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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