Jan 06 2010

Is There a G-Spot?

The existence of a G-spot – a special location in the female vaginal wall that is especially pleasurable – has been a raging controversy since it was first proposed about a half-century ago. Now a  new study by British scientists concludes the G-spot is a myth.

Ernst Grafenberg, a German gynecologist, discovered what he believed was a “second clitoris” – a bean-shaped area of the anterior wall of the vagina behind the pubic bone – that could be stimulated to create a “vaginal orgasm.” The “G-spot” was then popularized by Beverly Whipple, who studied the G-spot and wrote popular books about it.

But the very existence of the G-spot remains scientifically controversial. The problem is that there is no clear anatomical and physiological correlate – although there are some tantalizing candidates.

Where is the G-spot?

If the G-spot exists then we would expect that there would be some anatomical clue as to it’s existence – specifically, and area of increased sensitivity should correlate to an area of increased nerve fiber density. The first person to address this issue was a colleague and skeptical friend of mine, Terry Hines, who published the provocative article: The G-spot: A Modern Gynecological Myth.

Essentially he reviewed histological sections of the vaginal wall stained for nerve fibers and found that there were no areas of especially high density – no G-spot. Those in the pro-G-spot camp took exception to his anatomical evidence.

Subsequent studies, however, have found that vaginal wall innervation is increased anteriorly and distally – corresponding to the general area of the alleged G-spot. So while there is no bean-shaped area of high fiber density (no “spot”), the G-spot part of the vaginal wall generally has more innervation.

Another study found that women with thicker anterior vaginal walls are more likely to report vaginal orgasms. So this lends some credibility to the notion of vaginally triggered orgasms, as, at least according to this study, there is an anatomical correlation.

What is the G-spot?

I have found two alternate hypotheses for what the G-spot is, other than a clump of increased nerve fiber density. The first stems from research looking into the electrical activity of the vaginal wall. Essentially researchers found that there is a steady wave of electrical activity in the resting vaginal wall, and this activity increased with pressure, for example during sex.

Further, they found that the anterior vaginal wall, in the area of the described G-spot, is the pacemaker of the vagina. The authors concluded:

Large-volume vaginal distension effected an increase in the vaginal electric waves and pressure which probably denotes increased vaginal muscle contraction. It appears that penile thrusting during coitus stimulates the vaginal pacemaker which effects an increase in vaginal electric activity and muscle contractility and thus leading to an increase in sexual arousal. The vaginal pacemaker seems to represent the G spot, which is claimed to be a small area of erotic sensitivity in the vagina.

The second hypothesis deals with the so-called clitoro-urethro-vaginal complex. The claim here is that the root of the clitoris is intimately connected to the anterior distal vaginal wall, right where the G-spot is supposed to be. It may be that in some women, therefore, it is possible to stimulate the root of the clitoris through the vaginal wall – the G-spot.

One group used sonography to examine the pressures and movement of the vaginal wall during contraction, and found:

We suggest that the special sensitivity of the lower anterior vaginal wall could be explained by pressure and movement of clitoris’ root during a vaginal penetration and subsequent perineal contraction. The G-spot could be explained by the richly innervated clitoris.

Therefore, it is possible that the G-spot is the electrical pacemaker of the vaginal wall, and is intimately connected to the root of the clitoris, and is in a part of the vaginal wall that is most richly innervated. But the existing evidence is not sufficient to convince G-spot skeptics – more study is clearly indicated.

The UK Study

The new study is not an anatomical study, but a survey. It approaches this burning controversy from a different angle. Andrea Burri, Tim Spector and colleagues hypothesized that if there is a G-spot and it is a physiological/anatomical phenomenon (as opposed to psychological or the result of conditioning) then there should be a genetic component to it. So they did a standard type of genetic analysis.

They surveyed twins – identical and non-identical twins. If the G-spot is biological, then identical twins should be more likely to share the presence or absence of a G-spot than non-identical twins, since identical twins share more DNA than non-identical twins. This is actually fairly standard genetic reasoning.

They surveyed 1800 British women aged 23 to 83 and found that 56% of them claimed to have a G-spot. However, identical twins were not any more likely to share this trait than the non-identical twins. From this the authors conclude that the G-spot probably does not exist.

Beverly Whipple, who popularized the G-spot, was not impressed with this study. She argued that the researchers did not include lesbian women (I am not sure why this would be relevant) and did not take into account the varying sexual experiences of the twins.

This latter point has some legitimacy, but if there were a genetic component to the presence or absence of a G-spot in women, then there should still be a measurable statistical correlation for identical twins, even if it is obscured somewhat by life experience.

