The legacy of Dr. Ernst Gräfenberg, orgasm pioneer.
As legacies go, Dr. Ernst Gräfenberg has a pretty good one—he put the G in G-spot. Not through sexual prowess, or rather, if that was the case it has been lost to history, but by dedicating a large amount of his life and career to understanding female pleasure.
Early DaysErnst Gräfenberg was born in 1881 near Göttingen in Germany. He went into medicine, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, and by the early years of the twentieth century was working as a gynecologist in Berlin. He earned an Iron Cross in the First World War while continuing his studies, mainly on female reproductive physiology. He built upon work done by the 17th-century anatomist Reinier de Graaf looking into the female orgasm, something which had gone largely ignored by science.
The IUD PioneerWhile it’s his work studying orgasms for which Gräfenberg has been immortalized, he was also a pioneer in intrauterine contraception, developing an early form of IUD made of surgical silk and silver filaments. Gräfenberg’s ring, as it was known, was only used for ten years before the Nazis came to power, who opposed contraception in all its forms. The later models of his ring were more successful than earlier ones because, unbeknownst to Gräfenberg, the silver had been contaminated by copper. As luck would have it, copper is enormously effective in preventing pregnancy as it increases the spermicidal inflammatory response of the uterus. However, nobody properly realized this for another forty years—it may have been by accident more than design, but Gräfenberg was decades ahead of the curve.
The Enduring Mystery of the G-SpotThere is no scientific consensus at all about the G-spot—every element from its existence onwards is surrounded by question marks, with parties on both sides arguing adamantly. Gräfenberg described it in 1950 as "an erotic zone located on the anterior wall of the vagina along the course of the urethra that would swell during sexual stimulation." Some subsequent studies have claimed to have found it, while some have claimed to have definitively proven its nonexistence. A 2008 study confidently declared it had proven some women had a G-spot and some didn’t. Sexologists tend to lean towards it being two things: (a) very possibly the clitoris simply being accessed differently; and (b) potentially an unhelpful thing to make a big deal about, as it can make people who—quite normally—do not consider themselves to have one feel inadequate or dysfunctional.
A Legacy of Pleasure
Gräfenberg refused to leave Germany under the Nazis, believing he would be safe as many of the wives of high-ranking Nazi officials were his patients. He was wrong and was held in prison until 1940 when a ransom was paid and he was helped to escape to New York. He died there in 1957, aged 76. The G-spot was named after him in 1982. Regardless of how one may feel about the contested spot itself, Gräfenberg took female pleasure seriously at a time when science – and society – was generally not giving it a second thought. In 1950, he wrote, "although female orgasm has been discussed for many centuries or even thousands of years, the problems of female satisfaction are not yet solved". That’s a pretty incredible thing to dedicate your life to solving.