Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
I came back because I really wanted to share a surprising discovery I made during finals period. That would be the discovery of some ground-breaking sexology from 1982—namely The G Spot, and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality, a book written by Alice Kahn Ladas, Beverly Whipple, and John D. Perry.
I picked up this book for a class assignment, and was genuinely looking forward to writing a scathing cultural critique of the G-Spot, the sensitive area in the upper part of the vagina which I suspect exists for most women (Scarleteen is always the best place to start if you want to know more), but which has unfortunately become another sexual ideal that the women’s magazines like to remind you you’re not reaching.
Anybody who fields sex-advice questions on a regular basis (and that would be me) has talked to a lot of women anxious that even though they experience powerful clitoral orgasms from direct clitoral stimulation, they don’t enjoy heterosexual penis-vagina intercourse quite as much. Cue my explanation that your body is your body, and although it’s certainly fun to try and find the sensitive parts of your vagina, and you may even find that you enjoy vaginal stimulation more than clitoral stimulation, ultimately you should embrace what your sexual preferences are and stop beating yourself up for what they aren’t.
This is unfortunately a hard sell, so I came to the history of the G-spot with something of a previous bias against it, a suspicion that it was actually just a scheme cooked up by the “Freudian Heterosexual League” (let’s not forget Freud’s statement that women who don’t have vaginal orgasms are “immature”) to make women feel guilty about requesting oral and manual stimulation.
What I found contradicted my assumptions, because Ladas, Perry, and Whipple, the people who coined the term and did much of the research, couldn’t be more accepting of sexual diversity.
Ernst GrÄ‚Â¤fenberg, the doctor in whose honor they named it (and the man whose image graces this article), is a different story.
The 1950 paper in which he posits the “anterior vaginal wall” as a site of female sexual pleasure comes from Bizarro-World. In describing different ways his female patients come to orgasm, he writes that “Cunnilingus or even insertion of the penis in the external orifice of the ear are other illustrations of the variability of the erotogenic zones in females.”
For me, putting those two sexual acts in the same sentence seems to suggest that similar numbers of people get pleasure from them, and no. Just no. There are a lot of things I’m willing to consider, but that the number of women who enjoy cunnilingus and the number of women who enjoy ear-sex approach each other by the factor of even one hundred? Is not one of them.
Another truly beautiful quote is the following:
“The contact [between the penis and the urethral part of the vaginal wall] is very close, when the intercourse is performed more hestiarum or a la vache i.e. a posteriori. LeMon Clark is right when he mentions that we were designed as quadrupeds. Therefore, intercourse from the back of the woman is the most natural oneÃ¢€Åš The stimulating effect of this kind of intercourse must not be explained away as LeMon Clark does by the melodious movements of the testicles like a knocker on the clitoris, but it merely caused by the direct thrust of the penis towards the urethral erotic zone. Certain it is that this area in the anterior vaginal wall is a primary erotic zone, perhaps more important than the clitoris, which got its erotic supremacy only in the age of necking.”
Essentially, “We started as quadrupeds, so we should do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.”
If evolutionary psychology has led to this, I can no longer think about it with a straight face.
(I also can’t think about door knockers with a straight face anymore, because I can’t get the “melodious movements of the testicles like a knocker on the clitoris” out of my head. Really, Ernst? Really? Please tell me how you come up with these metaphors, because you, my friend, are a poet.)
Ernst is also doing here what I thought everyone who talked about the G-Spot was doing—trying to find a scientific basis for Freud’s thoughts about how women who have vaginal orgasms are more mature by making the “age of necking” some sort of weird aberration from the natural course of evolution.
Women who have anterior vaginal wall orgasms are being good natural quadrupeds—women who don’t, and who rely on clitoral stimulation, have been perverted by our modern necking age.
