This one thing you must remember, whenever you consider any aspect of women’s sexuality:
Without that single fact, nothing you learn about women’s sexuality will make any sense. I’ll talk a little about why they vary later in this post, but in the meantime just remember:
“Unfortunately, we can’t seem to prove it scientifically, in the sense that we can’t find an area with more nerves. On individual scans we can’t see any part of the vagina that appears different with respect to blood flow or amount of nerves or anything like that.”
Is it correct that scientists can’t find the g-spot?
No it is not.
So let’s see if I can explain:
(1) what is correct: women vary;
(2) why doctors get it wrong: mostly because they’re paying attention to research that measures either the wrong thing or the wrong people; and
(3) what to tell people who don’t understand: that women vary, that we can see highly sensitive tissue being stimulated with penetration among women who have orgasms with vaginal stimulation, and that it’s a bad, bad scene when doctors try to tell women that what they experience can’t be measured.
Okay here we go:
(1) The correct answer is: women vary.
Question: “Does the g-spot exist?”
Answer: “Women vary.”
Women vary both (a) in our anatomical geography, and (b) in terms of what contexts provide erotic stimulation to that geography.
(a) To begin with, women vary in our anatomical geography.
If you have female genitals, then you have an area between your vagina and your urethra. And there’s a lot going on there. There’s the urethral sponge, the vestibular bulbs (corpus spongiosum of the clitoris), the urethra itself, the vagina itself, the musculature… and precisely how this is laid out is different for you than it is for every single other person with female genitals. Unique. No two alike.
Like with faces. We’re all born with a face that has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth in predictable places — in the places they need to be, given our evolutionary heritage — but varied enough that we can tell each other apart.
Ditto our genitals. The parts of our genital anatomy that really matter are not FUNCTIONALLY different — just as our faces are not functionally different — they’re only different in minor structural ways. Yet those minor structural differences are enough to make a noticeable difference in a woman’s proneness to g-spot sensitivity.
There’s a strong — though still contested— argument about why women’s genitals differ so much: essentially, a whole lot about the geography of our genitals is completely uninteresting to evolution, so evolution has let our genitals roam pretty freely; so some women have urethral sponges, vestibular bulbs etc, of the shape, size, and location that results in great stimulation with intercourse (depending, of course, on the shape and size of whatever is penetrating them) and other women don’t.
Regardless of why, women vary, and we vary in ways that influence our sexual response.
There are male examples of this, too! For example, did you know that the angle at which the corpora cavernosa attach to the puboischial rami has strong relationship with erectile functioning? That angle impacts how effectively blood is retained in the penis during arousal. Wide angle, more blood drainage, less reliable erection. Small differences in anatomy can make noticeable differences in functionality.
The nerd way of putting this is — to quote the research —
“The histological “picture” of the G-spot is very well defined, but this “picture” changes when comparing anterior vaginal walls from different women. This explains contrasting data on this anatomical region as well the different ways to define it.”
(b) Women also vary in how they respond to stimulation in which contexts.
Pressure against the front wall of the vagina will stimulate that complex of tissue. Will it feel pleasurable to you? Maybe, and only in the right context, because perception of sensation is context dependent.
My old standby example of this is tickling: if you’re in a great, flirty mood and your partner tickles you, that can feel positive and even lead to some nookie. But if you’re pissed off with your partner and they tickle you… you want to smack them.
Same goes for g-spot stimulation. If you’re in a great, sex positive context, especially if you’re already aroused, then you might find the sensation of pressure on the anterior wall of the vagina pleasurable. If you’re in a negative, stressed out, untrusting, unaroused state, then you might not — in fact you probably won’t. And, analogous with tickling, some people will never like it, while others will be suckers for it under almost any conditions.
So you’ve got that now? Let’s try it out:
ME: Does the g-spot exist?
YOU: __________ ________.
That’s right. Nice job.
On to task (2)
(2) Why people get this wrong.
Papers with exciting titles like A Prospective Study Examining the Anatomic Distribution of Nerve Density in the Human Vagina are referred to with the suggestion that because there is, on average, no area of denser innervation or bloodflow, there is no “thing” there.
There are three problems with using these arguments:
(a) They’re trying to draw a conclusion about “women” as a population, when women, as individuals, vary too much for that kind of generalizations.
