Shere Hite once told me about her appearance on an American chat show where the host asked her rather patronisingly to tell him about her "greatest hits". Quick as a flash, she said "the clitoris", which isn't a word that's often heard on prime-time US television.
It's 32 years since The Hite Report switched on a light for millions of women who had been agonising over the fact that they didn't seem able to have vaginal orgasms, sending (some) men on a voyage of discovery to find this elusive part of a woman's anatomy. Not as elusive as the G spot, that holy grail for male sexologists whose existence Italian scientists claimed to have established last week; the catch is that not every woman has it, and a test to find the lucky owners is not yet available.
You could just ask your partner, who knows whether or not she has vaginal orgasms – though whether she will tell you is another matter. I remember the girlfriend of a celebrated British journalist squealing in horror when I happened to mention that seminal feminist paper, Anne Koedt's "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm", and casting anxious glances in the great man's direction in case he overheard such heresy.
Women were told by Freud (another great man, but one who got several important things wrong) that "mature" women had vaginal orgasms rather than the girlie, clitoral sort; there are still quite a few women who aren't comfortable mentioning that, while they are aroused by vaginal penetration, it doesn't generally end in orgasm.
No wonder there is such a yearning to prove the existence of the G spot, named not after a woman but a German scientist, Ernst Gräfenberg, who claimed in 1950 to have discovered an erotic zone in the vagina that was capable of providing apparently limitless sexual pleasure.
The latest research, based on an exhaustive study of, er, 20 women, suggests that the location is actually on the anterior wall of the vagina, along the course of the urethra. Eleven of the women said they hadn't experienced vaginal orgasm and the remaining nine had, or that's what they told the researchers. I don't know how they conveyed this information – with cries of "Si! Si! Si!" as in a porn film? – but ultrasound scans showed that this group of women had a thicker wall of tissue between the vagina and the urethra.
Sceptics have responded by suggesting that the Italians haven't found the G spot at all, but an internal section of the clitoris – which, by the way, has already turned out to be much bigger than anyone previously imagined.
When this research was published a few years ago, I couldn't help wondering who had actually given any thought to the question, which rarely surfaces in all those endless articles about whether size matters. I mean, let's not get competitive about this.
My problem with the G spot, and the breathless articles it periodically inspires, is that women have been describing their actual experiences of sex for more than half a century with consistent results. It seems perverse, to say the least, to keep on looking for something that may not exist, as if scientists were devoting years of research to proving that men have an invisible orgasmic area on the sole of the left foot.
The quest for the G spot has a lot to do with the idea that women are eternally mysterious, endowed with secret sexual powers that men can (conveniently) unleash by doing just what they always did between the sheets. It has the seductive power of myth, but we already know how most women have orgasms. Thank you and goodnight.Reuse content