You believe a total lie about your own body.
Once upon a time, that time being 1982, there was sex. And then, suddenly, there was sex.
The difference? A teensy half-inch ribbed nub on the upper front wall of your vagina. Scientists—and magazines (hi) and books and sex-toy companies and movies and TV shows and your roommates and your sex-ed teacher—reported that it was a universal key to The Mysterious Female Orgasm. And thus began the era when you were supposed to be able to say “it blew my mind” to your girlfriends at brunch.
Or was it three inches wide? Farther down, near your vulva? Slick instead of ribbed? Kinda springy to the touch?
Whatever, it was it. And fuck if we all didn’t work hard to find our own. Back in 1982, Cosmo told women to get there by “squatting” so it would be easier “to stick one or two fingers inside the vagina” and make the necessary “come-hither motion.” A 2020 Google search turns up thousands of road maps (“where is the G-spot?” has been searched more times than Michaels Jordan and Jackson). That cute-adjacent guy you slept with in college tried the classic pile-drive maneuver, to middling success.
But it must not matter, because the G-spot economy is booming: G-spot vibrators, G-spot condoms, G-spot lube, G-spot workshops, and, for the particularly daring and/or Goop-inspired, $1,800 G-spot shots meant to plump yours for extra pleasure.
Hell, even Merriam-Webster is in on it: The G-spot is a “highly erogenous mass of tissue” in every dictionary it prints.
So then why, when we talked to the woman who helped “discover” it, did she tell us we’ve all been obsessed with the wrong thing?
THAT WOMAN IS Beverly Whipple, PhD. She and a team of researchers officially coined the term “G-spot” in the early ’80s. They named the thing, which they described as a “sensitive” “small bean,” for German researcher Ernst Gräfenberg (yeah, a dude). And just like that, your most frustrating fake body part was born.
Honestly, it all got out of hand from there, says Whipple. Her team wasn’t saying that each and every woman has a G-spot. (“Women are capable of experiencing sexual pleasure many different ways,” she insists to Cosmo now. “Everyone is unique.”) And despite that bean analogy, they didn’t mean it was a spot spot. They were talking about an “area” that could simply make some women feel good. But the media (hi again!) preferred the neat and tidy version and ran with it like a sexual cure-all.
Researchers did too. In 2012, a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine proclaimed that of course the G-spot was real. It just wasn’t a bean. It was actually an 8.1- by 3.6-millimeter “rope-like” piece of anatomy, a “blue” and “grape-like” sac. This revelation came from gynecologic surgeon Adam Ostrzenski, MD, PhD, after his study of an 83-year-old woman’s cadaver. (He went on to sell “G-spotplasty” treatments to women.) Over the years, lots of other researchers found the G-spot to be lots of other things: “a thick patch of nerves,” “the urethral sponge,” “a gland,” “a bunch of nerves.”
For the most part, though, the thing that women were supposed to find has remained a mystery to the experts telling them to find it. Dozens of trials used surveys, pathologic specimens, imaging, and biochemical markers to try to pinpoint the elusive G-spot once and for all.
In 2006, a biopsy of women’s vaginas turned up nothing.
In 2012, a group of doctors reviewed every single piece of known data on record and found no proof that the G-spot exists.
In 2017, in the most recent and largest postmortem study to date done on 13 cadavers, researchers looked again: still nothing.
“It’s not like pushing an elevator button or a light switch,” asserts Barry Komisaruk, PhD, a neuroscientist at Rutgers University. “It’s not a single thing.”
“I don’t think we have any evidence that the G-spot is a spot or a structure,” says Nicole Prause, PhD, a neuroscientist who studies orgasms and sexual arousal. “I’ve never understood why it was interpreted as some new sexual organ. You can’t standardize a vagina—there is no consistency across women as to where exactly we experience pleasure.”
Sure, she says, some women might have an area inside their vaginas that contains a bunch of smaller, super-sensitive areas. But some women say that when they follow Cosmo’s old two-finger come-hither advice, they feel discomfort or like they have to pee. Others feel nothing at all. Because for them, there’s nothing there.
NOW FOR THE TRICKIEST PART of this story—and, TBH, the reason this is even a story at all. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, there are still lots of G-spot believers, many of them super-smart, well-meaning sex educators. They’re a pretty heated group (one hung up on us when we called for an interview) and not…entirely…wrong. Their point is: If a woman believes she’s found her G-spot, that should outweigh any lack of science. And specifically, if someone claims to have experienced G-spot pleasure, it seems “bizarre” to shut her down, says Kristen Mark, PhD, a sex educator at the University of Kentucky. “That feels like going backward.”
Fair. It’s just that, as Prause points out, “women deserve accurate information about their bodies.” Can’t we have our pleasure—and the truth too?
