A few weeks ago, Jezebel published a review of a study recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The study’s title is: Is the G-Spot Truly a Distinct Anatomic Entity? The post on Jezebel mistakenly reported the study as concluding, once and for all, that a distinct anatomical area in the anterior (read: front) wall of the vagina that is extra-sexually-sensitive does not exist. The author of Jezebel’s post rejoiced, claiming that instead of facing pressure to find that one perfect “spot,” we women can now appreciate that instead we have a sexually relevant “zone.” Aren’t we just so gosh darn lucky?
Having read the study in its entirety, however, I can’t imaging coming away from it with such a chipper attitude. The science isn’t wholly objectionable – the authors detail the findings of representative studies from their collection and do a decent job of presenting results on both sides of the issue. They detail three studies that found a higher level of nerve concentration during biopsies of the anterior wall of the vagina, but counter with one study that was unable to replicate these findings. They discuss that women who report having g-spot orgasms also report being “higher than average” in terms of sexual sensation. They actually conclude with the interesting and agreeable proposition that: “Whether the G-spot actually exists is probably less interesting than the search and desire for its existence.” Their overall conclusion? “The distal part of the anterior vaginal wall appears to be the most sensitive region of the vagina, yet the existence of an anatomical “G-spot” on the anterior wall remains to be demonstrated. Objective investigative measures…still fail to provide irrefutable evidence for the G-spot’s existence.” So essentially, there appears to be a sensitive area of the vagina, but not an identifiable “spot” that causes pleasure.
I don’t have a problem with that conclusion. I think, in fact, that it would be a nice break for people to stop thinking of sex in terms of “pressing the right buttons” and instead appreciate that changes in blood flow, breathing, mood, arousal, or even the temperature of a room can change which parts of the body want which type of stimulation. Okay, fine, so there isn’t a “G-Spot” with a subtle neon sign over its mysterious facade, just waiting for the right touch. My problem instead lies with the sexism and absolute lack of understanding of female sexuality that oozes from this study.
Medical and academic study of sexuality (specifically female sexuality), has long been tarnished by this notion of female “hysteria.” In fact, “hysteria” used to be the medical diagnosis for any type of female sexuality at all (for a wonderful review of the history of hysteria and how vibrators were originally created for physicians to “treat” it, you have to check out The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines). Fortunately most of science and medicine has progressed into a more accurate understanding of female sexuality, but this study appears to be taken right out of some archaic text.
For one thing, the authors appear to possess no understanding of how female sexuality works. To counter the idea that the G-spot exists, they cite studies that assess female sexual function after surgeries that repair pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. Women reported a higher rate of orgasm after surgery for these conditions. The authors claim that this is “interesting,” given that these procedures disrupt nerve innervation to the vagina. It isn’t until after two paragraphs of puzzling over this phenomenon that they even mention that “improvement in sexual function may be due to relief of coital incontinence and, consequently, improving self-image and confidence.” Let that sentence sit for a second, and then let’s break down what it means.
The authors are saying that the fact that women report having more orgasms after surgeries that repair urinary incontinence probably means that the G-spot doesn’t exist, given that these surgeries will likely cause lasting nerve damage to the anterior wall of the vagina. Does anyone else see how crazy that is? We are talking about women who elected to have surgery because they suffered from a bladder control issue. You try having an orgasm while being worried that you’re going to pee all over your partner. Are you serious? Of COURSE they had more orgasms after the surgery, G-spot be damned. Nowhere in the colloquial dialogue about the G-spot is someone trying to claim that having a functional (and anatomically distinct) G-spot would impair the clitoris’s ability to cause orgasm. I’m sorry, but this is such a fundamental misunderstanding and reductionist approach to female sexuality that I am tempted to stop writing.
Okay, no, I won’t though.
