Source: Best Health Magazine, May 2012
It’s difficult to believe how little science understands the female orgasm, including how we experience clitoral versus vaginal orgasms. The source of clitoral orgasms is obvious: They result from clitoral stimulation with or without vaginal penetration. What has eluded science is the source of vaginal orgasms, pleasure that occurs with penetration but without clitoral stimulation. Now researchers are closer than ever to an anatomical explanation as to why some women do’and some don’t’experience vaginal orgasms. And it has everything to do with what we know as the G spot’which, it turns out, is not technically a spot at all.
As one of the authors of The G Spot and Other Discoveries about Human Sexuality, Beverly Whipple is the scientist famous for making the G spot a household term starting in 1982 (although it’s named after German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg, who first did research on the subject in the U.S. in the 1940s). Despite the book’s title, ‘we never stated that the area was an anatomical entity,’ says Whipple, a professor emerita at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., where she still contributes to groundbreaking studies with behavioural neuroscientist Barry Komisaruk on the biology and neurophysiology of orgasms. ‘We said it was an area you can feel through the anterior vaginal wall [the side nearest the belly], not something on the vaginal wall,’ she points out, still seemingly baffled by the widespread misinterpretation.
Even researchers seem to get it wrong. Two years ago, when a King’s College study in the U.K. could not find a genetic link for theG spot’s presence in twins (a possible hallmark of a biological finding), it sparked headlines such as ‘G spot does not exist.’ But Whipple says the scientists didn’t ask the right question: ‘They asked twins if they felt they had a specific structure on the wall, not through the wall.’ While the King’s College study has been widely discounted for that reason, the truth is that, quite simply, the G spot is not a spot; it is something much more complex.
It’s more like a ‘G zone’
Komisaruk, a Rutgers University distinguished professor of psychology, prefers to call the area the ‘G zone’ or ‘G region.’ ‘We now have clear evidence as to how some women can experience pleasure through [stimulating] the anterior vaginal wall.’ Researchers have studied cadavers, and have also used imaging devices such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to look inside live women while their anterior vaginal wall was being either selfstimulated or stimulated with a penis. What did they find? ‘The women experienced pressure against a confluence of structures’all of which make up the G zone’ including the anterior vaginal wall, Skene’s glands [sometimes referred to as the female prostate] and the clitoral ‘legs,’ ‘ he says.
Huh? It turns out that the external nub of the clitoris is only the tip of a much larger structure. Internally, the clitoris is shaped like a wishbone, with two extensions or ‘legs’ that straddle the vagina, explains gynecologist Dr. John Lamont, a, sexual medicine specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ont. The new theory behind vaginal orgasms is that they are a result of pressure applied against all of these structures, scientifically called the ‘CUV area’ (short for clitorourethro-vaginal area).
So is a vaginal orgasm really just a kind of clitoral orgasm, stimulated internally? Based on Komisaruk’s research, the answer is no, for two reasons. First, he used functional MRI to map how women’s brains ‘light up’ depending on where we are stimulated. ‘Different nerves carry the sensation from the vagina, clitoris and cervix to the same region of the sensory cortex in the brain,’ he says. ‘The mapping shows that the vagina and the cervix have their own sensory pathways, distinctly different from the clitoral sensory pathway.’
Second, Komisaruk studied women who were paralyzed from the waist down yet were able to experience self-stimulated vaginal orgasm even when their clitoris had no sensation. When the clitoris is stimulated, the pudendal nerve carries sensory data through the spinal cord to the brain, resulting in a clitoral orgasm. But Komisaruk’s research found that when the clitoral sensation is blocked by a spinal cord injury, vaginal and cervical sensation could still occur via a newly recognized nerve pathway. It’s called the vagus nerve,a long, cranial nerve that meanders through the abdomen with branches extending out into other parts of the body’including,if Komisaruk is right, into the CUV area.
Each woman is different
What does all this new science really mean? If you have yet to experience a vaginal orgasm, there’s the possibility that your internal structure, or CUV area, may not be ‘built’ in such a way that it is sensitive to stimulation. According to several studies by Dr. Emmanuele Jannini, a professor of endocrinology and sexology at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, there are significant differences among women in the thickness of this CUV area.
Jannini found that the larger the CUV area (measured by ultrasound on live subjects), the greater the ability to have a vaginal orgasm. The reason? He theorizes it’s because a bigger area means more blood vessels, muscles, glands, etc. Jannini has also studied cadavers and found that some have minimal CUV areas. ‘I am absolutely sure that the cadavers I studied that were almost devoid of nerves, glands, vessels and muscles in the CUV would have had a lot of anatomical difficulties, when alive, to experience a vaginally activated orgasm.’
Bottom line: ‘For lots of women, vaginal orgasms are just not possible without added genital stimulation,’ says Lamont, ‘but only because they have limited sensitivity in the area, not because there is something wrong or dysfunctional in them. Some women are sensitive in their nipples. Some like to have their armpits kissed. Simply, all women have different primary erogenous zones.’
What’s best: A vaginal or clitoral orgasm?
Those erogenous differences may reassure, and should not dishearten, the two thirds of women estimated to never be able to experience vaginal orgasms. Lamont adds that the number of women having them is higher if they use the ‘bridge manoeuvre”intercourse and clitoral stimulation at the same time.
For the record, there is no evidence that vaginal orgasms feel better or more powerful than clitoral orgasms, says Whipple. In fact, based on anecdotal evidence, women describe clitoral orgasms as being just as intense as those from other forms of stimulation. Says Jannini, ‘The vaginally elicited orgasm’is just another option, not something better.’
‘If anything, vaginal orgasms are a little more mellow,’ suggests Trina Read, a sex coach in Calgary. She bases this on her own clients’ descriptions and on widespread anecdotal stories. Read encourages women not to get frustrated or impatient. ‘It’s not something that happens by accident. You need to learn how your body works and what turns you on and off, and understand how to make it work for you.’
Experts interviewed for this article all shared a final thought similar to this one from Read: ‘Couples place too much emphasis on orgasms in general; it’s the downfall to good sex. Really, the focus should be on sensuality, and seeing what happens from there.’
Perhaps no one is more exasperated by society’s obsession with goal-based sex than Whipple, who in various books and articles over the years has identified 36 different areas of the body that create pleasure through touch-stimulation. ‘All I want to do is to encourage women to enjoy what they enjoy.’