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What You Need to Know About... the G-spot

What You Need to Know About... the G-spot

By Steph Auteri | From the May 2014 Issue

For those working in the trenches of G-spot-related research, the field is a rich one. Every day, researchers learn more about that particular part of the female body, and more about the possible benefits that can be derived from stimulating that area beyond sexual pleasure alone.

But there are still stories and studies swirling around out there in which scientists continue to argue semantics (is the G-spot really one, specific spot — its own separate entity — or is it part of something else, like the female prostate or the clitoris?). And all of this confusion only contributes to a world in which women who struggle with finding their G-spot grapple with their own sexual self-worth. These women continue to ask themselves: How should it feel? What if I don't like the way it feels? What if I can't even find it in the first place?

Many of our organization's educators, and other AASECT members, are the beneficiaries of such questions, which is why we felt it was a worthy topic to tackle in this column. Luckily, among our membership are a number of professionals specializing in G-spot research and education, among them the woman who, with Dr. John Perry, re-discovered and named this part of our anatomy: Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, FAAN, Professor Emerita, Rutgers University. (Note that they initially named this area the Grafenberg spot; it was later shortened by their publisher to the G-spot.)

What Is the G-spot?

Wanting to get the basics out of the way, Whipple clears up the physiology issue immediately. "The G-spot is not actually a spot," she says. "It is not a distinct anatomical entity. It is an area that is felt through the anterior wall of the vagina, and that swells when it is stimulated."

Whipple goes on to explain the specifics of what the G-spot actually is, something many researchers have known for years now, despite purportedly groundbreaking new studies from scientists who insist that they, in fact, have finally discovered the actual G-spot. 

"It is an area," continues Whipple. "It contains the crus of the clitoris, the female prostate gland, the urethra, and many other tissues that swell when they are stimulated. It is an area that it is extremely sensitive. Some find stimulation of this area pleasurable. Some experience female ejaculation when stimulating this area." 

Whipple is quick to point out that everyone's experiences with this spot are different, and that these differences don't make any one experience better or worse than another. 

Debby Herbenick, PhD — a sex researcher at Indiana University and an educator at the Kinsey Institute — echoes this dismissive attitude toward the media's portrayal of the G-spot "controversy" and in regard to some of the research being trumpeted in the news. She references a piece she wrote for the Daily Beast titled "Don't Believe the G-spot Hype!" in which she mentions a 2012 study by Dr. Adam Ostrzenski that purported to have "found" the G-spot... a study that was widely criticized by researchers. "I don't think this particular study — while compelling — teaches us anything new about the G spot or women's sexuality," she writes.

Moving Beyond Semantics

When I ask Whipple if these ongoing arguments over semantics are missing a bigger picture — one in which it becomes obvious that there are many ways to experience pleasure — she wholeheartedly agrees. She tells me that when she first started researching the G-spot, her thought was, "let's measure this and get this information out so other women who have these experiences can feel validated." Knowing full well that our body parts are all slightly different, and that we all experience pleasure in different ways, it was never her intention to make women feel self-conscious about the size and/or location of their G-spots, how they operated, or how stimulation in that area did or did not feel. She only wanted to assure women that they may be carrying within themselves one more opportunity for pleasure.

"My research is about validating women's experiences," Whipple says. "I did this research not to set up goals, but to validate experiences." She stresses the fact that women should feel good about what it is that brings them sexual and sensual pleasure. She insists that they should be focused on the experience itself, not upon whether or not they are able to achieve a specific type of orgasm. She explains how sex should be "pleasure-directed, not goal-directed." 

"When I teach medical and other students," says Whipple, "I talk about sexual experiences being either goal-oriented or pleasure-oriented." She then describes two separate models one can follow during an intimate experience. Whipple explains that when one follows the staircase model, one step leads to the next, and then the top step is orgasm. Understandably, for those following the staircase model, if they don't reach the top step, they become disappointed and frustrated. Those who follow the circle model, on the other hand, don't focus so much on varying levels of pleasure. They enjoy pleasure in a more holistic, less goal-oriented way, being mindful of the variety of sensations as they occur throughout the intimate encounter. 

"Just have fun and enjoy each other," urges Whipple, "and don't be so goal-oriented."

It's these discussions of semantics over the G-spot that contribute to this goal-oriented mindset. At one point during our conversation, Whipple muses over whether she and her colleagues should have called it the G-area instead of the G-spot.

