October 5, 2015 | By Kristine Thomason
Brace yourselves ladies, there’s a whole lot to know about the clitoris that they didn’t teach us in health class. While you’ve probably heard the many unfortunate nicknames for this body part (including “the bean”— who came up with that?), and you definitely know a thing or two about the ahem, functions, of the clitoris, you might not know that it actually gets erect, for example.
Yep, “lady boners” (another very unfortunate nickname, sorry) are real.
To help you become a bit more “cliterate,” here are 10 facts about this amazing part of your anatomy.
It’s truly unique
When it comes to climaxing, “the clitoris is really, really crucial,” says Jim Pfaus, PhD, professor and sex researcher at Concordia University in Montreal. But that’s not the only thing that makes it special: the clitoris is actually the only organ in the body with the sole function of providing pleasure.
It’s long been a mystery
Until 1998 most textbooks only illustrated the external glans. That’s when Helen O’Connell, an Australian urologist, revealed through a series of MRI studies that the clitoris is actually a complex, powerful organ system composed of a total of eighteen parts, two thirds of which are interior.
It’s much more than meets the eye
“When people talk about the clitoris, they’re usually just talking about the glans—the very sensitive outside part,” says Rebecca Chalker, PhD, Professor of Sexology at Pace University and author of The Clitoral Truth ($12, amazon.com). But the bump you can see on the vulva is only the tip of an iceberg.
The internal part is connected to the glans by the corpora cavernosa, two spongey areas of erectile tissue. Farther down, the corpora cavernosa branches off into a pair of wings known as the crura which extend into the body and around the vaginal canal like a wishbone. Then, underneath the crura are the clitoral vestibules, or vestibular bulbs. Like much of the clitoris, these sac-like structures of tissue become engorged with blood when you get aroused.
It’s got a lot of nerve
The clitoris is the most nerve-rich part of the vulva, says Debra Herbenick, PhD, a sexual health educator from The Kinsey Institute. The glans contains about 8,000 nerve endings, making it the powerhouse of pleasure. To get some perspective, that’s twice as many nerve endings as the penis. And its potential doesn’t end there. This tiny erogenous zone spreads the feeling to 15,000 other nerves in the pelvis, which explains why it feels like your whole body is being taken over by your O-M-G moment.
Every woman’s is different
Women are all unique, so why would clitorises be any different? Every woman needs a different kind of stimulation to feel satisfied, depending on her unique biology. “Just because it’s sensitive doesn’t mean everyone wants it to be stimulated directly,” Herbenick says. “Some women prefer touching near the clitoris but not on it.” Pfaus agrees: “If she’s too sensitive with direct stimulation, more of that may make her want to kill you.”
It’s the real G-spot
We’ve all heard about the infamous G-spot: Does it exist? Do all women have one? Yes and yes. That’s because the G-spot is actually the clitoris. This notorious pleasure zone became sensationalized back in the 80s which, as Chalker explains, “created this idea that if you could only access the G-spot inside the vagina, it would promote female orgasm.” But we’ve since learned that some women may feel more sensation via the internal shafts of the clitoral complex (hence why some women might like vaginal penetration more than others), while others prefer external touch. One way is not better than another way, Pfaus adds; it’s really about exploring the possibilities to find out what you like best.
It’s very similar to the penis…
“The clitoris and the penis are somewhat mirror images of each other, just organized differently,” Chalker explains. “In fact, up until two weeks of pregnancy, all embryos appear to be female.” It’s not until week eight of gestation that testosterone kicks in and the penis starts to form. “None of these parts disappear, they just get rearranged,” Chalker says. For example the internal part of the clitoris, also made of erectile tissue, becomes the frame of the penis. With this concept in mind, Chalker points out: “If you consider the clitoris only consisting of the glans, then that’s like saying the only part of a penis is the tip.”
…It even gets erect
“When we talk about erection, we can’t just talk about the penis,” Pfaus says. “We have to talk about the clitoris.” Sure, it might be less noticeable for women, but it can definitely be observed and felt. This occurs when the vestibular bulbs become engorged with blood during arousal. The blood is then trapped here until released via orgasmic spasms.
Size doesn’t matter
Like men, women can get self-conscious about their sexy parts. But guess what? Just like penises, clits come in all shapes and sizes. And size doesn’t matter for either, Chalker explains. Think of it this way: since the brain is your main sex organ, the genitals are simply the receptors of pleasure. “It has to do with visual, tactile, and oral stimulation,” Chalker says, “rather that the actual size of the clit. So while glans may vary from woman to woman, this shouldn’t affect the pleasure-potential.” Also worth noting: chances are size doesn’t (or, at least,shouldn’t) matter to your partner.
It can grow with age
Although the size of your clitoris doesn’t impact your sex life, don’t be surprised if it changes dimensions over your lifetime. According to Chalker, due to a change in hormone levels after menopause, the clit may enlarge for many women. So if you notice some differences in the size of your lady parts over time, don’t be alarmed.