The Big O

You may have come across some stories in the media this week about a scientific paper that led to headlines such as, “Everything you know about women’s orgasms is wrong.” Having read this paper and then seeing the inaccurate and sexist reporting of it I felt the need to blog about it. Let’s talk orgasms!*

For those of you who would like to read the paper you can find it here. The authors of the paper reviewed the current scientific evidence around the anatomy of the female erectile organs (yep, both sexes get erections) and triggers for orgasm. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the women who participated in these studies but let’s all give a moment of thanks for them doing so (although I would argue that some of these undoubtedly uncomfortable experiences could have been avoided with research that valued women’s perceptions of their own sexual experiences rather than asking them to physically perform it for Science). Let’s take a look at some of the findings:

The G-spot does not exist

To be honest I am in no way surprised by this. I have never heard a woman in real-life (i.e. not in a movie or television show) talk about how good her sex-life is because of her sexual partner's ability to hit her G-spot. In fact I’ve never heard a woman talk about the G-spot full stop (and I have some very open friends who would be more than happy to talk about it if it actually existed).

The review concluded that, “all published scientific data indicates that the G-spot does not exist.” One featured researcher within the article even went as far as to say, “The G-spot belongs in the same category as angels and unicorns.” This finding is particularly disturbing considering that some plastic surgeons offer a procedure called a G-spotplasty that increases the size and sensitivity of the mythical G-spot (this is not a procedure recommended by professional groups such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists due to the lack of evidence).

There is no such thing as female ejaculation

This one was slightly more surprising for me as I swear I once had a friend tell me that she ejaculated (she used the word ‘squirted’) on her partner’s face after he performed oral sex on her (if you’re not comfortable with open discussion of women’s bodies and sex this is not the blog for you). Or maybe it was mentioned in a movie? Funny how those get confused…

The review found no evidence for the appearance of fluid coming from the vagina or urethra (the hole that you pee from located near the vagina). The authors suggest the term ‘female emission’ may be more accurate to describe the small amount of substance secreted from glands around the vagina, with the acknowledgement that in some women this may be a “powerful emission.”

Vaginal orgasm does not exist

Umm, what now?! Pretty sure almost every depiction of women’s sexual pleasure includes mention of vaginal orgasm. Yikes. The fact that the term ‘vaginal orgasm’ was invented by Freud probably should have warned someone earlier than the year 2014 that it may not exist…

The vagina actually has no anatomical structure that could cause an orgasm, according to the authors. Some of you may be thinking, ‘But I’ve definitely felt something going on in that area during an orgasm!’ You may well have. The authors state that these sensations are caused by the surrounding erectile organs; not the vagina itself. This goes a long way in explaining why most women don’t orgasm with vaginal-penis sexual intercourse only. The penis rarely comes into contact with the clitoris during such activity and therefore can’t stimulate it (but you could do so with your/your partner’s hands while having intercourse). This means that ‘failure’ to orgasm during sexual intercourse is not a sexual dysfunction as it’s commonly labelled; it can’t be a dysfunction if doesn’t exist! Women are owed an apology about this right about now...

Other interesting tid-bits:

  • The clitoris is the primary sexual organ for women (well duh) and its only known function is for “erotic” pleasure (damn straight).
  • The labia minora (the folds of skin at the entry of the vagina; the 'underneath' part you would get waxed if you had a brazilian) also play a role in sexual stimulation (consider paying them some attention, or directing your partner to, if you don't already).
  • The authors suggest that health professionals refer to orgasms in women as ‘female orgasms’ (and never as ‘vaginal orgasms’) to be accurate and consistent with the term used for men (male orgasm).
  • Female orgasm is thought to be possible in all women (although I believe there would be a very small minority for whom it may not be for various reasons) with effective stimulation of the clitoris via masturbation, oral sex, partner masturbation, and during intercourse if it occurs with stimulation of the clitoris (using your/your partner’s hand or other device).

But I swear I can feel a G-spot/I’ve ejaculated/had a vaginal orgasm!

It’s possible that you have and science just hasn’t quite figured out how to recognise such experiences. It’s also possible that you experienced certain sensations that you interpreted as being one of these things because it fit in with something you had heard about women’s bodies. People interpret their experiences in terms of their view of the world; this view is shaped by what we encounter in the media, through health professionals, in sexual education, and many other sources.

So how did all these myths come to be so common?

It really annoys me that an article such as this is being published in 2014 and not 1914! There are many factors that contribute to the poor understanding of women’s sexual satisfaction (and women's bodies in general). Much of this has to do with how we as a society view women and their bodies. Have you ever noticed that men are encouraged to experiment with their bodies through masturbation from a young age while this is seen as ‘wrong’ for adolescent girls? Or how it is acceptable for men to have multiple sexual partners - in fact it is often see as a desirable trait - while women are meant to ‘save themselves’ for only a few (or one)? You get the pattern.

Another contributing factor is that much of medical research has been conducted on men and their bodies. For example, many women have gone (and continue to be) undiagnosed and untreated for heart attacks because they play out differently in women compared to men (whom most of the research has been conducted with) and health professionals weren’t/aren’t able to recognise the symptoms. Unfortunately the authors of this review paper continue this idea of men’s bodies being the standard of what all bodies ‘should’ be with their constant referencing of women’s bodies in relation to men’s. For example, throughout the paper they often refer to the clitoris as the ‘female penis.’ It would be more useful (and respectful to women) to discuss women’s bodies as individual rather than a ‘version’ of man. 

The science and medical communities have a long history of talking about women but rarely talking to them; women need to be appropriately represented in all research.

Climax Conclusion

Before I sign off I’d like to note that women’s sexual pleasure isn’t the sole burden of women. A satisfying sexual encounter involves both parties (or more if that’s your thing) being informed on how things work; a difficult feat with all of the misinformation circulating (among other factors).  Male partners have a responsibility to be informed about such things (and no, this does not mean reading the latest men’s health magazine); talking to their partner is likely to be the most accurate way of gauging their wants and needs. I speculate that same-sex couples wouldn't quite be faced with this same problem for many reasons including that they are less burdened by gendered stereotypes (although more burdened by issues stemming from homophobia); please correct me if you know otherwise.

I hope you find this blog post interesting and perhaps even helpful in interpreting the sensations of your body and achieving the level of sexual satisfaction you desire. Conversations such as these are so important in ensuring that all women can act on their right to feel sexual pleasure (some may choose not to but we are all entitled to the option).

Happy sexual escapading!

Kate xx

*Please note that I am not an expert in anatomy or physiology. I am applying my skills as a researcher in women’s reproductive health to interpret the findings (and am thus focusing on the psychosocial aspects more so than the biological).

Note. In the paper the authors refer to the clitoris as the ‘clitoral body’ as a way of including the whole organ (not just the knobby part that is often only referred to; see picture below). I have used the term ‘clitoris’ here for ease of reading but it’s worth keeping mind what this actually means (i.e. an organ with various parts).

 All anatomical diagrams were taken from the review paper.