9 Interesting Things You May Not Know About the Clitoris
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
You know that tiny feel-good button between a woman's legs? That’s the clitoris and, speaking figuratively, it's anything but tiny. In fact, it's a powerful organ of sexual pleasure that comes complete with a surprising number of fun facts. You'll be surprised by how much this tiny organ's got going on under the hood. Here's a list of our top picks. (For more amazing info, "Woman: An Intimate Geography" is a great resource.)
It's Exquisitely Sensitive
The clitoris contains at least 8,000 sensory nerve endings. To put that into perspective, the penis has about 4,000. That makes this tiny area the most sensitive part of a woman’s erogenous zone. And while the clitoris is quite small, its powerful sensations can spread across a woman's pelvic area by affecting 15,000 other nerve endings.
It's Bigger Than You Think
Did you know that Marie Bonaparte—great-grandniece to the Napoleon Bonaparte— had her clitoris surgically moved? Not removed (thank goodness), but moved. Closer to her vagina, that is. The reason was simple. Like many women, she couldn't orgasm from vaginal sex. At the time there was—and still is—evidence that if the space between the clitoris and vaginal opening is less than an inch, a woman is more likely to be able to orgasm through penetrative sex alone.
The sad part, for Bonaparte at least, is that the surgery didn't work.
Here's what she didn't know: Only one quarter of the clitoris is visible. The rest of it is inside the body, which means this organ can't really be picked up and moved. The clitoris is made up of many different parts, including the clitoral head, the hood the clitoral shaft, the urethral sponge, erectile tissue, glands, vestibular bulbs and the crura (or the clitoral legs). Only the clitoral head and the hood are located outside the body.
It's a Lot Like a Penis
Yeah, there's the whole "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" camp, but in reality, men and women are a lot more alike than most of us realize. Or, at least we start out that way. In fact, all babies, upon conception, have the exact same genital tissue. At about 12 weeks, each baby’s genitalia begin to differentiate into a penis or labia. So, in a sense, the clitoris and penis are the same materials put together in a different way. The clitoris has a glans, a foreskin (also known as the hood), erectile tissue and a teeny-tiny shaft. It even swells when it's aroused! Good thing it's mostly hidden—it saves the ladies from having to measure and compare with their friends ...
The clitoris actually grows during a woman's lifetime. No, it isn't getting stretched out from too much sexy fun. The growth occurs as a result of hormonal changes in the body. When a girl’s puberty begins, the clitoris will start increasing in size. By the time puberty ends, the clitoris will be about 1.8 times larger. By the time a woman is 32 years old, the clitoris will be almost four times as big as it was at the onset of puberty. It doesn’t end there. After menopause, the clitoris will be about seven times larger than it was at birth. Don't freak out: this is still a very small area, so the change in size won't be very noticeable. And hey, it might help to explain why older women often report such hot sex.
It's Only There for the Sex
A woman's body includes a number of super-hot erogenous zones, but you might say many of those are sort of, well, incidental. Not the clit. It's there for fun. Yup, that’s right. The clitoris is the only part of the body designed solely for pleasure. So, while other body parts used for sexual pleasure have at least one other purpose to them, your clit is just there to get you off.
Every Female Has One
Birds do it. Bees do it. OK, maybe not bees, but every female mammal has a clitoris. However, we humans are one of the few species that has evolved to actually use the clitoris for sexual pleasure. That doesn’t mean female mammals cannot orgasm—many other mammals experience sexual pleasure just as we do.
It Can be an Orgasm Deal-Breaker
Vaginal orgasms do exist, but they're tricky for a lot of women to achieve, and only 30 percent of women are able to reach orgasm through penetration alone. (Sadly, Marie Bonaparte was not one of them.) The rest require direct clitoral stimulation. Rubbing, licking, sucking or sex toys will all do the trick, although each clitoris has its own preferences.
Some Women Won't Leave It Alone
Women don’t talk about it, but some of them go under the knife to alter their clitorises. There’s clitoral unhooding, a procedure in which excess tissue in the hood is removed to heighten sensitivity. The size of the clitoris can also be reduced or enlarged. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, more than 2,140 U.S. women underwent "vaginal rejuvenation" surgery in 2012. However, while some surgery can be used to correct problems that cause women pain and discomfort, most experts don't recommend going under the knife for any other reason. You may go in to improve your sex life and emerge with scarring or an infection that could mean no sex life at all.
They're All Different
Some are small, some are big, some are hidden and some protrude rather a lot. Some increase in size when aroused, and others hide under the hood. Some require a lot of pressure, others prefer a very gentle touch. Each little love bud is as unique as the woman attached to it. That's important, too, because getting to know how it works and how to use it to produce pleasure is just a part of getting to know yourself, or your lover.
In "Woman: An Intimate Geography," author Natalie Angier says "the clitoris not only only applauds when a woman flaunts her mastery; it will give a standing ovation." If you have yet to hear any clapping, it's time to learn this little organ's quirky dance. So here's one more helpful thing you may not know that might help: The clitoris never ages. Once it matures, it maintains its sexual peak for the rest of a woman's life. So, if you aren't on good terms with the clit in your life, it isn't too late to start getting acquainted.