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The Straight Dope 

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I have been to the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa on a few occasions. It seems that no matter what the country is, you're not supposed to shake with your left hand because the people "use" it to cleanse themselves in the bathroom. This is all starting to sound like urban legend stuff. It just sounds fishy that no matter what the country, someone will always tell you about the "ol' dirty paw." It doesn't seem very effective anyway. So, do people actually wipe with their hands or not? --Kevin Davis

Of course, beanbrain--what do you think, they have a secret stash of Charmin? Years ago one of my correspondents recalled looking out a bus window in Bombay early one morning and seeing thousands of slum dwellers squatting in a field. "They had, as far as I could see, no folded pieces of paper, no catalogs, no half-rolls of toilet paper," he wrote. "Rather they carried with them small brass pitchers filled with water." I gather manual contact is minimized to the extent practical. Another correspondent says that in Malaysia, "a hose hangs down next to the 'toilet,' which is really a stand over a hole in the floor you squat over." One uses the hose in the manner of a bidet. Works pretty well, I'm told. Still, the left hand unavoidably gets involved from time to time, so it makes sense to forbid use thereof when shaking hands, eating, etc, lest fecal bacteria be transmitted.

Why the left hand and not the right? Muslims attribute the practice to the Prophet, who, according to one commentator, "commanded people to eat with their right hands and forbade them to eat with their left hands. He said, 'The Shaytaan [a devil] eats with his left hand and drinks with his left hand.'" I realize the subject here is eating, but we're dealing with a binary division of labor. Whatever the Shaytaan may or may not do, the right hand surely is favored for the less noisome tasks because that's the one most people favor for everything--worse luck for those of us who don't.

On the Spot

A recent article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology by Pace University psychologist Terence Hines affirms what many have long suspected (including your columnist for more than 20 years): there is no physical evidence for that legendary locus of female sexual pleasure, the Grafenberg spot, also known as the G-spot. The G-spot supposedly is a small, highly sensitive area on the anterior (front) wall of the vagina that swells and produces pleasurable sensations when manually stimulated. Few today doubt that there is such a thing. In one survey of 1,300 professional women, 84 percent agreed that "a highly sensitive area exists in the vagina."

However, apart from anecdotal claims, Hines says, only two published studies have purported to find the G-spot. The first told of a woman who claimed to have more intense orgasms when her G-spot was stimulated. "During one session with the subject during which digital stimulation of the anterior vaginal wall was administered, it was reported that the area 'grew approximately 50%.'" In the second study two gynecologists trained in how to find the G-spot examined 11 women using "a special type of bimanual exam as well as a sexological exam where they palpated the entire vagina in a clockwise fashion." One presumes, although the study does not explicitly say, that a goal of the exam was to sexually arouse the subject, since the G-spot is said to swell at such times. One also notes the two gynecologists were female. Whether this skewed the results, and if so in what direction, I decline to speculate, but you can see the difficulties inherent in this type of research. At any rate, the gynecologists agreed that 4 of the 11 subjects had G-spots.

In summary, then, we've got two studies, 12 subjects, five detectable G-spots. This constitutes the sum total of experimental investigation into the matter. No anatomical study has ever demonstrated that the G-spot exists. Dr. Ernst Grafenberg, whose 1950 paper introduced the subject, provided no evidence for the G-spot, merely anecdotes. The mere fact that some women under some circumstances can feel something in the anterior vaginal wall proves little. (On the related subject of female ejaculation, there's an emerging consensus that the fluid emitted by some women during orgasm isn't just urine, as was widely thought, but rather the discharge of a female prostate gland. But no one suggests that female prostate = G-spot.) "Until a thorough and careful [microscopic] investigation of the relevant tissue is undertaken," Hines concludes, "the G-spot will remain a sort of gynecologic UFO: much searched for, much discussed, but unverified by objective means."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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