When women tell me they’re not happy with their sex life, whether it’s painful or just lackluster, I always ask about foreplay. Are they spending quality time with their clitoris? And while I considered myself pretty knowledgeable of myclitoris, I only recently found out about the internal parts of this sexual organ.
“Some people say we should be calling our entire genital anatomy the clitoris because so much of it is the clitoris,” says Laurie Mintz, a psychology professor at the University of Florida and author of “Becoming Cliterate.” “Even the G-spot we now know has clitoral tissue,” she explained.
Talk about the clitoris has generally referred to the ultra-sensitive, pea-sized external tissue known as the glans. It’s located about an inch above the urethra — where the top of the inner labia meet — and has a hood covering it. While most people are familiar with this outer part, the full clitoral anatomy was only discovered in the late ‘90s.
It’s surprising, or it should be, that we’ve so recently discovered the entire clitoris. Research shows if your glans is more than an inch away from your vagina (about the length of your thumb), you probably won’t have an orgasm just with penetration. Only about a quarter of women say they can climax this way, which means most females need a generous dose of clitoral contact during sex to reach peak arousal.
If you’re not having the best sex, massaging the outer clitoris is a great orgasmic start. But it can also be painfully sensitive, so you might prefer a more indirect route. Thankfully, the clitoris is all around the vagina, so there are a lot of ways to stimulate this erectile organ. Here’s what you need to know about your clitoral anatomy.
What you you can see
Whether you’re self-pleasuring or with a partner, the glans gets a lot of attention. And rightfully so. This smooth, round bump is packed full of nerves. While Mintz says the average glans is about the size of a pencil eraser, everyone is different. She explained that some females have a glans so small it’s hard to see, but others can have one the size of a small penis.
Mintz pointed out that the sensitivity of the glans has nothing to do with its size. And since genital sensations can change throughout your menstrual cycle, you might want more or less attention paid to the clitoris at different times of the month. One study showed the size of the clitoris increases slightly around ovulation — when desire and lubrication also tend to peak — but research is lacking on how that affects sensation.
The shaft and legs
The shaft connects internally to “legs” that wrap around the labia, says Mintz. When you’re aroused, this erectile tissue doubles in size. You can think of it as the female erection.
Paying attention to this area during foreplay can feel good, but you can actually feel this inner tissue even if you’re not turned on. Mintz suggests everyone do a little exploring for themselves: press your ring finger on the glans and your index finger should rest on the shaft. When you press down, you should feel something like a round rubber cord, writes Mintz. Press inward on your labia to feel the legs.
Since the clitoral bulbs surround the vaginal canal, Mintz says that it’s probably impossible to have an orgasm that doesn’t involve at least some part of the clitoris.This teardrop-shaped erectile tissue swells along with the rest of the clitoris, and massaging it with your fingers or having sex can stimulate arousal internally.
“In the rare women that orgasm from penetration alone, we now know that part of the clitoris is being stimulated: the bulbs are being stimulated; the thrusting is pulling the glans,” says Mintz.
Don’t forget about the labia
The clitoris isn’t the only sensitive tissue around the vagina. “The inner lips are chock-full of erectile tissue,” says Mintz. “They’re analogous to the head of the penis. And pulling on them can indirectly stimulate the clitoris.”
Knowledge is power
Artists like Sophia Wallace are creating awareness about the entire clitoral anatomy through art, and students in France are even learning about the clitoris with updated 3D models in class. And becoming familiar with the vast network of nerves that make up the clitoris is the key to your personal orgasm revolution, writes Mintz. Whether you want less painful sex or just better orgasms, all of the clitoris deserves attention.
“It is women’s main sexual organ,” says Mintz. “It’s the only organ in the entire human body made just for pleasure.”