A better point (not really a criticism), in my opinion, is that the presence of a G-spot may be more determined by epigenetic factors, like hormone levels during gestation, which are not different for identical and non-identical twins.

While this study is interesting, I do not think this is the kind of data that will put the G-spot controversy to rest, especially in light of the interesting anatomical work that is being done.

Conclusion

At this point there is insufficient data to conclude that the G-spot definitely exists or does not exist as a discrete anatomical and/or physiological entity. I think the data is intriguing, and I am leaning toward the conclusion that it does exist in some form, and anatomical variability accounts partly for why some women experience it and others do not.

But I also think future studies are needed to truly settle the scientific debate.

If the G-spot does not exist anatomically – then what are the alternatives? I can’t remember who said this first, but the most erotic organ is the one between your ears. Sexual experience happens ultimately in the brain, and it is both common and scientific experience that there is a tremendous amount of conditioning in sexual response.

So perhaps some women are conditioned by experience and expectation to respond to stimulation of the anterior vaginal wall.

I think it is likely that both anatomy and conditioning play a role – they are not mutually exclusive.

I also find very interesting the degree to which this scientific question has been politicized. Humans seem to have the ability to politicize any scientific issue, and I guess it should be no surprise that a sexual question was so emotionalized.

Pandagon discusses the politics of the G-spot in some detail, but quickly – some feminists at first resisted the notion of the G-spot as a male conspiracy to avoid cunnilingus. Women, you see, should receive adequate sexual pleasure from vaginal penetration.

But now the politics of the G-spot have become more complex. Some feminists see the denial of the G-spot as the denial of female subjective experience, and have therefore embraced it.

The authors of the study, meanwhile, warn that belief in the G-spot may result in guilt and pressure in those women not blessed with this anatomical function. However, others argue that if the G-spot is anatomical, no one can be blamed for is presence or absence. But if it is psychological, women can be pressured into making the effort to experience their G-spot.

Ack – before you know it there will be heated debate about whether G-spot skeptics should be called deniers, and proponents should be called true-believers.

Would it not be easier if we could all just be grown-ups, put the politics aside, and just consider the science? I guess that’s too much to hope for.

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20 responses so far

20 Responses to “Is There a G-Spot?”

  1. bendanielon 06 Jan 2010 at 9:23 am

    So Steve, where do we sign up to help out in the studies? lol ;)

  2. eeanon 06 Jan 2010 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for putting the latest study in context.

  3. Leeyahon 06 Jan 2010 at 9:54 am

    I find it interesting that the UK study pointed out that the idea of having a G-spot is subjective, yet they decided to use a questionnaire. If the general public is just as confused as to what and where a G-spot is as the scientific community is, how can we expect them to answer a questionnaire on the subject? It also makes sense that younger women would report having a so-called spot, because they would be more sexually active than older women, and perhaps, more sexually aware and alert of trends and such, (readers of Cosmo?).
    I would be interested in seeing the questionnaire…..

    Anyway, thanks for the perspective and the relation to earlier studies.

  4. skepticcaton 06 Jan 2010 at 9:56 am

    Psychogenic or not it “works” more often than not. Now we’ll just have to make something else up and hope it takes smartypants doctors another 45 years to debunk it.

  5. gfb1on 06 Jan 2010 at 10:18 am

    thanks for the update!! originally trained as a behavioral geneticist — i tried to learn a bit of chemistry and neuroscience waybackwhen and actually worked with bev.whipple during a postdoc at rutgers. as the first commenter appealed, (and i can tell some stories here…. ) i also worked on some of the early studies to make a few extra bucks (no snickering, please).

    at any rate, i thought i might make a ‘science’-comment on one section. the statement that, twin studies as presented are “… fairly standard genetic reasoning.” is incorrect. and a pet peeve of mine.

    comparing correlations between fraternal and identical twins was shown to be a poor method of estimating genetic variances back in the 40′s. to assume otherwise is a common mistake made by nongeneticists. due in some part, to the appeal of the simplicity of the design and our fascination with twins.

    i’ll have to read the original article to review their statistical methodology, but other work by spector continues to use the basic premise that heritability =[r(mz)-r(dz)]*2 (which, with minor corrections is the premise of past work by the authors), twin estimates can ONLY be considered an upper limit to half the heritability. indeed, even these estimates are only valid if there were no non-additive genetic variance and/or complications due to common circulation (another assumption violated by the authors analysis).

    btw — twin studies are much better at estimating environmental variances as shown by elegant studies by robert.plomin (and colleagues) over the years.

    ah well…. i’ve had the soapbox long enough. hope all have a happy and healthy new year!

