June 24, 2011 at 1:45 PM ET
Here's a fun fact to share at parties this weekend: The shape of a woman's lips may predict the likelihood of her having an orgasm. (Seriously.)
Stuart Brody, a psychology professor at the University of the West of Scotland, is famous among researchers of sexual behavior for some of his studies, like ones linking a woman’s finger sensitivity to partnered sex behavior, and most especially a 2008 doozy that linked a woman’s gait -- “fluid, graceful,” “free of blocked or distorted pelvic rotation” -- with a greater chance of having so-called vaginal orgasms. In other words, he said, you can tell a lot about a woman by the way she walks.
Now, in a paper published last week by the Journal of Sexual Medicine, and called “Vaginal Orgasm Is More Prevalent Among Women with a Prominent Tubercle of the Upper Lip,” Brody has come out with another marker for female orgasm; the little spot just at the midline of the upper lip. Called the tubercle, it poofs out a little more in some people than in others. (Brody stresses he’s not referring to puffy Angelina Jolie lips, just to that one tiny spot.)
According to the results of an online survey featuring 258 mainly Scottish women with a mean age of 27 years, having a prominent tubercle means a woman has a greater chance of ever having had a vaginal orgasm.
If you think that sounds kooky, you may be onto something. There are a couple of controversies to consider. First, not all scientists believe that there is any real difference between a “clitoral” orgasm and a “vaginal” orgasm (mainly because the little man in the boat is really just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, that extends into the vaginal wall). In Brody’s research, tubercle size did not predict orgasm by clitoral stimulation.
Second, there could be confounding factors. When I asked if it was possible the women with the prominent tubercles may have been more attractive and so had more opportunities for sex and attracted better lovers, Brody replied that “I am not aware of research linking women’s attractiveness to their likelihood of vaginal orgasm. That could be a future study.” There is, however, “research that some male attributes are associated with likelihood of vaginal orgasm.”
Third, the women themselves, rather than an independent party, judged their own tubercle characteristics based on eyeballing their own lips.
Still, Brody may really be on to something, not only with this study, but with his gait research and what seems to be an ongoing hunt for markers that signify sexual response.
As he speculates in the paper, “anatomic study has indicated that by week 17, the human fetus may have already developed the tubercle of the lip.” While he could find no research relating the tubercle to sexual response, “we did locate evidence of an embryonic neural process that organizes midline cranial features, which could plausibly relate morphology to behavior in other contexts.”
In other words, it is probably not the lip feature itself that makes the difference (if any difference really exists), it may be that the same developmental forces that shape a fetus’ tubercle, also affects neural circuits. “It is possible,” Brody writes, “that a flatter or absent tubercle might have something in common with the at times subtle lip abnormalities associated with subtle neuropsychologic abnormalities” and these subtle differences may, in turn, affect vaginal orgasm.
It is true that prenatal events dramatically shape our future sexual lives. Perhaps the shape of our lips are one telltale sign.