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Facts and Myths About Sex

The «Wired» columnists Jason Rex and Katie Palmer talk about sex in the light of the latest scientific data.

It’s time to talk. Yes, about sex. Perhaps your parents showed you a book on anatomy when you were a child.

Put it here, then you pull it out, and so on. Perhaps you have been told about sex at school. Or you could talk openly about it with your doctor. But here’s a dirty secret: when it comes to human sexual anatomy, it turns out that the vast number of people do not know anything about it. And this applies not only to the common people, but also to scientists.

Part of the reason for this phenomenon is purely practical: sex is very difficult to study. Even today, with a whole bunch of sensors and scanners that show what happens inside of us when we do it, laboratories are not the most comfortable place to study our bodies.

More recently, a team of researchers from Italy said that the female vaginal orgasm is just a myth, since there is no “G spot” in there.

But there is also the cultural part of the problem: before the appearance of the Kinsey Institute, even the mere discussion of this topic has been almost universal taboo. In other words, we know our body not as good as we thought.

So we decided to honestly admit our ignorance and make a step forward. We found a bunch of myths  in this area that have no relation to the anatomy. And we want to talk about it.

Jason Rex: So, we proceed from the fact that many people do not know about human sexual anatomy, but still let’s try to clarify: is it true that we have dealt with the penis, and the real (and largely incomprehensible) secret is the vagina?

Katie Palmer: Of course, people still argue on this subject. There are a lot of debates in the medical literature, and they are connected with different parts of the female anatomy. For example, recently a team of researchers from Italy, the father and daughter said that the female vaginal orgasm is just a myth, since there is no “G spot.” And there are similar problems at many levels.

Jason Rex: The most important thing is that the female vaginal orgasm is not a myth. Even if the “G spot” is not the “point”, there are many studies showing that the complex stimulation of this area leads to a perfectly tangible full orgasm. Science suggests that it is harder to cause vaginal orgasm than a clitoral orgasm, which is achieved by external stimulation of the local area.

Katie Palmer: It’s so great to have you telling me exactly what I like.

Jason Rex: Well, I’m limited by the thousands of years of patriarchal traditions. Anyway, the male orgasm is not so controversial, because everything is simple: it is enough to see is there any white matter or not?

Katie Palmer: Nonsense. You know, I would not want you to continue being wrong, because there are a lot of questions about the male orgasm as well. First of all, your notorious “white matter”. This is ejaculation, but ejaculation and orgasm are completely different things. Orgasm occurs in your brain. This is thanks to the strong surge of the dopamine, and other complex neurotransmitters scientists have not studied completely.

Ejaculation process is controlled at the spinal cord level. It means that after you’ve got sufficient stimulation, your body reaches a certain point of no return, and you have to shoot the sperm, because you just have no choice.

Jason Rex: So, ejaculation and orgasm in men are two different things (although I’m still going to assume that most of the time they go hand in hand). In addition to the fact that vaginal orgasm is real, the female ejaculation is no less real according to most researchers.

I’ve talked to Beverly Whipple, who was the promoter of “G spot” in the early 80s (a funny story: a colleague initially asked her to call the spot “Itchy Whipple”, but fortunately she refused, preferring to call it “Grafenberg spot”, or simply the “G spot”, in honor of its discoverer.) According to Whipple, the female ejaculation product is similar to “dilute” or “skim” milk. Whipple also adds that the documentary evidence of female ejaculation in Western civilization can be met at least since Aristotle’s time.

And by the way, female ejaculation is not “squirting”, when a woman… Well, I guess the name speaks for itself.

Katie Palmer: Wait, so female ejaculate and a normal female lubrication are not the same thing?

Jason Rex: Of course not. Although it is also controversial. Some researchers classify almost any woman’s secretion as “vaginal hyper lubricant”, but it’s probably not a very accurate description. At one end of the spectrum of liquids emanating from the vagina is the usual urine, and the above mentioned nectar of the gods on the other side. A squirting probably occupies an intermediate position between these fluids, although it is still closer to the urine.

We are now almost certain that squirting is almost completely urine thanks to French researchers.

