as they have offered unlimited grants to some of these studies. Cosmetic surgeons benefit as they can use this research to indicate why g-spot amplification should be performed (despite it having tragic consequences for many women). Sex toy stockists benefit as they can sell products aimed at either stimulating the g-spot or the clitoris (depending on whether the g-spot is supposed to exist or not).” In a similar warning, in The Daily Beast, Dr. Debby Herbenick tells us that “The G spot…is part of a multimillion-dollar industry. There are countless G-spot vibrators and other sex toys. There are G-spot specific books and videos. Some medical doctors—including some that conduct research intended to “discover” the G- spot—offer injections and other procedures that are marketed to enhance women’s sexual experiences or to “augment” the G-spot.”
Kristen Marks, a writer for Kinsey Confidential, ties such concerns to this recent cadaver study. Marks states, “What is … troubling to me is that Dr. Ostrzenski is a cosmetic gynecologist, and leading the public to believe that female sexual function will be improved by this discovery has the potential for major profit for his practice.” Writing for Scientific America", Ricki Lewis quotes Dr. O as stating that he "foresees clinical and commercial components that I believe will make a lot of noise." (substitue "money" for "noise").
Clearly, if G-spot studies lead to G-spot enhancement procedures, then drug companies and surgeons reap financial benefits.
How Women are Harmed
Women are harmed by the G-spot debate if the message that they take is that there is a right kind of orgasm, the topic of one of my prior Psychology Today blogs. The sexist nature of this quest for the right orgasm is brilliantly analyzed by Dr. Boyton. “We know that men experience pleasure and the sensation of orgasm in different parts of their genitals (for example the testicles or head of the penis). We also know that some men prefer to orgasm via oral sex or anal sex rather than penis-in-vagina sex. Yet we do not have numerous conflicting studies suggesting men who report pleasure from testicular stimulation are deluded, missing out, or need to learn to experience pleasure in other parts of their genitals. … [There are not]… sex toys or advice manuals that encourage men to learn to enjoy vaginal sex rather than oral or anal penetration because these are 'superior'. Yet we persistently try and make out there are unique parts of the female genitals that should or should not be stimulated to encourage orgasm…”
Women keep being told that vaginal orgasms or G-spot orgasms are superior, despite the fact that the vast majority of women do not reliably orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. This emphasis may be the reason, as I propose in a prior blog, that so many women fake orgasm. Yet, the most frightening aspect of this quest for vaginal and G-spot orgasms is that women are undergoing untested and precarious medical procedures to achieve them. Author Deborah Sundahl warns on her website that “The G-shot procedure is a potential health risk…. The procedure is not approved by the FDA.”
A Positive Message for Women
There is, however, a positive message to be culled from the G-spot debate and the media hype surrounding it. Women and their partners can benefit if they use the debate as an impetus to learn about their own unique bodies and what gives them pleasure. Women feel sexual pleasure and reach orgasm in a variety of ways, differing from woman to woman and even for one woman across different sexual encounters. Again quoting Debby Herbenick, “There is an area along the front wall of the vagina that, when stimulated, is linked to sexual pleasure and orgasm for some but not all women. … If you’re a woman or have a female partner and want to explore G-spot stimulation, have at it. If you find it enjoyable, great. If not, don’t worry about it—the human body is full of parts to explore.”
By far the most important advice for sexual satisfaction and orgasm is to know what you like and to learn to ask your partner for it. The reader of my last blog enjoyed G-spot stimulation; she told me so. An 83-year old female cadaver was found to have a distinct spot on her vaginal wall, but we don’t know what she enjoyed sexually or what brought her to orgasm. For that, we would have had to ask her.
Jannini, E. A., Whipple, B., Kingsberg, S. A., Buisson, O., Foldes, P., & Vardi, Y. (2010). Who’s afraid of the g-spot? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 25-34.
Gravina, G. L., Brandetti, F., Martini, P., Carosa, E., Di Stasi, S. M., Morano, S., Lenzi, A., & Jannini, E. A. (2008). Measurement of the thickness of the urethrovaginal space in women with or without vaginal orgasm. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 610-618.