So that, my friends, is where the G-spot originally comes from, and I hope we can all agree that Ernst GrÄ‚Â¤fenberg is one weird dude. That said, you can thank him for a couple of things (personally I’m most thankful for the IUD) and one of them is the impetus for Ladas, Perry and Whipple’s delightful 1982 book which gave the spot its name.
Ladas, Perry, and Whipple (henceforth referred to as “your authors”) present a lot of information showing that many women do distinguish between clitoral and vaginal orgasms, and while they’re at it, present proof of female ejaculation and argue for the importance of Kegels exercises. I’m not going to rehash all of that information here (although if you want to read more about female ejaculation, there you go), but I do want to talk about their rhetorical strategy, which is the most endearing possible.
Ladas, Perry, and Whipple are doing this to help all of you—ALL OF YOU—feel good. They are really happy to have found some information that will help the ejaculating woman explain to her partner that it’s not pee. They are thrilled to give women who don’t enjoy clitoral stimulation as much as they do penetration scientific backing. They quote many of these women at length about how good Ladas, Perry, and Whipple’s work has made them feel (and if you’re like me, you get a little bit teary at this point).
(They also do this adorable/patronizing thing where they quote lesbians to prove that this ejaculation thing is real, at one point saying that many of their best subjects came from a lesbian community in Miami.)
But they don’t just want to validate women who ejaculate and women who love being penetrated. They are also earnestly interested in the well-being of women who do fit the Kinsey-clitoral model, the women who read this book and don’t really see themselves in it.
The entire last chapter of the book is a plea to these women to not freak out, and to not somehow see their previously satisfying sex lives as now somehow inadequate.
I was literally blown away by their caution and their care, their recognition that their discoveries will have both positive and negative effects on people’s lives. “Try it,” is their message. “Everyone who thinks this sounds somewhat interesting should try it. But nobody should see this as a new standard they have to clear.”
In other words, they accept and embrace benign sexual diversity (a phrase I’m stealing from Gayle Rubin’s “Thinking Sex,” and which means that we’re all different, sexually, and that that’s OK) as a positive sexual value, which I think is something that not enough people do.
Cue my joyful weeping. 1982 and it’s one of the best pieces of sexology I’ve ever read. 1982.
So thanks, science, (and thanks, Ladas, Perry, and Whipple), for proving what women knew all along, which is that for some of us penetration feels really good in just that spot. Really, thanks.
But here’s a question: Is the scientific evidence really compelling enough to conceptualize this as the “G-spot,” or an organ to be discovered? Might it have been more scientifically honest and/or better for women to have described it as a discovery that the anterior vaginal wall was sensitive in some women?
Creating a new organ that women need to find creates more pressure than saying “dude, old organ we were all aware of is more interesting and comes in more varieties than we had previously thought” would have.
I know it doesn’t translate as well into a book title, but I wonder if “Nerves In The Vagina, and Other Recent Discoveries” would have gotten across the same message without quite so much of the tyranny.
But it’s a nit-picking point. Ladas, Perry, and Whipple spent a full quarter of the book reminding people that their discoveries shouldn’t become a new ideal for women to live up to. That’s awesome, and the people who have misread their work and created pressure around the G-spot aren’t.
I have one more point:
Throughout the book, Ladas, Perry, and Whipple compare the G-spot to the male prostate, trumpeting it as a newly discovered analogue to the prostate. Seriously. That’s what they do. They constantly ask the men reading this book to think about how their prostate makes them feel, and then declare excitedly that some women feel like that about the G-spot!
This felt off to me. In 1982, some really smart and sensitive sexologists wrote a book in which the male prostate was taken for granted and the female G-spot was tentatively presented to the world.
But in 2008, women come to me in tears because they can’t find their G-spot and men admit to me with a good deal of shame that they sort of like their prostates.
Is this (depressing) situation something we can blame entirely on homophobia, or are there other reasons for it I should be aware of? What’s the history of the male prostate as erogenous zone?
Stay tuned, kids, because Dr. Strokes wants to do some research.
Hope you’re starting your semester off right,