When The G Spot and Other Discoveries about Human Sexuality was first published in 1982 it started a revolution, single-handedly ushering in a new era of research on female sexuality, radically changing the professional practices of sex therapists, and positively affecting the lives of thousands and thousands of individual women. To understand why this book had the profound impact it did, we need to look back to the middle of the last century.
From an evolutional perspective sex has a single purpose: procreation. In many cultures, for many centuries, that purpose overshadowed all others. Even when researchers, beginning with Alfred Kinsey, began rigorously to observe and record data about human sexual behavior, women’s sexual response was assumed to follow the same pattern as men’s. William Masters and Virginia Johnson developed the sexual response cycle, elaborated on by Helen Singer Kaplan (based on Harold Lief’s work): desire was followed by arousal, followed by orgasm, and ended with resolution. Women, it was assumed, experience sex in just the same way. Those who didn’t were made to feel inadequate, inferior, abnormal.
Early in the twentieth century Freud theorized that in mature women, the vagina was the focus of sexual pleasure. He considered the clitoris an inferior penis, and orgasms that resulted from its stimulation immature. In the decades that followed, other researchers, including Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, took exception and declared that the clitoris was the main source of sexual pleasure in women, but that in any case, orgasms, whether were clitoral or vaginal, were, physiologically, pretty much the same thing.
Everything changed in 1982 with the publication of The G Spot and Other Discoveries about Human Sexuality. What was so revolutionarily about the researchers’ approach? Simply this: When they set out to discover what women viewed as sexually satisfying, rather than telling women what they should feel, these authors asked women to describe what they were feeling. Then, rather than assuming women’s responses would fit into a model established by men’s experience, they defined women’s experiences on their own terms.
What they learned was groundbreaking. They discovered that far from adhering to a set pattern, women responded in a variety of different ways. For some women, the clitoris is the focus of the greatest sexual pleasure, for others, the vagina. Woman are capable of experiencing several types of orgasm: clitoral, vaginal, or a combination of the two. Through rigorous research, Perry and Whipple, and later Whipple and Komisaruk, validated the wide array of women’s sexual experiences as no one had before. They learned, in short, that there is no one way for a woman to be sexual, and no one uniform pattern of sexual response. In fact, women may decide not to be genitally sexual at all—and that’s okay.
Listening to women describe their experiences led the researchers to their first major contribution to the field of female sexuality: the rediscovery of a sensitive spot that can be felt through the anterior wall of the vagina. A German gynecologist, Dr. Ernst Gräfenberg, described this area in a paper published in 1950—though his findings were largely ignored. In honor of Dr. Gräfenberg, Perry and Whipple named the area the “Gräfenberg spot” or simply, the “G spot.” The rediscovery and acceptance of the G spot opened up a new dimension of sexual pleasure for women because contrary to earlier researchers’ claims, sensations derived from orgasms resulting from stimulation of the G spot may be different from those achieved from stimulation of the clitoris.
Their second major contribution was in validating the experience of female ejaculation. The phenomenon was first described by Aristotle and later by Galen in the second century. Perhaps because female ejaculation had no reproductive function, these early physicians’ reports subsequently disappeared from scientific and medical writings. Through their research, Perry and Whipple discovered that some women expelled fluid from their urethras during orgasm, just as the ancient writers reported. This fluid was described as sweet, and had the appearance of watered-down milk. Chemical analysis revealed that its makeup was more consistent with the fluid released from the male prostate gland than with urine.
When I first read The G Spot I was a recent medical school graduate in the middle of a gynecology residency program. I admired the work—and was appalled that my medical education ignored such an important aspect of women’s physiology and sexuality. I recalled, with sadness, reading case studies of women who had undergone surgery to “correct” female ejaculation—which was assumed to be urinary incontinence during sex. In the years that have followed the publication of The G Spot, other researchers have confirmed that some women do release fluid that is different from urine during sexual activity and orgasm, supporting the existence of the female prostate gland. In that respect alone this book has done a great service—there is obviously no need to surgically eliminate a normal, pleasurable experience.
I admire the authors’ presentation of their findings as much as I admire the research itself. Their aim is not to raise the bar on what constitutes a satisfying sexual experience. In their own words, the best should not become the enemy of the good—just because multiple orgasms and ejaculation are possible for some women doesn’t mean any reader should feel unfulfilled without them. In a way that’s another version of the restrictive sexual script this work intended to free women from in the first place.
Instead, this book presents sex as “pleasure oriented,” rather than “goal oriented.” We are all unique and achieve sexual satisfaction in different ways. Many women are satisfied without any kind of orgasm. The point is women should embrace and enjoy whatever kind of pleasure they experience.
