What Science Tells Us About the Clitoris: It’s All Custom Under the Hood

Apr 1, 2012
Sex Talk
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I was recently talking to friends, and the topic of sex came up. Being someone who researchers and writes about sex, as well as works with clients struggling with sexual issues, I had a few things to contribute to the conversation. Given that I specialize in female sexuality, most of my comments were focused there.

Some of what I said was new, even to this group of highly educated men and women—many of whom were also psychologists. This had me realize that much of what I know is far from common knowledge, yet potentially useful to helping women and their partners enhance their sexual satisfaction. Below are a few such tidbits, all pertaining to female orgasm in general and the clitoris is specific.

But first, a brief anatomy lesson is in order. As stated on the Trojan website, the clitoris “is larger than meets the eye.” As eloquently described on a post on the Museum of Sex website, “Try asking the next person you encounter to tell you where the clitoris is located … the majority of answers you receive will sound something like, “It’s that small bulb at the top of my lips,” or, “That’s the button up under the hood.” Such statements are referring to the visible part of the clitoris: the glans and the clitoral hood.

However, as aptly stated on the Museum of Sex blog, “The interesting truth is that the majority of the clitoris is actually within the pelvis – that is, it’s far more internal than external.” Importantly, both the parts of the clitoris that can and cannot be seen become engorged with blood during sexual stimulation. The clitoris is critical to women’s sexual arousal and pleasure.

It’s Quite Nervy: As explained in the fabulous book, I Love Female Orgasms, the clitoris (or more accurately, the glans) has more nerve endings than anywhere else in the human body. This is why women derive exquisite pleasure from stimulation of the clitoris and at the same time, for some women, too much stimulation can be uncomfortable or even painful. Some women instead prefer stimulation of the surrounding parts. In short, the visible portion of the clitoris is densely packed with nerve endings, and therefore, preferred clitoral stimulation methods vary from woman to woman and can even vary for an individual woman from one sexual encounter to another.

It’s for Pleasure Only: The sole purpose of the clitoris is pleasure. No other male or female organ is designed only for pleasure.

It’s Orgasm Central: While some writers differentiate between clitoral orgasms, vaginal orgasms, and G-spot orgasms, a large number of scientists believe that ALL orgasms emanate from the clitoris. First, by far the most common way for a woman to reach orgasm is through direct clitoral stimulation (including hands, tongues and vibrators). During intercourse, the clitoris is only indirectly stimulated and this is why only a minority of women orgasm through penetration alone. Those women who do orgasm through penetration alone often say they do so in the woman-on-top position; this may be because of the friction of rubbing the clitoris against one’s partner’s abdomen or the shaft of his penis. Another very interesting theory, supported by recent research by Wallen and Llloyd, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, is that women who have orgasms during intercourse have clitorises that are closer to their vagina than those who do not.

Quoting from Wallen and Lloyd’s 2011 article, “Since the ’60s, the notion that some women experience orgasm during intercourse solely from vaginal stimulation has been questioned and currently the most common view is that all women’s orgasms during intercourse are triggered by direct or indirect clitoral stimulations.” Likewise, while some experts claim that orgasms during intercourse are due to the elusive G-spot, a reputable group of scientists assert that vaginal orgasms aren’t due to anything in the vagina at all: they are the result of stimulation to the internal structures of the clitoris or from the motion of vaginal penetration pulling on or rubbing against the clitoris. To summarize, while controversy exists, there is evidence that all orgasms are the result of direct or indirect stimulation of the clitoris, including both the external and internal parts of this often misunderstood human organ.

Translating this into take-to-bed advice for women, learn what kind of clitoral stimulation you like and tell your partner about this. A great book to help you with this is Becoming Orgasmic. If you are in the vast majority of heterosexual women who don’t reach orgasm from penile-vaginal intercourse alone, stop trying.

Instead, have your orgasm from clitoral stimulation before, during, or after intercourse—using a hand, a tongue or a vibrator. One fun option is to try a couple sex toy specifically designed to provide a woman clitoral stimulation during intercourse. One example is the Binky, which can be purchased at A Woman’s Touch. Several similar toys can be purchased at Passion Parties online shopping site. Corey Silverberg provides some great advice for introducing vibrator play into couple encounters.

Science on the clitoris aside, the most important advice for sexual satisfaction and orgasm is to know what you like and to learn to ask your partner for it. Again, taking words from the Museum of Sex blog, “What works for one woman may not work for another. In other words, it’s all custom under the hood.”


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