In 1950, a German-born gynecologist named Dr. Ernst Gräfenberg published a study entitled “The Role of the Urethra in the Female Orgasm.” According to Gräfenberg, there is an especially sensitive area in women located in the anterior wall of the vagina, where the urethra runs along the vaginal wall. His study proved that, when stimulated, this vaginal tissue becomes engorged with blood, and orgasm is achieved, sometimes resulting in ejaculation.
Little did he know, Dr. Gräfenberg had discovered the G-spot.
But in the wake of the 1948 Kinsey Reports, Americans were fascinated with the clitoris—the new “fashionable” way to reach orgasm, and Dr. Gräfenberg’s work went largely ignored. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s that his study became popular when New Jersey-native Dr. Beverly Whipple rediscovered his work. This time around, the information ushered in its very own sexual revolution. But Dr. Whipple’s work was about more than just sex– it was about sexual satisfaction. Specifically, female satisfaction.
“There are over 100 words for pain in the English language and less than 20 for pleasure,” says Whipple. “That tells you something about our society.”
Now 69 years old, Whipple has retired to southern New Jersey where she lives with her husband. Her voice is deep and slow, and her short blonde hair is shot through with gray and white.
Whipple’s interest in sexual health began while she was teaching women to do Kegel exercises to treat stress urinary incontinence, a condition that causes loss of urine when a woman coughs, laughs or sneezes. In the course of her research, however, many of the 400 women involved in the study reported that they only they ever lost their bladders during intercourse. And furthermore, there was one area in particular that, when stimulated, seemed to trigger the urine loss.
Intrigued, Whipple did some research and came across Gräfenberg’s article. The pieces seemed to fit—the area that Whipple’s subjects reported as causing the “urine loss” was that same sensitive spot along the anterior wall of the vagina that Gräfenberg described. And the urine loss that had caused so many of her research subjects to feel embarrassed and ashamed was not urine at all—it was a milky, scentless fluid containing high levels of glucose and prostatic fluid–female ejaculate.
Whipple and her colleagues had recovered what thirty years of medical history had forgotten. This time, Whipple made sure that the knowledge entered public consciousness.
“A friend of mine said why don’t you just call it the ‘Whipple Tickle’ and I said no, that is completely inappropriate,” she says, a smile creeping into her voice. “We decided to name the area that was sensitive after Dr. Gräfenberg.”
And thus, the G-spot was re-born.
Whipple and her research partner Dr. John Perry published their findings in 1983 with a book entitled The G Spot and Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality. The book was a New York Times bestseller and has since been translated into 19 different languages.
And though the book served to validate the experiences of thousands of women, not all of her contemporaries were thrilled with the way that Whipple presented her findings. When navigating the complicated world of sexual politics, there’s a lot riding on a name.
“It’s named after Gräfeberg who was a man, and he didn’t have one [a G-Spot],” says Carl Frankel, business director of the Sheri Winston Center for Intimate Arts in Kingston, NY. He and his life partner Sheri Winston coordinate and teach, respectively, sex workshops across the country, including a class on female ejaculation.
“It’s got sort of a sexist overtone,” he says. “It’s named after a guy, and why should it be?”
Despite criticism over the name, Whipple’s work alleviated the distress of thousands of women who believed that they had urinated on their partners during intercourse. In some cases, doctors had been prescribing and performing surgery for incontinence when what their patients had actually been experiencing was G-spot stimulation and, subsequently, female ejaculation. What had been a secret source of anxiety for so many women was finally acknowledged in the public sphere. And more importantly, it was declared a natural aspect of human sexuality.
“My greatest professional accomplishment has been listening to women talk about what they find pleasurable,” says Whipple. “And then, validating the experiences that they’ve been told are not so, cannot be, or are not normal.”
In the wake of her research, Whipple has given over 600 lectures and published 170 articles and book chapters on female sexual health and pleasure. Though officially retired, she still travels to lecture. Just last week she spoke at her alma mater, Wagner College in Staten Island on enhancing intimacy between couples and next week, she’ll be speaking at a college in Utah. Retirement isn’t usually such a hectic time for most, but Whipple’s primary interest is still female sexual health.
“I’m still trying to learn more about women,” says Whipple.”And to help women learn more about themselves.”