The Science behind the Female Orgasm, a.k.a. the G-Spot

Beverly Whipple, the scientist who is famous for popularizing the G-Spot, offers tips for achieving sexual pleasure.

Topic: Re-discovering the G-Spot

Beverly Whipple: We re-discovered a sensitive area that you feel through the anterior or front top vaginal wall. And doctors John Perry and I named this area after Dr. Ernst Grafenberg, we named it the Grafenberg spot, and that got shortened to the G spot. But Dr. Grafenberg wrote about sensitivity in women, various forms of sensitivity. One of them he wrote about was this sensitivity that you feel through the anterior or the top wall of the vagina. I was teaching women how to do Kegel exercises for a condition called urinary stress incontinence. That’s when a woman jumps, coughs, or sneezes, and dribbles a little urine. And I was teaching this with biofeedback. And what we found was that some women who came to have the stress incontinence treated had very strong pelvic muscles, where women who have stress incontinence, urinary stress incontinence, have weak muscles. And these women with the strong muscles said, “Oh, I only lose some fluid from my urethra, (the tube you urinate through during sexual stimulation) and this seems to be an area in my vagina that when it’s stimulated, it kind of produces this expulsion of fluid.” And so we looked at these women, we identified that this is what Grafenberg had, or others had called female ejaculation. We analyzed the fluid and found it was statistically and significantly different from urine, and it’s about 3 to 5 cc’s, it looks like water-downed, fat-free milk. So we identified the phenomenon of female ejaculation and how the fluid that’s expelled from the urethra is different urine. We then had nurse practitioners or physicians do examinations of 400 women looking for areas of sensitivity in the vagina. And if a woman was lying on her back and fingers were put into the vagina with like a come-here motion, just look at different areas of the vagina like a click, and most women had sensitivity between 11 and 1:00 o’clock, which is the area that we have named the Grafenberg spot. And this area began to swell as it was stimulated.

So we did more research and this is what we found and this is why we named this after Dr. Grafenberg because in 1950, he wrote an article about this female, or this expulsion of fluid and the sensitivity of this area that you feel through the front or top or anterior wall of the vagina.

Question: What are tips for women who have trouble achieving orgasm?

Beverly Whipple: First of all, I try to help women who say they have problems having an orgasmic response. I try to help these women to realize that there’s a wide range of orgasmic responses in women and they have to find out what it is they like and what it is brings them pleasure. And Gina and I, in our book, Safe Encounters, with Glen Ogden, developed something called an extra genital matrix, in which we list 15 types of touch in 36 parts of the body and we give this to people to help map their body using a scale of 1 to 10. What feels good to you? Do you like to have your partner suck on your toes or stroke the back of your neck? And it helps people to become aware of what it is they like. So you have to first become aware of what brings you sensual and sexual pleasure. And then you have to acknowledge this to yourself and say, “Yes, you know, that’s what I do enjoy.” And then the hardest part for most people is to communicate what they find pleasurable, what they like, to their partner. And we can put women, or men really, into a pattern of there’s only one way to respond sensually and sexually. We have many sexual responses and that’s what I try to help women to see, find out what they like, what brings them pleasure, what brings them satisfaction, and then to be able to communicate that to a partner if they choose to have sexual experiences with a partner.

Topic: “Thinking off”

Beverly Whipple: What we have found out is that there are women who can have orgasm from imagery alone, or what my colleague calls “thinking off.” Gina Ogden, who’s a sex therapist, did her doctoral dissertation on easily orgasmic women. And from her sample of women, 64% of the women who are easily orgasmic, stated that they could have orgasm from imagery alone, no touching the body, no looking at anything, just from thinking. And so we had these women come into my human physiology laboratory and we tested their responses from imagery alone and from genital self-stimulation. And we did that in a counter-balanced way so that one would not influence the other. And their orgasmic responses were exactly the same in terms of increases in blood pressure, increases in heart rate, increases in the diameter of the pupil, and their pain and tactile thresholds. There was no significant difference. And so we documented that women do indeed have orgasm from imagery or thinking. And then we have studied some of these same women in the FMRI unit, to look at the areas of the brain that are activated during the orgasm. So yes, women can certainly have pleasurable, sexual responses without the woman, or anyone else, touching her body.

Recorded on October 16, 2009

Beverly Whipple, the scientist who is famous for popularizing the G-Spot, offers tips for achieving sexual pleasure.

Videos
  • A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
  • The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
  • But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.


Do calories even count? Research counters a longstanding assumption.

The calorie is the basic unit of measure of food — and it might be off.

Tourists enjoy a traditional 'Zapiekanka' at Krakow's Main Square. On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Krakow, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • In a new article in 1843, Peter Wilson argues that counting calories is an outdated form of weight management.
  • Research shows that labels are up to 20 percent off true caloric totals; 70 percent in frozen processed foods.
  • Not all digestive systems are created equally; humans process foods at different rates under varying conditions.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.