As Prause said (and this bears repeating), for some women, there is sexual sensitivity where the G-spot is supposed to be. But for others, there’s none. Or it’s to the left. Or it’s in a few places. And that’s kind of the whole point. It’s all okay. It can all feel good.
What everyone can agree on is that we need more research. Women’s sexual health is vastly understudied, and the scientific hurdles are borderline absurd. In 2015, Prause tried to get a trial going at UCLA that would study orgasms in women who were, you know, actually alive. The board heard her out but wanted a promise that her test subjects “wouldn’t climax” because they didn’t like the optics of women orgasming in their labs. (As you’ve already guessed, the study wasn’t approved.)
So yeah, a new kind of thinking about female pleasure is going to take a minute for certain people to get on board with. Like those brunch friends who go on and on about G-spot rapture. And like men, who might love the idea of the G-spot best of all. A G-spot orgasm requires penetration, which just so happens to be the way most guys prefer to get off. “If you’ve got a penis, it would be super convenient if the way the person with a vagina has pleasure is for you to put your penis in their vagina,” says Emily Nagoski, PhD, author of Come as You Are, a book that explores the science of female sexuality. Related: 80 percent of the men in Cosmo’s survey said they believe every woman has a G-spot; nearly 60 percent called it the “best way” for a female partner to achieve pleasure. (“Once you rally enough experience like myself, you can find it on every girl,” one supremely confident guy told us.)
Just like it did for women, the G-spot gave men a universal performance metric and the “cultural message that pleasure for women happens by pounding on their vaginas with your penis,” says Nagoski.
Things were thisclose to going in a much better direction. “In the early ’80s, there was research that was really putting the clitoris front and center,” explains Nagoski. “Then along came the G-spot research, creating this pressure for women to be orgasmic from vaginal stimulation even though most women’s bodies just aren’t wired that way. And if you really think about why vaginal stimulation matters so much, it’s because it puts the focus on male pleasure.”
GO AHEAD AND let that sink in while we gear up to talk about the fallout. Not only the sexual frustration (although that, definitely that) but also the giant emotional burden the G-spot unwittingly dropped on all of us. Turns out, the thing that was supposed to awaken and equalize our sex lives came with a really shitty side effect: shame.
More than half of the women in Cosmo’s survey reported feeling inadequate or frustrated knowing that others are able to orgasm in a way they can’t. Eleven percent said this made them avoid sex entirely. “I have friends who say they always climax from intercourse alone and they’re like, ‘You just haven’t found it yet,’” says Alyssa, a Cosmo reader. “It’s like they’re the lucky ones.”
That’s why on one recent Tuesday, another Cosmo reader, Beth, found herself sitting in a room that looked oddly like a vagina—low, pink light, a candle burning softly nearby—getting her first round of G-spot homework. She and her husband had hired a sex therapist to help them feel more in sync sexually. Basically, he wanted it a lot more than she did, probably because she was still waiting for something…bigger. “I can have a clitoral orgasm,” she says. “But knowing that there’s something better, I wanted to experience that.”
The couple’s take-home tasks were a checklist of “sexy” moves, designed to help them find Beth’s G-spot so she could have The Orgasm. “The night we did doggy-style, it felt…god, there was the sound of skin smacking and my husband asking me if it was working. It was terrible.” (We fact-checked this with Beth’s husband. Oh yeah, “it sucked.”) After that, they gave up.
Other couples are still searching: 22 percent of guys say that finding a woman’s G-spot is the number one goal of sex, which helps explain the 31 percent of women who say they’re dealing with exasperated partners. Prause worries about that. She says: “You’ll hear guys say things like, ‘My last girlfriend wasn’t this much work,’ or ‘You take a long time to orgasm,’ or ‘This worked for the last person I slept with.’ That makes women question if they’re normal. And that, we hate.”
WHICH IS WHY we’re calling off the search. We’re done with the damn “spot” and we’re sorry, again, that we ever brought it up. And actually: Unless sex researchers make a surprisingly major breakthrough, Cosmo won’t be publishing any more G-spot sex positions or “how to find it” guides.
“What would truly be revolutionary for women’s sex lives is to engage with what research has found all along: the best predictors of sexual satisfaction are intimacy and connection,” adds Debby Herbenick, PhD, a professor at Indiana University School of Public Health and a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute.
The science world is revolutionizing, too, trying to figure out how to rebrand the G-spot into something more (and by “more,” we mean actually) accurate. Whipple stands by her “area.” Italian researchers have suggested renaming it the somewhat less sexy “clitoral vaginal urethral complex.” Herbenick has her own ideas: “First of all, it should not be named after a man. It’s a female body we’re talking about, and just because a man wrote about it doesn’t mean he was the first to understand or experience it.” But anyway, she’d go with “zone.”
As for us, we’re going to kick off this new era with a 100 percent G-spot-free piece of smarter, wiser sex advice, courtesy of Nagoski: “If it feels good, you’re doing it right.” Call that whatever you want.
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