  6. CyberLizardon 06 Jan 2010 at 10:29 am

    What about the theory of prostate-like tissue surrounding the urethra in women? Wouldn’t that explain both the stimulation aspect as well as ejaculate? It makes logical sense, but I’m no physiologist.

  7. jonny_ehon 06 Jan 2010 at 11:11 am

    I can’t believe no one’s posted today’s xkcd comic yet.

  8. HHCon 06 Jan 2010 at 11:56 am

    Manswers on Spike cable tv could best answer this question!

  9. Welcomedconsensuson 06 Jan 2010 at 1:47 pm

    We have found in our 25 years of research of female orgasm that just as engorgement is necessary for male sexual pleasure, so is female engorgement. What has been named the “g-spot” is actually the underneath side of the clitoris where it forks and become the clitoral legs or crura, also referred to as the root of the clitoris.

    This spot (there are actually two specific and more sensitive spots, not just one general area) is the most prone to engorgement as either leg runs adjacent to the urethral sponge has drawn the most attention because it is the easiest to access.

    However, upon further engorgement in the pelvic region, there are several other places that become accessible that are extremely pleasurable called Thunkspots. If the engorgement is created and maintained, all of the Thunkspots remain accessible and sensational to the lightest touch.

  10. Natashaon 06 Jan 2010 at 11:03 pm

    The relevance of not including lesbians and bisexual women is this: lesbians and bisexual women are more likely than straight women to have had sex using fingers or toys for penetration – both which are reportedly better at stimulating the G-spot than penile penetration. They discounted the types of sex most likely to lead women to an experience or believed experience of the thing they wanted to study.

    So what the researchers did was survey the women who were least likely to have experienced G-spot stimulation on whether they thought they had a G-spot or not. Then they discounted the fact that a majority of women reported having one, and considered only the differences between twins and non-twins.

    I happen to… uh… think there is a G-spot, but could certainly be convinced otherwise. This study is not the one to do that, though.

  11. ccbowerson 07 Jan 2010 at 1:26 am

    How can we answer the question of if something exists when we can’t even define that something? The UK study is not that informative. They basically tested women’s belief in a G spot… is this the way we would want to answer the question whether its anatomical or not?

  12. Emily Churchon 07 Jan 2010 at 1:27 am

    The G-Spot is pretty difficult to stimulate with a penis or penis-shaped object, and pretty easy to stimulate with a couple of well-placed fingers, based on my experience and conversations with other women. That could be why so few women report its existence, and also may take the pressure off women and men to get that positioning just right during intercourse. Honestly, the clit is so much more accessible during coitus, why not focus on that?

  13. canadiaon 07 Jan 2010 at 10:07 am

    This discussion seems a little bit like questioning the existence of the penis based on the evidence that some men are unable to achieve orgasm.

    The G-spot is a palpably distinct region in at least some women. I have verified this first-hand. As far as I know, there generally aren’t variable physiological features in any single species that are simply there or not there. Unless the researchers are proposing that there are two subspecies of female humans (one with G-spots and one without) it seems to me that the simplest answer is that all women have it, but only some women know how to use it.

    In my experience the sensitivity of the G-spot is highly variable, rarely leading to orgasm through intercourse but mostly responding to direct stimulation. I have also observed that G-spot orgasms trigger a refractory period for clitoral orgasms: once G-spot orgasm occurs clitoral orgasm is not possible for quite some time, and interestingly the clitoris becomes hypersensitive similar to what occurs in males post-orgasm. This suggests to me that the “root of the clitoris” idea has considerable merit, as I recall reading that the clitoris is the analogue of the penis.

    It seems to me that a survey is a terrible way to approach this problem. Female sexuality, particularly in the physiological areas, is still not a comfortable area for many, many women. The G-spot is not like a penis, simply dangling out in the open; it requires some degree of exploration to find. Further, I don’t think that most men have the knowledge or confidence to go hunting around.

    I know nothing about neuroanatomy, but maybe you can answer this steven. Is it possible for tissue with a normal distribution of nerves to crinkle on demand, increasing the number nerves per unit of surface area and allowing the area to serve as a temporary ‘sensitive spot’?

  14. Steve Pageon 08 Jan 2010 at 11:56 am

    That’s why I love this blog – I learn something new every time I visit.

    So, women are having orgasms now, eh?

    ;)

  15. Zelockaon 08 Jan 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Do I need to point out how stupid this is? It’s a survey not science. It proves nothing either way. Hook some woman up to a brain scan and then stimulate the area and you will get the facts.

  16. Yith Pistolon 09 Jan 2010 at 1:05 pm

    I hate when personal experience runs contrary to something I read like this…heh. My arguments against this are solely from personal experience and that, in my head, makes me sound like witness of a ghostly encounter.