This study was able to show that the woman’s bladder fills during sex, and then there is a sprinkling of urine from the urethra during orgasm.

However, they studied only seven women, each of them reported “large secretion” in the process, so it may be that all seven simply suffered from urinary incontinence during sex.

And I must add this: there is an opinion that squirting is the ultimate expression of female pleasure, however, there are no strong evidences in support of this opinion.

Currently, most sex researchers agree that squirting and ejaculation are two different things. Squirting is mainly urine, with a small number of prostate secretion (yes, women also have the prostate known as the Skene’s gland). From a biochemical point of view, ejaculation is much more difficult. For example, it has been shown that female ejaculate contains sugar molecules.

Katie Palmer: The men’s semen also contains fructose. Along with the whole host of other items received from five different glands and mixed together. Incidentally, I was surprised to learn that most of the sperm comes from the seminal vesicles, and not from the vas deferens.

Jason Rex: Does the sperm taste better, if you will eat a lot of pineapples?

Katie Palmer: What?

Jason Rex: Never mind.

Katie Palmer: Well, let us postpone this myth and study another one. What is the average length of a penis?

Jason Rex: I would venture to suggest that the 16.5 cm.

Katie Palmer: Sluggish, erect or extended?

Jason Rex: Extended.

Katie Palmer: So you made a mistake, which is not surprising. In case you have not watched the international statistics: the average length of an erect penis is 12.5 cm, and sluggish – about 8.8 cm. An “extended length” is 12.1 cm.

Average figures for the US are slightly higher than international figures, a recent study showed that the average length of an erect penis in the US is 14.2 cm. Whether it is average or not, one thing is certain: men are very worried about their size.

Jason Rex: Women also have concerns about their anatomy, because the vaginas as well as penises come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and women can adjust it surgically. And since we’re talking about the repair, should we also mention erectile dysfunction?

Katie Palmer: Well, before we do that, is it possible to specify at what point there is an erection?

Jason Rex: Is it not just the blood pumped into the penis?

Katie Palmer: It is much more difficult. My favorite study of this topic is so called “Erectile hydraulics: maximization of the inflow by reducing the outflow.” First of all, I’m interested in the biology of this process, when the blood somewhere comes and stays there. The most important part of the penis is a cavernous body, two spongy cylinders surrounded by muscles.

Jason Rex: Hey, women have almost the same. Look at the clitoris. Almost the same evolutionary idea.

Katie Palmer: Yes, so when a person is excited, there is a cascade of neural signals from the brain to the specific nerves of the penis, which release the neurotransmitter – nitric oxide, or NO. This chemical compound starts to exchange messages on a molecular level, which cause the muscles to relax and not to interfere with blood flow. Then, the pressure created by the muscles of erecting penis acts on the blood vessel network, compresses it and thus prevents the outflow of blood from the penis.

Jason Rex: Understood. What can go wrong?

Katie Palmer: A lot of things. Erectile dysfunction can result from problems in the brain or the body in general. For example, it depends on how well the blood is saturated with oxygen, so obesity may be a factor contributing to erectile dysfunction.

Some biologists believe that in ancient times the size of the penis could be a kind of attraction for the opposite sex.

The problem may be in the penis. For example, nerve endings in the head may not be sufficiently sensitive to transmit signals to the brain, so that no excitation will occur.

In addition, erectile dysfunction is associated with how a person perceives his sexual experience compared to what he hear from friends.

Jason Rex: I’m glad you mentioned the culture again. Maybe the vagina is no more mysterious than the penis, but I think that there may be a lot more disagreements around it.

The penis looks strange and carries a certain cultural baggage. For centuries it was seen as a symbol of male aggression and dominance. But the people do not really think about it. But the vagina can cause a full range of views from a passionate devotion to the eternal fear.

Katie Palmer: In the biological context, the greater convenience associated with the penis has a certain meaning. Much depends on how people perceive their body. Obviously, the women do not show their ability to conceive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So much more mystery and misunderstanding are connected with the vagina.

Jason Rex: I can agree with that.