Sunday, 10 January 2010

'..I finally had an orgasm and my doctor told me it was the wrong kind...'

- 'Manhattan,' Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

I found out the other day that the female G-spot is a myth.

Or, more accurately, that the papers say that a study says that the G-spot is a myth (a couple of articles here and here). This startling statement is accompanied by some patronising 'Relax, guys - the pressure's off, you don't have to find it after all' comments, and some fairly dodgy explanations that the G-spot is a 'figment of women's imagination, encouraged by magazines and sex therapists'. This despite 56% of the women in the study saying they had one.

The study, when you look closer, is painfully flawed. They are not trying to prove the existence or otherwise of the G-spot, they're trying to come up with a hereditary basis for its presence (the journalists clearly ignored this bit). So, asking identical and non-identical twin sisters if they have a G-spot should produce higher positive results in the identical sets, who, genetically, should share the same features - presumably, including the G-spot.

Problem 1. The question they asked was daft: 'Do you believe you have a G-spot, a small area the size of a 20p coin on the front wall of your vagina that is sensitive to deep pressure?'

It demands a straight yes/no and doesn't allow for discussion about variation of where it is or how sensitive it might be. And who measured whose G-spot against a 20p coin? Wait, I forgot, it doesn't exist. So it's notionally that size for the purposes of the question.

The way I would have asked (and I am heavily influenced by Shere Hite) would be a series of questions which asked for full-sentence answers, e.g. 'What is a G-spot? Do you have one? Where is it? How does it work? When and how did you first find it? How does stimulating it affect your sexual response/orgasm? Please tell us anything else about the G-spot you think is important that we haven't asked about.' Then they might have got some answers which reflect women's experiences more honestly, and take into account the variation in women's sexual responses.

And I dislike the bias that seems inherent in 'Do you believe...?', which implies that while you might believe this about your body, we are scientists and deal in facts and therefore know better than you.

Problem 2. The G-spot is well tucked away, physically and socially. Its existence is not on a plain binary, easily established by asking, like being able to roll your tongue. It's like the male prostate gland - in fact, some theories suggest the female G-spot is a vestigial prostate gland. Now, most cisguys do have a prostate gland, but if you lined a bunch up and asked if they had discovered the fun you could have with it during sex, some would grin cheerfully and say 'Hell, yes!', some would be offended, and some would look a bit shifty and mumble. That's not because of a genetic variation in the existence of the prostate gland, (though of course there will be variations of size, shape, sensitivity, and so on) it's because of a social construct, the 'Anal play is gay' rule, which prevents some cisguys from finding out whether prostate massage works for them.

Similarly, social acceptability has increased around talking about sex and genital anatomy since, say, fifty years ago. The study did indicate that younger women were more likely to say they have a G-spot - possibly because they live in a time when it's more acceptable to read about it, talk to your friends about it, ask your lover to look for it, or even - shock! - look for it yourself.

There's no allowance made in the study for women who have very little or too much sensitivity in the front wall of their vagina, or who find it's only sensitive some days of their cycle, or who tried stimulation there once but didn't like the sensations, or who don't necessarily want to look for it, or for any other possible experiences that might produce the answer 'No' to the question posed.

Pretty much all queer and non-heteronormative sexual experiences were omitted. Worryingly, gay and bi women were excluded from the study altogether, because of 'the common use of digital stimulation among these women, which may bias results'. Oh, yes, because no nice straight girl ever uses her or her partner's fingers for stimulation. Women who hadn't had PIV sex were also excluded. So, by implication, the G-spot is only the G-spot if discovered with a cock.

The study concluded that: A possible explanation for the lack of heritability may be that women differ in their ability to detect their own (true) G-spots. However, we postulate that the reason for the lack of genetic variation—in contrast to other anatomical and physiological traits studied—is that there is no physiological or physical basis for the G-spot.

First - what is a (true) G-spot? Who decides? The women whose experience this research is trying to dissect, or the researchers, who have already wandered off towards the odd idea that the G-spot doesn't exist and that 56% of the experiences they've asked about are in fact 'figments of women's imagination'.

Second, surely a differing socialised ability to detect something as obfuscated as the G-spot makes more sense of the figures than assuming that a thousand of the women you've interviewed are deluded about their own sexual responses.

But apparently not. Apparently, the G-spot is dead.

