Alice K. Ladas, author of landmark book on female sexuality, dies at 102

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Alice K. Ladas, author of landmark book on female sexuality, dies at 102
Working with collaborators, she wrote “The G Spot,” which became a cultural sensation and sold more than a million copies.

by Cindy Shmerler

NEW YORK, NY.- Alice Kahn Ladas, a psychologist and psychotherapist whose bestselling 1982 book, “The G Spot: And Other Recent Discoveries About Human Sexuality,” created a tipping point for female sensual autonomy by introducing ways for women to experience greater sexual pleasure, died July 29 at her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was 102.

Her daughter Robin Janis confirmed the death, adding that Ladas was still seeing patients at her home office the day before she died.

Ladas’ book, written with researchers Beverly Whipple and John Perry, examined the existence of the G-spot, a patch of erectile tissue that can be felt through the front wall of the vagina, behind the pubic bone. (The tissue is named for Ernst Gräfenberg, a German physician who was the first person to write about it in modern medical literature.) The book compared the G-spot to the male prostate: Each, when stimulated, can produce a sexual response similar to an orgasm.

For their research, Whipple and Perry interviewed and tested about 400 women in Florida, all of whom were able to locate their G-spots.

“My role was to see the connection,” Ladas told The Santa Fe Reporter in 2010. “There was a vaginal orgasm, there was a clitoral orgasm, but they’re not exclusive.”

The book, which has been translated into multiple languages and has sold more than 1 million copies, was revolutionary in helping women understand their sexual function, especially regarding female ejaculation.

Still, it proved controversial within the medical community, as women flocked to doctors wondering if they were experiencing ejaculation or urinary incontinence during intercourse. Some doctors questioned the depth of the authors’ research and whether the book was meant to be a medical tool or simply a how-to handbook for women.

“‘The G Spot’ reads like a scientific study, when it isn’t,” Martin Weisberg, then an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, told The New York Times after the book was published.

But Robert Francoeur, then a professor of human sexuality at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, argued differently: “The professional jealousy is incredible in terms of sex educators, therapists and doctors. The nasty comments from professionals sound like they’re upset that they didn’t write the book.”

In 2021, the National Institutes of Health published a review of 31 studies on the G spot and found that they “did systematically agree” on its existence.

However, the review said, “Among the studies in which it was considered to exist, there was no agreement on its location, size or nature.” It concluded, “The existence of this structure remains unproved.”

Alice Kahn was born in the Manhattan borough of New York City on May 30, 1921, to Rosalie Heil Kahn, an early supporter of the Ethical Culture movement, an effort to develop humanist codes of behavior, and Myron Daniel Kahn, a cotton merchant. Her parents divorced when she was 2, and she spent winters with her mother in Manhattan and extended summer vacations with her father in Montgomery, Alabama.

She attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Manhattan from kindergarten through high school and enrolled at Smith College in Massachusetts, graduating cum laude in 1943 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and as a member of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa. She received a master’s in social work from Smith in 1946.

While at Smith, Ladas met Eleanor Roosevelt while participating in a student leadership program at Campobello, the presidential summer retreat in New Brunswick, Canada. Inspired by the first lady’s feminism and activism, Ladas marched for civil rights in the South and in Washington.

Ladas became a follower of controversial Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich, developer of psychosexual theories centered on the orgasm, and joined his staff in New York in the early 1950s. In 1956, she helped Reich’s student Alexander Lowen found the Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis, which focuses on the bodily underpinnings of mental health.

Intrigued by infants and breastfeeding, Ladas soon went to France to study the Lamaze method of childbirth, whereby women are encouraged to move around and use controlled breathing and relaxation as tools to begin labor. Returning to the United States, she became, in 1959, one of the first to teach Lamaze classes there.

She received her doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1970. Her dissertation on breastfeeding had initially been refused by faculty members until she persuaded anthropologist Margaret Mead to sit on her dissertation committee. Ladas’ research was ultimately published in peer-reviewed journals in medicine and sociology.

“That’s what I’m most proud of,” she told a Smith alumni magazine for a profile of her this year. “I believe it influenced — in the United States, at least — more women to breastfeed.”

She married Harold Ladas, a psychology professor at Hunter College in New York, in 1963; he died in 1989. In addition to her daughter Robin, she is survived by another daughter, Pamela Ladas, and three grandchildren.

In the 1970s, Alice Ladas served on the boards of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the International Institute of Bioenergetic Analysis, based in Barcelona, Spain. A study she conducted with her husband about the effects of body psychotherapy on women’s sexuality led to her collaboration with Whipple and Perry.

Ladas was a protégé of Adelle Davis, a nutritionist who taught her about organic foods and the importance of exercise. Ladas snorkeled and played tennis into her 90s and played piano even after she turned 100, her daughter said.

Two nights before she died, she and a friend went to see the movie “Oppenheimer,” about the developer of the atomic bomb. It was “not history to her,” her daughter said, because “that was what she lived.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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