If I measured the density of nerve endings under your left ear and under your right ear, there’s a possibility that one might be more densely innervated than the other.
But if I measure the density under 21 people’s right and left ears and average everyone’s sides together, that difference in sensitivity won’t exist… “on average.” This is fourth grade math, right? Like, the average of 2 and 12 is 7; that doesn’t make both 2 and 12 equal to 7.
So listen to this juicy tidbit of research methodology:
“One subject was noted to have 250 nerves noted at the cuff site [the vaginal cuff is the surgically constructed replacement for the cervix, created following hysterectomy —that’s problem (b)] only; this specimen was excluded from analysis as an outlier [emphasis mine]. Vaginal innervation was relatively uniform, with nerves noted throughout the vagina.
So let’s just think this through: evidently, women varied in the consistency of innervation of the vagina — one varied so much that they removed her highly innervated area from the analysis because she would have skewed the results.
And the conclusions is… women’s innervation doesn’t vary across the vagina?
Of course there was no denser innervation “on average.” Measures of central tendency are not how you measure something that varies from woman to woman.
(b) They’re measuring the wrong people.
The reality is, about a quarter, maybe a third of women are orgasmic from “unassisted intercourse” — that is, vaginal stimulation alone, without additional clitoral stimulation. This population of women has been found to be more sensitive to g-spot stimulation and, moreover, to have a thicker urethrovaginal space.
Here, I drew a pie chart of the go-to meta-analysis of orgasmicity with intercourse: (It’s awkward because there’s overlap among the groups, so it doesn’t really add up to 100, but it’ll give you the idea.)
The paper that excluded the woman’s densely innervated vaginal area? It involved 21 women who were “undergoing vaginal surgery for prolapse and incontinence.” The researchers don’t report having assessed for whether or not the women said they were reliably orgasmic with intercourse, though they did assess for sexual dysfunction — they weren’t dysfunctional in terms of orgasm, though half struggled with desire or arousal.
So if we go ahead and assume this is an average population, then at least two thirds of them are not reliably orgasmic from intercourse alone. So no wonder the researchers didn’t find anything.
This imaging paper involves only women who report not having a g-spot. Result? Researchers didn’t identify a g-spot.
By contrast, this sonography paper (PDF) studied five women who do report having orgasms from penetration alone. Result? Researchers saw how the internal structures of the clitoris could be stimulated through the vaginal wall. Not the originally hypothesized urethral sponge, but an anatomical correlate of the women’s experience.
Perhaps above all, this paper, which specifically looked at the correlation between urethrovaginal tissue and vaginal orgasmicity found a very strong correlation indeed.
Researcher find urethrovaginal anatomical structures correlated with vaginally-stimulated orgasm in women who have vaginally stimulated orgasms.
They don’t in women who don’t.
(The King’s College study that got all the media attention? It didn’t even look. It was a study investigating genetic, not anatomical, correlates, and didn’t find any; the authors therefore concluded that, “there is no physical basis for the g-spot.” *headdesk*)
And (c) They’re measuring the wrong thing.
I honestly do not understand why nerve density in the vagina is taken as a measurement related to the g-spot. The g-spot is accessed through the vagina; it isn’t in the vagina.
The g-spot confirmatory research gets this right. In a riveting description of a sonogram of a woman’s entire internal genital structure, the structure with a finger in the vagina, and the structure with an erect penis in the vagina, Buisson and Foldès write:
When the patient locates her own G-spot with her finger, the echoes of the finger are found at close proximity to the clitoris root and the pressure movement of the finger displaces the cavernous bodies and bulbs.
If the root of the clitoris containing cavernous bodies, venous Kobelt plexuses, and bulbs are related to the anterior vaginal wall, why would it not play a part in the vaginal pleasure?
It becomes obvious that the coitus creates a completely different anatomical entity due to modification of the way in which the organs are related to each other. The sonography of coitus provides us with the following findings: the root of the clitoris is ascending and completely widened by the penis. During the thrusting, the anterior vaginal wall is crushed against the root of the clitoris…
(Again, this is a description of a woman who has orgasms with intercourse.)