In the decades since this book was first published Dr. Whipple has continued her quest to expand our understanding of female sexuality. In many published studies Whipple and Komisaruk1,2 have demonstrated that pressure on the anterior wall of the vagina raises the pain threshold of women by 47 percent over resting control conditions. When the stimulation of this area is pleasurable, there is an 84 percent elevation in the pain threshold, and orgasm raises it by 107 percent—a pain-relieving effect that occurs naturally in labor.3
Other studies have given new hope to women with complete spinal cord injuries demonstrating that through a newly discovered neural pathway something once considered impossible is a reality.4 Dr. Whipple’s subjects experienced orgasm through stimulation of the anterior wall of the vagina, the cervix, and other hypersensitive areas of their bodies. But perhaps Whipple, Ogden, and Komisaruk’s5 most enlightening new research focuses on women who are capable of achieving orgasm through imagery alone, without any physical stimulation at all. This new information may force sexual researchers to rethink the male-centric definition of orgasm for women.
This book has proved invaluable in helping me acknowledge my own personal experience of sex, as well as honor those of the thousands of women that I have seen in my more than twenty years of medical practice. It can help you too. In the pages that follow, you’ll find positive, affirming information that you need to take charge of your sexual health and pleasure. Remember that sex is a banquet of unlimited delights. Kissing, cuddling, touching, rubbing, oral stimulation, and fantasy are all pleasurable and may be satisfying in their own right. To reach your full sexual potential, you must discover what brings you sexual satisfaction and communicate your needs to your partner. Celebrate, and enjoy, your own unique sexual experiences because they’re a healthy and normal part of life.
—Hilda Huthcherson, M.D.
This book is about important newly discovered facts that are crucial to our understanding of how human beings function sexually. We believe that the information presented here can be used to help millions of women and men lead more pleasurable and satisfying lives and avoid a good deal of unnecessary suffering and frustration.
Some of these facts were already known but were ignored or rejected because they did not fit into what was culturally or scientifically acceptable and were not connected with each other in a meaningful way. “Facts are of no value,” said Charles Darwin, “unless they are for or against some point of view.” Considered in relation to each other, the facts presented here profoundly alter our understanding of human sexuality.
This is not a book about love. It is not about the problems people have in relating to one another. It is not about resolving emotional problems, although some of them may vanish as the facts described are applied to people’s lives. Above all, this book is not a panacea for all of the sexual problems faced by humankind. On the other hand, the evidence we present indicates that women and men are more alike sexually than had been previously imagined. This may help to remove barriers between people and bring about a greater understanding of human sexual behavior.
These findings constitute an important step in demystifying Freud’s “dark continent,” which is not quite as dark as it was when he coined that phrase in connection with female sexuality one hundred years ago. But much more research remains to be done. If these new findings are in accord with your beliefs, habits, and attitudes, you will react to them and apply them differently than if they conflict with what you have been taught or are accustomed to doing.
We do not expect anyone to accept what we are saying unconditionally, nor do we want them to. We hope the information will be considered, validated, or rejected, depending on experience, and acted upon where appropriate. We also hope that it will be subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny. This book is not intended primarily for the scientific community but for everyone who is interested in human sexuality. For those who wish to further investigate the scientific evidence, additional technical information is provided in the reference notes and appendixes.
Theoretically, information can be considered by itself. In practice, however, it cannot be separated from the personal and social context in which it is received. Therefore, in addition to offering information, we hope that this book will provide support for many of our readers who have been denying their perceptions of their own bodies in an effort to conform to whatever beliefs about sexuality have been foisted upon them.
For example, a woman brought up to believe that only men ejaculate may conclude that she is ill, weird, or in some other way defective if she does ejaculate. Just reading this book may offer her enough support to affirm her own experience. If someone else reads the book with her, that is even better. Research has shown that it takes only one supportive person to help most individuals stand up against group pressure.1
One way the opinions of others affect us, especially if they are disapproving, is that they cause us anxiety, which often produces undesirable physiological reactions in our bodies. Although the particular manifestations vary from person to person, anxiety tends to alter the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, and sexual behavior is intimately connected with autonomic functioning. Sometimes we are exposed, simultaneously, to information that is contradictory. We have been in that position with regard to female sexuality for at least the last thirty years. Contradictory information creates confusion. When it concerns such an intimate aspect of our lives as sexual expression, it is also likely to create a lot of anxiety.
One reason for writing this book is to reduce that dissonance and achieve the integration and understanding that these new findings make possible. By providing this information, we do not wish to establish a sexual Olympics with new and ever more demanding standards of performance. That would also evoke anxiety and is exactly the opposite of what we have in mind. These findings confirm a variety of sexual experience and refute the contradictory either/or orthodoxies that have produced such dissension and distress in recent years. There is not one ideal way but a continuum of experiences. If you want to move along that continuum in one direction or another, we hope that you will be able to use the information in this book to help you enhance your pleasure and reinforce your feelings of self-worth.
index: female orgasm