There are three things about this sorry tangle of miscommunication, bad science and worse journalism that make me really angry, and they both go well beyond the parameters of this particular study and the press response to it. First, can you imagine if the equivalent happened with any part of the male anatomy? 'Sorry fellahs, you know we said you had a prostate gland? Well...turns out it doesn't exist. Yeah. Sorry.' It's hard to picture, isn't it? The sexual function of the male body is very well understood by now. Yet the female genitals - especially, though not only, as regards sexuality - are still the site of mystification, confusion, and a whole lot of propaganda. Male writers and medics have been telling women how they should be having sex since before Freud declared the clitoral orgasm immature and unworthy of notice.

This week, women are being told that there is no G-spot. In February 2008, we were told that the existence of the G-spot could be proved by ultrasound scans. There are stacks of studies out there, all with their own angle, and the press has had fun exaggerating and misrepresenting them to the unfortunate reader.

Women's power in their own bodies - and men's comprehension of the female body - is weakened by misinformation, doubt, and a weird mixture of hype and shame. And these reports get people worried - not just about the G-spot, though the practise of collagen injections purported to 'enhance' it suggests that insecurities about it are pretty widespread - but about the shape of our clitorises, whether our labia are too big, whether we smell and taste right, whether we have the right sort of orgasms.

And the constant bombardment of media pressure to find your G-spot, to have multiple orgasms, to have longer, better, more contorted orgasms, isn't right either - I am right there with Andrea Burri on this, if nothing else. She says that women who don't report having a G-spot are pressurized and made to feel inadequate, as are their partners, and this is true. So are women who don't have orgasms through penetration, and women who only come through self-stimulation, and women who have sexual experiences which don't fit with the promoted norm - which is to say, pretty much all women.

The third thing that pisses me off is this. I have what I'd call a G-spot. I found it the night of the Millennium celebrations. I was fifteen. I must have read about it, but I don't remember where - I just remember finding this sensation that made me curl up and squeak with joy.

But that's just me, that's one person's experience of one female body, and the plural of anecdote is not data. I don't get to stand up and say 'I know the G-spot exists,' because what I know is that it exists for me. Some women haven't experienced what I would call a G-spot, some women have a different experience of size, or shape, or sensitivity, or variety of orgasms, attached to what I'd call a G-spot. And that's all good, and no one - not the Times, not the BBC, not a small team at King's College, London - gets to tell any woman that she's doing it wrong or likes the wrong things or is deluded about her own sexual experiences.

Sexual response is a subjective experience and it is unique - something that the writers of this study seem to have missed, by reducing their question to a heavily-qualified statement with a binary Y/N answer as the only possible response.

Entirely subjectively, then, I have what I'd call a G-spot. And, frankly, I don't care if it's the crura of my clitoris, a vestigial prostate gland, a urethral sponge, or whatever this week's explanation is. It is there and I enjoy it. It's my body, I feel this, I have orgasms that way, get used to it or get out of my bed and get out of my media.


Phoebe Henderson said...

Great post, enjoying the blog x

Kay said...

Thanks Kit you've put into print many of my words too. How dare they those ignorant male scientists! Grrr. And the woman scientist they were appeasing? Just cos she doesn't have one doesn't mean we don't. I have always found that one example to the contrary is enough to spoil the "all X do or like or have ..whatever". All women like flowers. All kids like mince. All cats drink milk. All a load of rubbish in my view.

I remember being very happy to find my G-spot and my bed-drenching capacity for multiple orgasms. I can't personally correct the study - as I have done with incorrect psych textbooks on gender and sexuality and in person with teachings on these subjects. But as long as we can spread the word about how ridiculous that study was, people who need to know may be able to hear another viewpoint.

FYI I'm over 50, bisexual genderqueer but visibly cisfemale with teaching qualifications in science.

Zaharia said...

at least you had one :P

I'm a 41 year old woman and althow i enjoy having sex with my housband, i'm disapointed for the fact that i've NEVER had an orgasm. I hear that for many women it just comes natural, potenta as we call it in my country, but sadly it isn't my case.

Althow i know many women have the same problem, and my comment is of no surpise to anyone, i want to do my best and find a solution.

I've been thinking that maybe my housband isn't as tender and loveable as he should, but curiosity has never pushed me so far as to cheat on him with another man. Should i? Could change be a solution?

I've tried all sorts of pills and aphrodisiacs, but nothing so far...

If you have any advise, please reply to this comment. I've just started posting for a couple of days, so i'll be checking in often :)

Thank you!


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