Sexual Pioneers: Dr Beverly Whipple by Robert Page

Dr Beverly Whipple is best known as the inventor of the G Spot – so much so, she tells me with a twinkle in her eye, that a colleague initially suggested it be called “Whipple’s Tickle”.  She ultimately went for the name the G Spot in recognition of the work of the eminent German obstetrician, and developer of the IUD, Ernst Grafenburg.  The term first entered the language in 1981 when Whipple co-authored a paper on the subject, and became widely known when her best-selling book, The G Spot: And Other Discoveries about Human Sexuality (co-authored with Ladas and Perry) was published a year later.  It has been translated into 20 languages and was republished as a classic in 2005.

What came through powerfully in my discussion with Dr Whipple is her dedication to validating the female sexual experience and the belief that women should feel good about themselves, enjoy sex in their own way, and be empowered to discuss with their partner what works for them.  As well as her work on the G Spot, she has done ground-breaking work on the science of the orgasm and, in 2001, demonstrated that orgasms felt by the disabled, including spinal-cord damaged women, were not phantom, as many had believed, but real, and were conveyed to the brain by the vagus nerve.

Her distinguished career began when she was in nursing.  The switch to becoming one of the world’s leading sexuality pioneers, was triggered when a student nurse asked her what a man should do sexually after a heart attack and she realised that nursing colleges had no answers.  After that, she began helping women with stress incontinence by teaching them Kegel exercises to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles. Some of her patients reported the expulsion of small amounts of fluid at orgasm that did not look, smell or taste like urine.  Intrigued, she worked with a group of 400 women, collecting fluids and proving that they were substantially different to urine.   What’s more, she observed that this seemed to happen more when the women pushed up on the anterior (front) wall of the vagina and that this area swelled in response to this stimulation.  Eureka! Not only had she found evidence for the disputed female ejaculation but had also discovered the G Spot.

When Rutgers, where she is now an emeritus professor, first asked her to join the faculty of nursing in the mid 80s, she agreed to come on board on the condition that she could continue her research on such women’s issues which had previously largely been neglected by medical science.  Not only did the university agree but committed to build a dedicated physiology lab for her to pursue her work. In  bringing scientific credibility to her ground-breaking studies, she paved the way for others to research women’s sexuality and the orgasm world-wide.

One such researcher is Australian urologist Helen O’Connell who, using MRI technology, showed the clitoris to be a much deeper organ than previously thought.  O’Connell’s work, and other 3D sonogram imaging (from French researchers Odile Buisson and Pierre Foldes) showed that the G Spot was not so much a unique organ in the vaginal wall but the rear of the clitoral bulb or, as Whipple now believes, a zone involving glands and ducts making up the “clitero-urethro-vaginal complex”.  This finding is particularly significant because despite the common argument between clitoral and vaginal orgasms, there is actually no anatomical evidence to show that a vaginal orgasm is biologically different from a clitoral one – the vaginal orgasm was simply something newly asserted back in 1905 by Sigmund Freud.

Many thinkers and scientists who are pioneers in their fields have had their work expanded on and downright challenged by later researchers. Whipple is used to her work provoking controversy.   A King’s College study in 2009 suggested the G Spot’s “existence is subjective” (she tells me, though, that the study was flawed in locating it on the front wall of the vagina not reached through it).  She has also encountered open hostility from the likes of Shere Hite on the grounds that even identifying a G Spot puts too much pressure on both men and women by giving them feelings of “inadequacy and underachievement” if they feared they lacked it or couldn’t find it.  Yet Whipple is unfazed.  Already in her 1982 book, she had pointed out that she had been explaining a phenomenon not encouraging people to obsess about finding it.  Indeed, the final chapter, “The best is the enemy of the good”, amply makes this point. And, while some might suggest that it is hardly surprising that people would search for such a powerful pleasure centre like this once its existence was made public, Whipple points to her preference for a “circle” view of sexual enjoyment, where each act is a pleasure in itself, over the “staircase”, goal oriented, model, where people view each sexual episode as necessarily taking step up after step up on a climb to the “top step” of orgasm.

Since her initial discoveries she has continued her research in this field, and with her colleagues neuroscientist Barry Kamisaruk and endocrinologist  Carlos Beyer-Flores has examined orgasm from the fields of behavioural neuroscience and cognitive and physiological sciences.  Their 2006 book “The Science of Orgasm” traces the experience of orgasm from the genitals to the brain.  It argues that orgasms provide far more than simple pleasure – they help us sleep, help us resist certain cancers and heart disease and relieve stress and pain. It ends up with the big philosophical, even metaphysical, questions of “what is consciousness” and what is the “I” that ultimately feels the orgasm. But her work is by no means all aimed at the scientific community. As with her “The G Spot” bestseller, she has co-authored the down to earth, “The Orgasm Answer Guide”, an ‘everything you ever wanted to know’ on the subject for the general layman – and laywoman.

Dr Whipple has been president of some of the major associations of sexual researchers, counsellors and therapists. She has won almost 100 awards for her work, including the Gold Medal from the World Association for Sexual Health for her lifetime contribution and achievements. For its 50th anniversary issue in 2006, the journal, “New Scientist” recognised her as one of the 50 most influential scientists in the world.

It is no surprise that her private life mirrors the dedication, focus and joy she finds in her career –  this year she is celebrating her golden wedding anniversary with her husband, Jim, a retired (actual!) rocket scientist, with whom she has two children and five grandchildren.   Despite being retired, she remains indefatigable, still travelling widely (her wanderlust has so far taken her to 93 countries) and continuing her ground-breaking work, in support of women’s right to a healthy, enjoyable and liberated sex life.  If a Mount Rushmore of sexual pioneers were to be sculpted, her still-lovely face, brimming with joie de vie, should be up there, proudly looking out from it.

 

Robert Page is the creator of the Lovers’ Guide, the world’s number one sex and relationship brand. Find out more at LoversGuide.com

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