Though at the same time, one wonders if the pressure women place on themselves in regard to the G-spot is in some way connected to the pressure they feel from their partners. After it was discovered that only around 20 percent of women orgasm through vaginal stimulation alone, men found they could look toward the G-spot as another opportunity to exert sexual control through penetration. It's conceivable that this only adds to the sense of failure a woman feels if she can't find her G-spot, or if she doesn't enjoy the sensations G-spot stimulation brings to some women but not others.

G-spot Research Post-1983

Questions of human geography and normalcy aside, G-spot research has continued to evolve over the years. Since Whipple began researching the G-spot in the 1970s, there have been a slew of new studies. "Of course in the beginning it was anecdotal, as anything is," says Whipple. "People report what they've experienced." 

"But that's what leads to the laboratory studies," she says. 

Rutgers eventually gave Whipple a grant so she could build her own neurophysiology laboratory. Now, people at other labs across the country are replicating her and her colleagues' studies, and are even using similar techniques, such as the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to determine what is happening in the brain during G-spot stimulation.

Much of this research has led to some fascinating discoveries, a lot of which has not been as visible within the media. For example, research from Whipple herself showed that gentle pressure on the G-spot can raise pain thresholds by 40 percent, and that — during orgasm — women can tolerate up to 100 percent more pain. This has some pretty incredible implications for those looking for additional pain management techniques, especially in the case of childbirth.

Of course, there's still information floating around out there that's not as well-grounded in actual research. One of the most perplexing examples of this is the growing popularity of g-shots, also known as G-spot Amplification. Some women pay upwards of $3,000 every month in order to get injections that promise to temporarily augment the G-spot. David Matlock, MD, MBA, FACOG, a gynecologist offering these injections, insists on his website that "in a pilot study, 87% of women surveyed after receiving the G-Shot reported enhanced sexual arousal/gratification."

But of course: "Results do vary."

"There are no published double-blind placebo controlled studies to support the effectiveness of this," says Whipple.

Herbenick echoes this, adding that many websites that advertise cosmetic surgeries for women's genitals present data in support of their products and services, despite the fact that "much of the data has never been published or subject to scientific scrutiny."

In fact, in 2007, the American College of OBGYNs (ACOG) released a statement in regard to cosmetic procedures such as this, writing: 

"These procedures are not medically indicated, and the safety and effectiveness of these procedures have not been documented... Women should be informed about the lack of data supporting the efficacy of these procedures and their potential complications, including infection, altered sensation, dyspareunia, adhesions, and scarring."

How To Answer Questions About the G-spot

So what should sexuality educators tell students who come to them with questions about the G-spot? Whipple suggests that, first, they should look at the research that's already out there. She says they should ask themselves: " Is there good, solid research?" Whipple adds, "You should know not to say: 'well, we think this...' You want to be able to have the data to support what you're teaching."

Herbenick feels confident that most sex educators have a handle on answering questions about normalcy. She says it's imperative that educators get people talking more about what they mean by "normal" in the first place. "Are they asking if something about them is okay?" asks Herbenick. "If it's common or rare?" In these cases, a larger discussion about the concept of normalcy might be the most helpful.

"Educators have to be able to help people be aware of what they enjoy," says Whipple, "and to acknowledge it. The hardest thing for most of us is to communicate to our partner and to ourselves what it is we find pleasurable."

Additional Reading:

Addiego, F., Belzer, E.G., Comolli, J., Moger, W., Perry, J.D., & Whipple, B. (1981). Female ejaculation: A case study. The Journal of Sex Research, 17,  13 21.

Ladas, A.K., Whipple, B., & Perry, J.D. (1982) (2005) The G spot and other discoveries about human sexuality. New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winson;  (1983) Dell Publishers (paperback edition) and classic edition (2005) Holt.

Zaviacic M, Jakubovská V, Belosovic M, Breza J. (2000). Ultrastructure of the normal adult human female prostate gland (Skene's gland) in: Anatomy and embryology. Journal of Anatomy and Developmental History, vol 201.2000, pp. 51-61.

Zaviacic, M & Whipple, B. (May, 1993). Update on the Female Prostate and the Phenomenon of Female Ejaculation. The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 30, No. 2 (May, 1993), pp. 148-151.

(image via)

"My research is about validating women's experiences," Whipple says. "I did this research not to set up goals, but to validate experiences."