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  • Miranda L. Galbreath, MA, MA, LPC

Let's get clitorate!

Hi sexual safety friends! In honor of the arrival of my beautiful "clitoring" from PenelopiJones, I thought I would share some facts about the wonderful, amazing clitoris.

The more I read, attend trainings, and learn, the more I realize how little I know, and how little we ALL know! I don't know about the rest of you, but nobody ever taught me a gosh darn thing about the clitoris, and I have one of my very own!


First off, if you want to see some super cool, colorful models of the clitoris made by medical illustrators, check out Anatomy of Pleasure.


Once you get a good sense of what the clitoris looks like, let's talk some facts! Unfortunately, the penis seems to get all of the attention when it comes to sex ed, and just general knowledge in our community. And I recently read in Emily Nagoski's excellent book, Come As You Are, that unfortunately sex research has historically focused on men and their parts (which generally means the penis), but has not focused nearly so much on women and their parts (which generally means the vulva). She talked about how it is often just assumed that folks with a clitoris function the same as folks with a penis, and that if folks with a clitoris function differently, there is something terribly wrong. Check out her book to read how she totally busts that myth with SCIENCE.


Fact #1: Let's start with language. Although we most commonly use the word "vagina" to refer to the genitals of folks assigned as female, "vulva" is actually the correct word for the external anatomy (the parts we can see). The vagina is the tube that leads up to the uterus (that babies might come out of, and tampons, penises, fingers, etc. might go in). The vulva consists of the inner and outer labia, the vaginal opening, the urinary opening, and the clitoris.


Fact #2: The genital tracts of male and female embryos are the same up until about week 12 in the uterus. The "genital tubercle" has the potential to turn into either a penis and scrotum or a clitoris and labia (or something in between in the case of intersex folks). As Emily Nagoski says, they are the same parts, just organized differently!


Fact #3: Both the clitoris and the penis have erectile tissue (same parts, organized differently!) that swell when they become engorged with blood. The clitoris can swell to double it's normal size!


Fact #4: All orgasms are the same. I'm sure you've heard of "clitoral" orgasms" vs "vaginal orgasms" and all that, but all orgasms are the same in terms of your body's physical and emotional response. The only difference is what parts of you are being stimulated. People can be stimulated to orgasm from contact with all sorts of different body parts, or even no physical contact at all!


Fact #5: Speaking of orgasms, research tells us that less than a third of women reach orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. And for even those women, it's likely that clitoral stimulation plays some role in those orgasms, as the size and placement of their clitoris makes it likely that their clitoris is being stimulated during vaginal penetration. For most women, this doesn't happen (the clitoris being stimulated during vaginal penetration) unless the woman and/or her partner take clitoral stimulation into their own hands (literally).


Fact #6: The head or "glans" of the clitoris is much more sensitive than the head of the penis. The glans has an estimated 8,000 sensory nerve endings in that tiny little area, which makes any sensation very nuanced and powerful. In fact, the clitoris is the only organ we know of that exists solely to provide pleasure!


I hope you are finding yourself more clitorate after reading all of this, but I'd be even happier to find out that you knew it already, because you learned it in sex ed! But if you're like me and you want to learn more, I'd suggest reading Emily Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, or The Wonder Down Under, or Becoming Clitorate.

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