The authors decided that it was important to include a section in their scientific literature review entitled: Media and the G-Spot: Its Impact on Sexuality. They might as well have titled it “If You Tell Women They Have a Special Sex Button, They’re Going to Believe You No Matter What.” Here is a quote from this section of the paper:
“The public is both interested in, and in need of, more information regarding sexuality, especially as it relates to improving sexual performance and pleasure. For now, information regarding the G-spot, often disseminated by the media, serves to fill this primal need by attracting public attention.”
Yikes. An interest in improving the quality of our sex lives is a “primal need” that is sated simply by the media “attracting public attention” to sexual ideologies, regardless of their veracity? Personally, I’d like to believe that many people are interested in improving their sex lives because they want to increase their quality of life, and that of their partner(s). To imply that people are simply absorbing what the “the media” tells them about sexuality without doing some field tests of their own is quite condescending.
Additionally, all the terminology used in this study to describe the G-spot, especially towards the conclusion of the study, is nothing short of derisive of women who know they do have a G-spot. They authors refer to the G-spot as a “mythical location” that “likely doesn’t exist.” They do mention briefly that “reliable reports and anecdotal testimonials of the existence of a highly sensitive area in the distal anterior wall demand further consideration,” but don’t qualify what “reliable reports” are. Certainly not the copious stories of women in “the media,” reporting their own pleasurable experiences with the G-spot. I would have to disagree with them on this sentiment. No, my assertion that I have a G-spot does not warrant much further investigation, and certainly not by a group of scientists who don’t understand female sexuality and don’t seem to want to.
Part of the issue here is the terminology of “G-spot.” The G-spot was popularized in a time when female sexuality was still relatively taboo and not quite understood. The reason that we still have gaping knowledge in the anatomy of female pleasure was that until the twentieth century, female sexual desire was a medical diagnosis that required treatment by a physician. So we wound up with a popularized term before the study of this “newfangled” female sexuality caught up to our understanding of male physiology.
The dismissal of female sexuality in the not-so-distant past cannot be dismissed, even by scientists who feel they are above petty cultural biases in their Ivory Towers. I’m a woman, and I have a G-spot. Do I know what it is? Not really. Do I need to? Not really. Especially not if it means being ridiculed for appreciating this “mythical spot.” We have, in medicine, science, and culture, reduced female sexuality to something so diminutive. We talk about the clitoral glans as though it is the “clitoris,” when in reality the clitoris is a long shaft that forks and runs almost parallel to our labia for a while. What we ignore is how female sexuality naturally fluctuates over a lifetime and how complicated it can be to have an orgasm. Our measures of “sexual function” are so derivative, and don’t capture anything at all about what female sexuality actually means to the women who possess it.
So do I have a special little button right on the wall of my vagina that lights up when it’s pressed by fingers or a toy or a penis? No, I don’t. I don’t need a bunch of scientists to tell me that. But do I have an area that is exquisitely sensitive to touch most of the time that is located on the wall of my vagina? Yeah, I do. Does every woman? Not necessarily. If your MRIs and autopsies and self-report studies can’t make heads or tails of this, that many women have a sensitive area that we are allowed to refer to as a G-spot because that is the definition of a G-spot, then stop wasting your money. You can tell me there’s “no evidence” for my G-spot until your grants run dry, and I’ll still get off that way. Sorry. I guess I’m just one of those damn complicated, hysterical women. If scientists can’t take what women say about their own sex lives seriously, then I think they should stick to animal studies. Rats, after all, don’t succumb so easily to pressure in the media.
This is not to say for a second that the pressure from the media to have a G-spot can’t be detrimental. Pressure to be a certain way sexually is a problem across the board (look at men and penis size, for example). It is good to try to take some of the pressure off of the women who are told by the media that there is something wrong with them for lacking a “G-spot.” But trying to use scientific jargon to undermine the women who do report having a G-spot is not the way to go. It doesn’t have to be a “distinct anatomical entity” to be referred to with a more respectful than “mythical location.” Women are taught that a G-spot is a sensitive area in the vagina. For those of us who have one, that’s exactly what it is. For those who don’t, that’s still what it is. Being derisive and dismissive of female sexual experience isn’t going to help clarify human sexuality for anyone. It’s just rude.