    I will remain open to the possibility that there is no G-Spot, but I do know that there is a spot or two within the vagina that triggers an orgasm. That spot is in the same area that the G-spot is said to be. My partners have always said that the orgasms triggered by digital stimulation of this spot (no contact with the clitoris, okay, I tried to reduce variables here…heehee) were quite different from an orgasm produced by direct stimulation of the clitoris.

    So are the G-spot skeptics claiming that there is no spot that triggers orgasms? or that there is nothing anatomically special? It seems odd that there isn’t somethign anatomically different about this spot from other areas of the vaginal wall if it produced orgasms. I am fairly certain that this is not psychological.

    So SOMETHING is happening and I hope that the G-spot skeptics aren’t claiming that there isn’t.

  17. Abulafiaon 10 Jan 2010 at 7:40 am

    In any of these studies, did anyone look at the relationship status of the women who reported having a g-spot? As a bit of anecdotal evidence, I “dated” a woman who claimed she had no g-spot. Yet, through digital manipulation in the area that the spot is claimed to be, I was able to help her reach orgasm. We weren’t exceptionally close emotionally, but she constantly told me that I was the best partner she’d ever had. If I accept that as truth, then it seems to me that the old adage of the g-spot being located between a woman’s ears is true. For some reason, I really got her going unlike any woman I dated before or since. That ineffable chemistry at work I suppose.

    The one flaw I can see in the study with the twins is that each twin could have had very different experiences in relationships. Perhaps the anterior vaginal wall is only .00001% more sensitive than any other wall, but that percentage rises exponentially depending on the emotional state of the woman towards her partner.

    Again, these are questions that I ask based on purely anecdotal evidence. Should anecdotal evidence be discounted out of hand? I often hear my fellow skeptics say it should be, but I don’t think they necessarily mean that. I would hope they realize that anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove anything, but it can help focus research.

  18. Fifion 10 Jan 2010 at 10:50 am

    “Would it not be easier if we could all just be grown-ups, put the politics aside, and just consider the science? I guess that’s too much to hope for.”

    Well yes, but even people doing research can’t do this apparently so it remains political and personal as well as scientific (hey, at least feminist theorists and so on are doing what they do, the researchers relying upon anecdotes are at least meant to be scientists and they’re not being scientific really so the feminists do actually have a point). After all, this study is just a collection of anecdotes – despite the appearance of being scientific – and it does tend to ignore the much more interesting (and to me convincing) research into a physiological basis. Let’s face it, like the brain, the vulva and vagina are still pretty uncharted territory vis a vis physiology and our understanding…and like the brain there’s a lot of cultural baggage attached (not that I’m equating orgasms with consciousness, though one does require the other).

    As for why it’s relevant that no lesbians were included in the study, I’ve read (I’ll see if I can find it) that bisexual and lesbian women are more likely to report having a gspot. There may be a biological basis (if I remember correctly, the idea was that in some women the gspot was related to a different biological expression of the prostate gland during gestation). Or it may just be that bisexual and lesbian women are less inhibited and more curious about their bodies, which could result in more finding their gspot (biological) or in an increased mental component.

    I’d propose the idea that arousal is mainly intellectual/emotional in women may just be false. Research that measures both biological and intellectual/consciousness of being aroused has shown that women can be biologically aroused but intellectually unaware of it. (Just as homophobes get aroused by homoerotic images but don’t believe they are aroused…I’d guess that they’re channeling their arousal into anger/disgust as a means to deny their arousal). I’m referring to relatively recent research (vis a vis women) that has shown that most women who identify as heterosexual also get aroused – physically if not intellectually – by a very diverse range of sexual imagery that includes lesbian sex and animal sex. So, there’s no denying the body/mind connection and disconnect. As usual, the experience is all in the mind and, as is often the case, the mind is quite capable of ignoring/denying the body if it somehow conflicts with self identity or when what the body feels threatens a sense of identity or conforming to a social norm.

    Interesting stuff! Since we’re very much at the infancy of understanding sex and are only starting to come out from under some very strong social/cultural prejudices and (yes) religious assumptions about sex and what is normal, and acceptable, it IS important to be vigilant for how these biases creep in…particularly when we’re presenting anecdotes as evidence!

    Thanks for a great and very even handed look at this subject – best and most informative (and complete vis a vis the actual science) I’ve read yet.

  19. Emily Churchon 10 Jan 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Blag Hag has a really interesting take on this study–worth reading. http://www.blaghag.com/2010/01/no-g-spots-wait-what.html

  20. HHCon 10 Jan 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I wonder if the proposed 1940′s G-spot orgasm is most useful for females who have given birth in 2010?

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