Nothing wrong with a little mystery. But when it comes to women's sexuality, it wouldn't hurt to lift the shroud of confusion about the mechanics of stimulation and orgasm. Yes, those words are a little awkward to write. But squeamishness is part of the problem. So try to get over it. Quickly.
Consider the endless magazine articles, adolescent sleepovers, and sexual exercises devoted to cracking the code of female arousal. And still many women can't achieve an orgasm from intercourse alone or on a regular basis. In light of that bleak picture comes a study published today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine claiming to find, for the first time, the anatomic existence of the elusive G-spot, a storied area of sensitivity in the front vaginal wall reported by many women as the key to sexual Shangri-la, and named for the German gynecologist Ernst Grafenberg.
The latest discovery sounds like a big deal. But what does it mean? How will or won't it translate to women's sexual health?
"The study opens the door for more research," and ultimately clinical and commercial applications, such as redesign of sex toys and cosmetic procedures to restore feelings of sexual pleasure, says Adam Ostrzenski, who authored the study (and who performs such procedures). In an 83-year-old female cadaver, Ostrzenski, of the Florida-based Institute of Gynecology, identified erectile tissue between the sixth and final layer of a sac in the front vaginal wall, which he pegged as the G-spot.
But already, the report has fueled concern about its claim as well as its implications.
"My suspicion that this is the G-spot is pretty low," says Amichai Kilchevsky, a Yale University urologist who, after analyzing medical literature from 1950 to 2011, published a study earlier this year in the same journal arguing against the G-spot's existence. Among the tens of thousands of female dissections that have taken place, "finding one variation and claiming that all women have a G-spot is a pretty large leap to make," he says, noting a lack of information about the sexual health of the woman examined. (Was she able to reach orgasm, for example?) "Whatever he's found is probably known about" and is likely an extension of the clitoris, which branches throughout the vagina.
[See: The Science of Aphrodisiacs]
In any case, Kilchevsky cautions against viewing the G-spot as some magic route to female orgasm. Those who have never achieved a vaginal orgasm "shouldn't be discouraged if some study is claiming that someone found a G-spot in an 83-year-old woman." Even if all women are equipped with a G-spot, some women "might not achieve orgasm until they're with the right partner," he says, calling that quest a "dynamic process that deserves kind of a lifetime of trying to achieve."
According to Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, "the problem with the G-spot is the word 'spot'," which suggests a precise location, when in fact, the area refers to a region around the urethra that is like the female equivalent of the prostate gland.
The bigger problem, he explains, is the dearth of research on women's sexuality, which is why he was compelled to publish the study.
"Given the realities that the topic is a little taboo, the topic is emotional, the topic is political," there are "not a lot of research dollars" for studying female sexual function, whereas decades of research have been devoted to understanding penile function, he says.
"This whole paradigm of 'it's uncomfortable, it's humiliating, it's embarrassing'" means healthcare providers don't study female sexuality and patients are too ashamed to ask questions, Goldstein says. "You have the perfect storm of 'nobody wants to talk about it,'" leaving people to seek information online or from friends.
Ostrzenski expressed similar concern about the lack of proper education about the complexity of female anatomy.
"You go to the classic anatomic book and female anatomy does not represent exactly what I see in the [operating room] or what I see during my research on the cadavers and that's what I plan to publish," he said.
In the meantime, how does this news of finding something that may or may not be a G-spot in the body of an elderly woman affect everyone else's sex lives?
"Nothing has changed," says Debby Herbenick, a research scientist and sexual health educator at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute. Besides, she says: Focusing on its existence misses the larger point.
"We are incredibly diverse people, women and men," and an enjoyable sex life results from communicating with a partner, not whether or not one responds to the G-spot. "There's no body part—not even the breast, not even the clitoris—that feels good to all women," says Herbenick, author of Sex Made Easy. "What feels good to you isn't going to feel good to your best friend anyway. Just explore and enjoy what feels good to you."
While most orgasms involve the clitoris, "there are literally thousands" of kinds of orgasms, said Herbenick, who referred to her own recent study about those brought about by exercise.
And that may be the biggest mystery of it all. In spite of our fascination with sex—and the G-spot— it turns out we know precious little. You can start to reverse that trend by discussing your questions with your doctor. Your sexual health is a vital part of your wellness, and you are entitled to learn the latest thinking to achieve a meaningful and fulfilling sex life.
[See: Why Do Women Have Sex?]