During the late 1800s through the early 1900s, physicians administered pelvic massages involving clitoral stimulation by early electronic vibrators as treatments for what was called female hysteria. Until the early 1900s, physicians used female hysteria as a diagnosis for women who reported a wide range of complaints and symptoms unexplainable by any other diagnosis at the time. According to historian Rachel Maines, physicians provided pelvic massages for thousands of years to female patients without it being considered erotic or sexually stimulating. After the Western Industrial Revolution, physicians began using electric machines in medicine, including the medical vibrator, which researchers theorize was used to more efficiently bring women to a hysterical paroxysm, the former medical term for a female orgasm. Until the 1920s, physicians used vibrating massagers as medical devices for treating hysteria at a time when doctors diagnosed women with hysteria as a sweeping diagnosis.
In 1981, Frank Addiego and colleagues published “Female Ejaculation: A Case Study” in The Journal of Sex Research. In the article, the authors find that female ejaculation, or the expulsion of fluid from a female’s urethra during or before orgasm, is a legitimate phenomenon that can occur when one stimulates an area in the vaginal wall that the team names the Gräfenberg-spot. According to the authors, at the time of publication, many individuals believed that if a female expelled fluid during orgasm, the fluid was urine and, thus, improper bladder control caused the expulsions. However, in “Female Ejaculation: A Case Study,” the researchers explain that they collected samples of one woman’s orgasmic fluid and compared its chemical composition to that of her urine, and they found that the two fluids were different. In their case study, Addiego and colleagues not only provide evidence that female ejaculation is a legitimate physiological response, but they also support the idea that females who experience it are not defective, which helped to shape social views and future research on the female orgasm.
In 1950, physician and researcher Ernst Gräfenberg published “The Role of Urethra in Female Orgasm,” in the International Journal of Sexology. The article was one of the first to mention the area in the anterior, or front, vaginal wall colloquially called the G-spot. In the article, Gräfenberg acknowledges that many females experience problems related to sexual satisfaction, and he argues that researchers and physicians of the time did not know enough information about the anatomical mechanisms and localization of the female orgasm to help them. He claims that there is a distinct zone in the anterior vaginal wall along the urethra that plays a critical role in female sexual pleasure, making it important for physicians to consider when treating females’ sexual problems. Though researchers are still debating the structural existence of the G-spot as of 2022, “The Role of Urethra in Female Orgasm” was one of the first publications to explore the anatomical elements of the female orgasm, and it led to further research about female sexuality that has helped many individuals to better understand female pleasure.
Ernst Gräfenberg was a physician and researcher who studied sexology, the study of human sexuality, in both Germany and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Gräfenberg researched the use of intrauterine devices as a form of contraception, and he developed the Gräfenberg ring. The Gräfenberg ring was one of the first intrauterine devices that effectively prevented pregnancy without causing infection, and it became the forerunner of all modern intrauterine devices, or IUDs. Gräfenberg also studied the role of the urethra in female orgasm. He was one of the first researchers to discuss female pleasure in a scientific manner, and, more specifically, he was one of the first to write about the erogenous zone on the anterior vaginal wall, colloquially called the G-spot. Through the technology he developed and the ideas he proposed, Gräfenberg advanced knowledge of female anatomy, pleasure, and reproduction, enabling researchers and professionals to better understand and cater to females’ reproductive and sexual needs.
In 2005, Helen O’Connell and colleagues published “Anatomy of the Clitoris,” a review article, in The Journal of Urology. The article was one of the first to provide a complete anatomical description of the clitoris, which is the organ involved in female sexual pleasure. In addition, O’Connell and her team relay that researchers have historically misunderstood and misrepresented the anatomy of the clitoris. They point out that even though researchers began accurately describing the anatomy of the clitoris in the 1840s, most anatomy textbooks in 2005 still omitted or inaccurately described the structure. The team argues that those omissions not only hinder surgeons’ ability to perform surgery on the clitoris but also reflect a dominant culture of misvaluing the female body. “Anatomy of the Clitoris” helps correct historical misconceptions about clitoral anatomy and promotes accurate representation of female anatomy in educational textbooks and academic settings.