We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: everything you need to know about the anatomy of the clitoris.
Q: Someone told me recently that the clit is way bigger than that little piece I can see and touch, that it actually goes way into you internally. Is that true? What does that mean for how I have sex … can I stimulate the other parts of it? And what does the whole thing look like?
A: Ah, the clitoris! Also called the love button, the bean, the black pearl, the hooded lady, the peak of Venus, the tip of the iceberg, the vulva nose, the little woman on the boat, Miss Poppy … the list goes on.
Regardless of what you name it, how much do you actually know about the clitoris? Don't worry, this isn't a test. It's a supportive learning experience. Here's what you need to know about this amazing part of your anatomy.
Where Is the Clitoris?
What most people call the clitoris is the little hooded nubbin above the opening of the vagina scientists call "the clitoral glans." The clitoral glans is the only part of the clitoris you can see, but it’s actually just the tip — in fact, approximately three quarters of the clitoris is actually inside the body.
The clitoral glans is a bundle of nerve endings — around 8,000 in fact, more than anywhere else in the body and twice the number in the head of a penis. So if you're wondering why that place feels so f$&@ing amazing, that's a huge part of the answer. Another thing to know about it is that it’s made of non-erectile tissue, which means it doesn’t stiffen when engorged with blood (which is how a penis gets hard). Here is a NSFW (depending on where you work) drawing of the external female reproductive anatomy so you can see where it is.
A final thing to know about the clitoris is that its sole function is pleasure — it isn’t required for reproduction, you don’t pee through it, it just sits there (figuratively speaking) waiting to get turned on. That’s pretty awesome.
So, What Does Your Internal Clit Look Like?
The internal part of the clit is around four inches long and is made of erectile tissue, which means that when its owner gets turned on, it gets engorged with blood and stiffens. This part of the clitoris has a structure that is described as a wishbone or a pyramid. It's composed of the hooded glans (the part we can see) which connects to a shaft, which splits into two leg-like tendrils that sit over top two vestibular bulbs — one on either side of the vaginal opening.
Here is a diagram of everything I just explained with all the parts given their scientific names, and here are some 3D images of female genitalia to give you the full computer-rendered effect (both, shockingly, also NSFW).
Why Don't More Of Us Know What The Whole Clitoris Actually Looks Like?
Great question! While an accurate depiction of the full clitoris was shared with the world in the early 19th century, attributed to the German anatomist Georg Ludwig Kobelt (who built on the work of many before him), this critical piece of the human form disappeared from anatomy textbooks (and unsurprisingly, common knowledge) in the 20th century. (Because patriarchy.)
There it languished, mostly misunderstood, until 2005 when Helen O’Connell, Kalavampara Sanjeevan, and John Hudson not only reviewed everything anyone’s ever said about the clit and dissected a bunch of cadavers, but also turned an MRI on the problem and photographed a live clit, which they shared with the broader medical community and probably said: TOLD YOU SO. But in a more mature way, because they are scientists.
What Does This Mean for Pleasure?
The 8,000 nerves in the clitoral glans connect to a network of over 15,000 more nerve endings that provide feeling for the entire pelvic region, making the clit the nexus of pleasure in bodies that have one.
Additionally, cutting-edge sonographic research completed in 2009 by Pierre Foldès and Odile Buisson found that what we call the G-spot is actually the ends of the clit’s wishbone or legs — closing that ridiculous argument about whether that delightful area on the upper wall of the vagina is "real" or not. Further, recent research has shown that those orgasm contractions commonly thought of as vaginal are actually the vestibular bulbs of the clit contracting — which means that all orgasms for individuals with female genitals are actually clitoral.
Something to note is that the placement of the clitoral glans seems to have an impact on how easy it is to orgasm. Specifically, the further apart the gland and the vaginal opening are, the more difficult it can be to attain orgasm. Additional research shows that the size of the glans can impact ability to orgasm as well, with smaller ones indicating more difficulty.
The Bottom Line
Just think about it for a second: we live in a world in which we are barraged by sexual images all the time, most of them related to the female form. The anatomy of the clit was discovered and well-documented by a dude who’s been dead for over 150 years, which is way more than enough time for knowledge to trickle down into the mainstream. And yet, the shape of the nexus of pleasure for the bodies that are most sexualized by modern-day culture is so unknown that I literally wore a clit on my finger all week and not a single person stopped to ask me why I’m rocking pornographic jewelry in the office. Meanwhile, a kid draws anything oval, and automatically, everyone assumes it’s a penis. Because we all know what a cock looks like.
So I challenge everyone who reads this: show one person a picture of what the full clit looks like. Show it to them today. Get them excited about it, because it’s actually pretty damn beautiful.
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Images: laniñx.monstrua/Flickr; Giphy