Sex Study

04.25.12

Don’t Believe the G-Spot Hype!

A new study claims to have found the elusive spot in the cadaver of an 83-year-old woman. Sex researcher Debby Herbenick on why it isn’t a breakthrough—and what science actually reveals.

When your job involves researching and teaching about sex, as mine at Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute does, there’s nothing strange about getting calls about the G spot.

But over the past week, these messages have taken a more urgent tone. Rather than asking the usual questions—Where is the G spot? What are the best sex positions for G-spot orgasms?—reporters have asked me to comment on a seemingly groundbreaking new study, out today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, that purports to have “discovered” the infamous source of female sexual pleasure. As in, to have found an actual anatomical structure within a woman’s body.

In the report Adam Ostrzenski, a gynecologist in St. Petersburg, Fla., describes dissecting the so-called G spot from the cadaver of an 83-year-old woman. He characterizes it as a “well-delineated sac,” stretching from 8.1 to 33 millimeters. “This study confirmed the anatomic existence of the G-spot, which may lead to a better understanding and improvement of female sexual function,” writes Ostrzenski.

Such a study would have the potential to be a serious game changer in the field of sex research. Except—in my opinion—it didn’t accomplish that. It’s a single case study involving the dissection of the body of one woman whose sexual experiences are unknown to us. Did she enjoy vaginal penetration? Did she find G-spot stimulation to be pleasurable or erotic or more or less likely to lead to orgasm? We don’t know.

As a scientist who studies women’s sexuality, I am completely comfortable not having all the answers to the G spot. Not everyone seems to be as comfortable.

We also don’t know much about the anatomical structure identified in the study, described as being bluish and grapelike in appearance. We don’t know how many women (if any) have similar structures. And we certainly don’t know if the structure has anything to do with G-spot stimulation, sexual pleasure, erotic sensations, or orgasm. It’s not like body parts come with pre-labeled signs indicating what they are—and calling this structure the “G spot” doesn’t make it so.

For these reasons, I don’t think this particular study—while compelling—teaches us anything new about the G spot or women’s sexuality. It does present an opportunity, however, to take stock of what we do know about the G spot, thanks to past scientific research.

Most descriptions of the G spot rest largely on anecdotal data, culled from women’s stories. Self-reported data is the only kind that can teach us about subjective experiences; for example, whether it feels enjoyable or erotic to be stimulated in the area commonly associated with the G spot—that is, about one or two inches inside the vagina, along the front vaginal wall. (Indeed, questionnaire and clinical studies have found that the front wall is erotically sensitive for many women—as well as the back wall, in some cases.)

OK, so stimulation of the G spot area feels good to many women. But why? Well, we haven’t quite figured that out yet. Some researchers have pointed out that the only anatomical structures in the vicinity of what we think of as the G spot are the Skene’s glands and periurethral tissue (tissue around the urethra). The Skene’s glands secrete fluid during sexual stimulation and may contribute to what’s popularly called “female ejaculation,” experienced by an unknown proportion of women. (In one survey of 1,230 women ages 22 to 82, about 40 percent of women reported ejaculating during orgasm.)

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Dr. Debby Herbenick on why the findings in a new study G-spot study aren’t that groundbreaking after all

Female ejaculation has been anecdotally linked to G-spot stimulation by some women, but it’s unclear how many women who experience female ejaculation do so as a result of G-spot stimulation. Some researchers have speculated that the Skene’s glands may in fact “be” the G spot. Other scientists don’t see a connection between the Skene’s glands and the G spot, pointing out that the Skene’s glands lack receptors for touch (and are therefore unlikely to be erotically sensitive).

Then there was a 2008 study that found that women who reported having vaginal orgasms tended to have a thicker urethrovaginal space as compared with women who didn’t have vaginal orgasms. There was even speculation that ultrasound measurements could possibly be used to identify whether a woman had a G spot. (At this writing, we have no reason to believe that’s true.) It’s an interesting idea, but there’s no evidence that these measurements have anything to do with the G spot.

Then there’s the question of nerve endings. If you’ve ever heard anyone say that the area of the vagina associated with G-spot stimulation is more densely packed with nerve endings, you’d be right—research has found this to be the case. However, studies are conflicting, and some research hasn’t found any significant differences between the number of nerves in the G-spot area compared with other parts of the vagina. 

As a scientist who studies women’s sexuality, I am completely comfortable not having all the answers to the G spot. Not everyone seems to be as comfortable. Some seem to want answers today, but that’s not how science works.

Here is what we know for sure: there is an area along the front wall of the vagina that, when stimulated, is linked to sexual pleasure and orgasm for some but not all women.

That’s what I tell my students. It’s what I write in my books (including my most recent, Sex Made Easy, in which I pore over the constant debates about the G spot). And it’s what you should know. It accurately reflects where we are in the science right now. If you’re a woman or have a female partner and want to explore G-spot stimulation, have at it. If you find it enjoyable, great. If not, don’t worry about it—the human body is full of parts to explore.

The G spot, however, is part of a multimillion-dollar industry. There are countless G-spot vibrators and other sex toys. There are G-spot specific books and videos. Some medical doctors—including some that conduct research intended to “discover” the G spot—offer injections and other procedures that are marketed to enhance women’s sexual experiences or to “augment” the G spot. Since you can’t augment something if you can’t find it, there is likely to be continued interest in “finding” the G spot for quite some time, particularly until there is more information about these under-researched and largely investigational procedures.

For the same reason, it’s important to be cautious consumers of science—and not to worry about jumping too quickly into finding (or not finding) the elusive spot.