The XX Factor

The Persistent Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm

Sex shop
A sex shop in the Paris district of Pigalle

Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images.

Between the recent flare-up over whether or not upper-middle-class housewives are merely the most awesome people ever or the greatest bestest awesomest people ever and yet another well-trafficked story claiming to “prove” that there’s a G-spot on scientifically flimsy evidence, I’m beginning to think our culture has a hang-up. The prefeminist ideal of woman existing as an appendage for man, where her vocation is as his support staff and even her sexual pleasure is oriented around sexual penetration, simply isn’t the cultural norm anymore, but the fantasy lives on.

Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling you have a G-spot and playing with it, of course! The scientific evidence is inconclusive. There may be one or may not be one or maybe some women have them and some don’t. All are possible. What we do know is that plenty of women enjoy stimulating that spot, and they should go forward and do that and have fun with it. Of course, much of the best anecdotal information we have on the G-spot actually undermines the sexist fantasy that it’s a way to get a woman off without having to do things that don’t directly involve the penis, usually because it means you have to use toys or fingers to get to it.

But I suspect it’s not just some desire for women to get off in diverse ways that makes the G-spot such an object of fascination. Most people have no education in the elaborate, finger-based methods of getting to it, and just assume that it has something to do with that elusive “vaginal orgasm” where women get off directly from intercourse. Debby Herbenick’s excellent Daily Beast article demonstrates how much the G-spot is imagined as an intercourse-oriented thing in the public imagination, from the photo illustrating the story (a couple in the throes of intercourse) and the question Herbenick says she gets frequently from reporters: “What are the best sex positions for G-Spot orgasms?” The answer, from what I understand, is “no position, but an act that is not an intercourse position,” but that’s boring. That’s a narrative that doesn’t appeal to our fantasy that intercourse is the end-all, be-all of sex. That’s a narrative that returns us to that disappointing reality that women may need more than the in-and-out to get off.

It’s strange that in an era where Dan Savage is the national love guru, sex toy shops proliferate, and men’s magazines are publishing paeans to cunnilingus that there’s still a cultural obsession with finding that magic bullet that will obligate all women to get off from intercourse alone, lest they be deemed sexually insufficient. (The researchers in this latest study hinted at this, by saying their discovery will lead to the “improvement of female sexual function,” as if the current clitoral model is just insufficient and needs improvement.) In a way, I have to wonder if it’s really about sex at all, or if these fantasies are just another way to express cultural fears that feminism somehow means that women don’t need men anymore.