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Duly Noted

Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012, 2:56 pm

What Ogopogo Can Teach Us About the G-Spot

By Lindsay Beyerstein

xyk, Creative Commons.

Here we go again: A Florida surgeon claims to have discovered the elusive vaginal pleasure center known as the g-spot.

Dr. Adam Ostrzenski's claim is suprisingly flimsy. He found the mysterious anatomical structure that looks like a cluster of grapes in a single cadaver. We don't know what kind of tissue the doctor, who normally practices "cosmetic gynecology," may have uncovered. It might not even have nerve endings, in which case, it would be an implausible candidate for a magical orgasm switch. Moreover, we don't know anything about the sex life of the deceased woman. For all we know, she never had a "g-spot" orgasm. Ostrzenski found something he didn't recognize during an autopsy and pronounced it the g-spot without doing further tests to establish what it is, or what it does.

Why is this lame case study making national news? Probably because it's news that some people really want to hear. The g-spot is supposed to be something in (or on) the front wall of the vagina that causes orgasms. Over the years, various organs and structures have been touted as the anatomical basis for the g-spot, but none have been conclusively linked to sexual pleasure. Orgasms are idiosyncratic. You can find people who get off on virtually any kind of stimulation. In order to establish something as the g-spot, it would have to be correlated with sexual function in a large population of women.

Here's what we do know: Some women enjoy having the front walls of their vaginas stimulated and some have orgasms this way.

Yet, study after study has shown that most women don't consistently orgasm from penis-in-vagina intercourse without additional clitoral stimulation. Despite overwhelming evidence of normal interpersonal variation, female orgasm diversity has been construed as a problem that needs to be fixed. The g-spot became a marketing sensation because a lot people want to believe in a elusive vaginal orgasm button.

Amanda Marcotte writes for Slate:

It's strange that in an era where Dan Savage is the national love guru, sex toy shops proliferate, and men's magazines are publishing paeans to cunnilingus that there's still a cultural obsession with finding that magic bullet that will obligate all women to get off from intercourse alone, lest they be deemed sexually insufficient. (The researchers in this latest study hinted at this, by saying their discovery will lead to the "improvement of female sexual function," as if the current clitoral model is just insufficient and needs improvement.) In a way, I have to wonder if it's really about sex at all, or if these fantasies are just another way to express cultural fears that feminism somehow means that women don't need men anymore.

The g-spot is a reassuring concept for those who believe that unassisted penis-induced orgasms are a non-negotiable part of healthy female sexuality. Yet the evidence says that most women don't climax that way, and that those who don't are just as happy and healthy as those who do.

If an alien anatomists were to study human women, it wouldn't suspect the vagina to be the main orgasmic organ. The vagina has very few nerve endings compared to the clitoris. Yet, in some quarters, orgasms from vaginal stimulation alone are treated as the norm, or an ideal that all women should aspire to, rather than a wonderful but unusual capacity that some women have.

If vaginal orgasms are supposed to be the norm, why aren't they more common? That's where the construct of the g-spot comes it: Supposedly all women have this invisibly, elusive pleasure organ, but most don't know how to use it.

Blame Sigmund Freud for vaginal orgasm snobbery. Freud taught that women weren't psychologically mature until they abandoned "clitorial orgasms" and demonstrated their embrace of their role as wives and mothers by having "vaginal orgasms" during sex with their husbands.

Freud's distinction was about psychosexual symbolism, not anatomy. His speculative, sexist dichotomy has been rejected by psychiatrists and sex educators alike. Classifying orgasms as "vaginal" or "clitoral" is misleading because it ignores how orgasms actually work.

All orgasms are rhythmic contractions of the pelvic floor triggered by a spinal reflex. The reflex has both cognitive and sensory inputs and any combination that exceeds the threshold can trigger the reflex. This helps explain why some people can climax from fantasy, or from non-genital touching. It also calls into question the assumption that we need to posit a specific organ or structure that corresponds to the g-spot. Some women can orgasm from kissing, but nobody assumes there must be a k-spot to explain it. We just accept that kissing is a huge turn-on for them. The fact that some women have orgasms during intercourse could just mean it's a huge turn-on.

Furthermore, what Freud would call a "vaginal" (intercourse-induced) orgasm may involve internal or external clitoral stimulation. The clitoris has internal branches that can be stimulated through the walls of the vagina. Different sexual positions can also deliver more or less external clitoral sitmulation.

Unless you're in the grip of Freudian theory, or a sentimental attachment to the ideal of the vaginal orgasm, there's no reason to posit the existence of a specific g-spot organ at all. We don't need it to explain "vaginal" orgasms and exhaustive searches have turned up nothing but false leads.

The search for the g-spot is like the search for Ogopogo, the sea monster that supposedly dwells in Lake Okanagan. The lake isn't that big. Cryptozoologists have scoured it and found nothing. There aren't vast expanses of uncharted territory in there. It's time to move on.

There's no reason to assume a priori that all women are endowed with the capacity for orgasm by unassisted penetration and that only fancy toys or exotic sex positions or psychotherapy can unlock.

Whatever anatomists may discover about female anatomy, the discourse around the so-called "g-spot" needs to change.

Finding out if you "have a g-spot" just means stimulating the front wall of your vagina in various ways and seeing if you like any of them. If you do, call it whatever you want. If you don't, move on to something you like better. It's not a test you pass or fail. It's a matter of personal preference.

The legend* of the anatomical g-spot makes women feel like losers rather than conaisseurs if they don't like a certain kind of sex. If we posit that every woman has a dedicated vaginal pleasure organ, then women who don't respond in the prescribed way must either be anatomically defective, lacking in self-knowledge, or deficient in sexual technique. Whereas, if we think about the front vaginal wall like any other potentially erogenous zone, we can accept women as authorities about their own sexual response, just like men.

*I call it a legend rather than a myth because legends may have some basis in fact, even if their current function is more mythic than informative.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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