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1957: The Doctor Who Discovered the G-spot, if There Is One, Dies

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Ernst Gräfenberg (1881-1957)
Ernst Gräfenberg (1881-1957)Credit: Museum of Contraception and Abortion of Vienna

On this day, Oct 28, 1957, Ernst Gräfenberg, a doctor who dedicated his life to studying the female sexual anatomy, died. The Jewish German physician and scientist is best known for developing of the intrauterine birth-control device and his research on the role of the urethra in female orgasm.

Caring deeply about the medical emancipation of women, the German Jewish doctor was an advocate of abortion, birth control, and sexual realization and is often given credit for the controversial "discovery" of the "G-spot" (standing for "Gräfenberg spot"), not that everybody agrees one even exists.

Eyes failed to captivate

Ernst Gräfenberg was born in 1881 in Adelebsen, near Gottingen, Germany, to Salomon and Minna Gräfenberg.  ("Gräfenberg", which translates to "Count’s Hill," was the name of one the small town's green hills.) Ernst’s father owned an ironware business and served as head of the Jewish community of Adelebsen for fourteen years.

In 1893, the family moved to Gottingen where Ernst attended local high school or Gymnasium.

In 1900 he left home to study medicine in Gottingen and Munich and five years later, on March 10, 1905, Gräfenberg was awarded his doctorate and began to practice ophthalmology at the University of Wurzburg. However, he shortly changed interests, choosing gynecology and changing the research of his focus to female anatomy. By 1910, he completed his training from the University of Kiel, under the doctors Richard Werth and Dr. J Pfannenstiel.

Ten years after the start of his career, Gräfenberg was a recognized gynecologist in Berlin. He had his own practice in Kurfurstendamm, and was chief gynecologist of the municipal hospital in Britz, a middle-class district of Berlin. Aside from his medical practice, he had also begun to study the physiology of human reproduction at Berlin University.

Ill-advised sense of security

Margaret Sanger during her Brownsville clinic trial at the King's County Court of Special Sessions in New York City, New York, USA, on January 30, 1917.Credit: WikiCommons

During World War I Gräfenberg served as a medical officer but also continued his research on the female body and after the war, in 1929, he published his studies of the "Gräfenberg ring" – a contraceptive device. An improvement of the IUD, his device was made of silver.

He first discussed the IUD publically at a Berlin postgraduate course chaired by Dr. Margaret Sanger in 1928. A year later he presented his findings at London in the International Sexual Reform Congress.

In 1930, he spoke a third time about his studies at the Seventh International Birth Control Conference in Zurich. The "Gräfenberg ring" was the first IUD for which usage records exist.

In 1933, Gräfenberg was forced by the Nazis to resign as the head of the department of gynecology and obstetrics of the Britz hospital. Friends tried to persuade him to leave Germany, but Gräfenberg was treating the wives of high Nazi officials, and believed he was safe. In 1937, Ernst was thrown into prison for reportedly stealing a stamp from a camp in Germany.

Margaret Sanger was Ernst’s saving grace. She bailed him out of Nazi prison and brought him to New York City, where he opened a private practice.

The 'G' doesn't stand for 'grail'

Over the years, Gräfenberg’s clinical interests were wide-ranging: he produced medical publications on tests for pregnancy, venereal diseases, obstetric anesthesia and pelvic anatomy. Yet, his most well-known contribution is something that may not even exist – that elusive G-spot.

Although his research was focused on urethral stimulation, he wrote in his 1950 study "The Role of Urethra in Female Orgasm" about an ‘erotic zone’ in the anterior wall of the vagina that could be stimulated for pleasure.

The gynecologist was a man ahead of his time. Much of his research intensely flouted prevailing German mores in medicine, which (on religious grounds) rejected "invasion of the uterus" for contraception, which is what IUDs do, and in general neglected women’s sexual health as a science. Ernst was not just an advocate for the medical independence for women and their health: he strongly professed the importance of sexual realization, and provided counsel to many of his female patients.

Not much is known about the private life of Ernst Gräfenberg, except that he was briefly married to writer Rosie Waldeck.

Nowadays, Gräfenberg is considered one of the great figures of birth control advancement in the United States.

Ernst Gräfenberg died on this day, October 28th of 1957, in New York City. 

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