A different version of “measuring the wrong thing” turns up in this paper, in which the skeptical authors critique another paper in which the area between the vagina and the urethra was successfully visualized and correlated with vaginal orgasm. Their critique is this:
While the authors did find that the urethrovaginal space was thicker in women who had a vaginal orgasm vs. a clitoral one [NB from Emily: the correlation was a giant r = .88], the team was unable to directly demonstrate that the difference in thickness of this anatomical space had any relationship to the initiation of or involvement in orgasm.
Which really is just a slightly sour-grapes way of acknowledging that science is a process and you assemble pieces of the answer in a painstaking and gradual way. It’s like saying, “Sure you took a picture of it, sure you measured it, sure it’s correlated strongly it with the behavior in question, but can you PROVE IT?”
No, of course not. No one can prove anything. We assemble evidence, try to fit the pieces together, and try to explain the rules that govern the way the pieces fit.
And the third version of “measuring the wrong thing” comes from the “bloodflow” arguments.
Anyone with familiar with the nonconcordance research can just read this one sentence and then skip to the next section: they try to identify the g-spot by measuring bloodflow, and there’s no reason to expect bloodflow should be correlated with anything at all, because: nonconcordance.
“Nonconcordance” is the very well established phenomenon of bloodflow to the genitals not always matching perceived arousal. There’s a stable gender difference in nonconcordance— in men the overlap between genital response and subjective arousal is about 50% and the in women it’s about 10%.
So the argument that no extra, specific bloodflow is going anywhere that research can identify is not very compelling, because bloodflow to a woman’s genitals doesn’t tell us much about her subjective arousal and pleasure.
(3) What to tell people who don’t understand
So, to sum up: women vary, such that for some women there’s some kind of something happening anatomically between the urethra and the vagina. It’s been measured.
The next time you meet someone who says there is no such thing as a “g-spot” — especially if it’s your doctor! — please tell them at least one of these three things:
(a) Women vary. We vary in our anatomical geography and in what constitutes an “erotic context.” Some of us have erotic sensitivity in our urethrovaginal areas. Some do in the right context. Some never do.
(b) Which is why research results vary. In studies of women who report having g-spots, researchers find g-spots. In studies of women who do not report having g-spots, researchers don’t find g-spots.
(c) It’s pretty not-okay for a medical provider to say things in public, generalizing women’s experiences and bodies, when women’s experiences and bodies can’t be generalized.
It is, from a sociopolitical perspective, uncomfortable to hear a doctor — especially but not exclusively a male doctor — say, “Women SAY they have this experience, but WE CAN’T MEASURE IT,” since there’s sort of this implied, “And so therefore… ya, women are a little…” followed by a finger moving in circles in the air around their ear.
Which I believe is unintentional… but given the relationship women have historically had with the medical community, that feeling is just sort of there, waiting to be activated, and these doctors are just walking right into that particular wall.
It would help, of course, if scientists could be a little clearer in the language they use — for example, by not using the language of “does it exist.” When scientists say “it doesn’t exist,” what they really mean is something like, “It’s not the urethral sponge, it’s the vestibular bulbs” or similar. They don’t mean that there’s nothing there. (All those links, btw, are articles by this one guy, who is clearly on a mission to debunk the urethral sponge hypothesis. He also does this, if you’re interested.)
Scientists should be more precise and instead talk about “how it works” and “who it works for” and “in what contexts.”
Because clearly something exists! Everyone agrees that there is A Thing in some women. Nobody is entirely sure what that thing is, and the more we try to figure it out, the more we figure out all kinds of other things about women’s sexuality, and that is 100% pure awesome. Totally.
The research on women’s sexual response is still quite small and young. I am MASSIVELY IN FAVOR of further exploration of the fascinating questions of just what the hell exactly is going on down there.
But I hope you’ll remember this the next time you hear something or read something or someone says something about the g-spot “not existing.” The answer is: women vary.
We vary in our anatomical geography.
We vary in what contexts that cue us to perceive the world as erotic.
We vary in how much the bloodflow to our genitals matches our perceived arousal.
We vary in how much it bothers us if our doctor says to us, “Oh no, there’s no such thing as the g-spot” when actually we totally have a g-spot, or, the reverse, when our doctor says, “There’s definitely a g-spot,” and we’ve never felt anything of the kind, despite trying to find it.
And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.