The Mysteries of Female Ejaculation Explained
Two things before I get to the meat (heh) of this week's column. First of all, I'd like to thank you all for being so civil and thoughtful in the comments to these posts, last week's especially. Secondly, for those of you who can't get enough sex talk, I've started a twitter account where I can link to and comment on all the random bits of sex-related news out there that I don't have time to write about here. You should check it out - if nothing else I promise it's worth it for the seriously awesome background image. Now back to the fun stuff.
Several of you have expressed curiosity about the phenomenon of female ejaculation - what is it, where does it come from, and why do only some women seem to experience it? The answer to all those questions turns out to be: nobody's sure, but a number of studies have been done that give us some clues. (My primary sources are here, here, and here, although these are just a sampling of the studies out there.) You would think from all the attention it receives and how little is known about it that female ejaculation is a recently discovered curiosity, one that's experienced by relatively few women, but in fact it has been recognized (and considered perfectly normal) throughout history -- the first known written mention of it is in the 16th century Indian erotic text Ananga Ranga. Medical investigation of the subject isn't new either. Around 380 BC, the Greek anatomist Herophilos described the existence of a prostate-like organ surrounding the urethra in women which the ejaculate is thought to come from, and in 1672 a Dutch physiologist named Regnier de Graaf coined the term 'female prostate,' to describe the organ. The tissue is also known medically as Skene's glands, after the 19th century Scottish gynecologist Alexander Skene, who identified glands homologous to the male prostate that surround the female urethra.
It has not been conclusively established, but these glands seem to be the most probable source of female ejaculation. They may also be responsible for the famous G-spot, a small sensitive spot on the front wall of the vagina that becomes pronounced during arousal, since they rest against the front of the vagina and are surrounded by tissue that swells upon arousal. In one study, as many as 79 person of women who identified as having a sensitive spot analogous to the G-spot experienced ejaculation. The glands themselves, like most parts of women's sexual bits, are highly variable, and in some cases appear to be absent, which may explain why not all women experience ejaculation (or have an easily identifiable G-spot). Various studies using ultrasound and x-ray technology have found the glands in 66-80 percent of women. No studies that I've been able to find were able to directly link these glands with ejaculatory fluid, but given their location and homology with the male prostate (they derive from the same embryonic structures) they seem to be the most likely candidate.
The make-up of the ejaculate itself is less uncertain. The definition of ejaculation (both male and female) is the expulsion of fluid from the urethra during orgasm. In the past female ejaculation has been mistaken for urinary incontinence, however, samples from women who ejaculate show that although it comes from the urethra, it is not urine. In several studies the levels of urine compounds urea and creatinine are lower in female ejaculatory fluid that in urine, and unlike urine the fluid often contains high levels of the prostate protein, prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) and prostate specific antigen (PSA) (alliteration in a column about female ejaculation - how often do you see that?). Indeed, the fluid is actually very similar to male ejaculate, minus the sperm. Studies indicate that anywhere from 10-69 percent of women identify as experiencing ejaculation, however the actual number may be much higher than that. High PSA levels have been found in women's urine after intercourse and orgasm, leading to speculation that most women ejaculate to some extent during orgasm, but that for many women the ejaculate is directed into the bladder rather than outward (Maybe that's why I always have to pee right after sex...). It's also possible that the amount of fluid released is low and that women mistake it for vaginal lubrication. Complicating the matter is that the fluid varies in consistency and color from woman to woman and at different times in a woman's cycle. It doesn't necessarily come out as a thin, squirted stream that's easily identifiable as something distinct from other sexual fluids (although, obviously for some women it does). It's also not uncommon for women to mistake the fluid for urine and assume that they are experiencing incontinence during sex. Such women are more likely to hold back orgasms for fear of urinating. Which is a shame, since some studies indicate that women who ejaculate are more likely to experience multiple orgasms. Ejaculatory orgasms are also described as more intense than non-ejaculatory ones by women who experience them. So don't hold it in girls, and hopefully this goes without saying, but boys, don't get weirded out by large quantities of fluid coming from your female partner, it probably means you're rocking her world.
As a general side note, some feminists find the terminology of female ejaculation/female prostate troubling because it frames the female sexual response and anatomy in masculine terms. While it's obvious that male and female sexuality are very different, there's also a lot of similarity that we should be more willing to acknowledge. The truth is that the sexual organs of both sexes derive from the same anatomical structures in the embryo. Nearly all sexual structures have homologues in the opposite sex; the penis=the clitoris, the labia majora= the scrotum, etc (there's a complete list here if you're interested). Consequently, some aspects of the sexual responses of both sexes will be the same - the clitoris becomes engorged with blood during arousal just as the penis does, for example. The typical use of these terms (by scientists anyway) are not meant to make female sexuality sound the same as male sexuality, but to acknowledge physiological similarities where they exist. And they definitely exist in the case of female ejaculation, as evidenced by the make-up of the fluid and the glands that it appears to flow from.
While some of the details still haven't been worked out by scientists, it's clear at this point that female ejaculation is real and probably more common than you think. It doesn't necessarily look like it does in pornos, though, so don't be disappointed if you (or your partner) don't gush with every orgasm.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.