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The clitoris is the only human organ designed purely for pleasure and for no other reason. The word “clitoris” may be derived from the ancient Greek word, kleitoris translated as “key”, “little hill” and “to rub”. It has also been traced to the verb “kleitoriazein”, which means to “titillate lasciviously or to seek pleasure.” Wherever its origins are from, the word clitoris is recognized not just in English, but in all modern European languages.
In the history of sexual anatomy, the clitoris has long been dismissed, shamed and misunderstood. In fact, when a french physician diessected it for the first time in 1545 he named it membre honteux translated as “ the shameful member” and he delcared its only purpose was for urination.
Despite the Greeks naming the clitoris it has taken humans more than 2,000 years to develop the correct understanding of the structure and function of the clitoris even though half of the population has a clitoris. Though female anatomy has not changed all that much, our understanding of it has. Throughout history, the clitoris has been lost, found and lost again, with male clinicians and scientists fighting one another over who deserves credit for its “discovery.” Frustratingly the full clitoris is still inadequately portrayed in most anatomy textbooks.
After reading in a 1985 anatomy book Last’s Anatomy that the female genitals were considered as a “failure” of male genital formation, Helen O’Connell knew that could not be true. What followed was her ground-breaking research paper in 1998 which required the dissection of 10 cadavers to remove the pubic bone. She then used magnetic resonance imaging of living women in 2005 to demonstrate how inaccurate and incomplete textbook descriptions (and sketches) of the clitoris and female genitalia were.
In 2008 French researchers Odile Buisson and Pierre Foldès reported similar findings to that of O’Connell’s. In 2008, they published the first complete 3D sonography of the stimulated clitoris which led to a 3 D printed anatomicla structure of the clirotis being created by Bouisson to teach in sexual education classes in France.
When a baby is conceived it has the same genital tissue and as the sex of the child develops, the male genital tissue grows into a penis and the female into a clitoris.
There are many nicknames for the clitoris including rosebud, cherry pit, love button and joy buzzer. In ancient Turkey, small clitorises were called sesame seeds, medium sized ones were called lentils and big ones were called chickpeas!
Often the use of nicknames can and does lead to embarrassment and infantilising this pleasure organ rather than using the correct anatomical terminology.
I have even been called a “body fascist” when suggesting that using the correct terminology helps people overcome their embarrassment about talking about their clitoris, vulva and vagina!
The clitoris is the most sensitive part of the female sexual system because it has between 6,000 to 8,000 nerve endings, more than any other part of the human body, both male and female. The external part of the clitoris has a gland, foreskin and a tiny shaft, just like a penis. The shaft can be stimulated as a warm up to more direct touching of the clitoral head. The sensitivity of the clitoris differs dramatically from woman to woman and you and your partner need to learn the best way that works for you.
The clitoris is made up of erectile tissue that becomes erect during sexual stimulation and relaxed after orgasm. It is just as tender as the penis so needs to be treated very gently. Using a good quality lube can enhance the sensations. It should be treated like a small penis so try experimenting with back and forth, up and down or round and round strokes using a finger, tongue or a vibrator. Some women find direct stimulation far too sensitive; therefore, stimulation using the labia as a sheath, a thin cloth or silk handkerchief may be more suitable. If your clitoris is hypersensitive after having an orgasm, try exploring multiple orgasms if you can stand being touched again.
The average clitoris is a fifth of an inch long and over a tenth of an inch wide, but they can vary from woman to woman. Women who have given birth tend to have larger clitorises – the longest measured in history was 12”!
Not only does the clitoris never deteriorate, but it actually gets bigger the older you get. At the end of puberty, a girl’s clitoris has nearly doubled in size. By the time a woman is 32 years old, her clitoris is almost four times larger than it was at puberty. And it just keeps growing. After menopause, the clitoris is about seven times larger than it was at birth. This may be why some women claim that they are having more fantastic sex the older they become, or it may be that they are just more comfortable with their bodies and better understand their sexual needs than younger women.
The clitoris is not just an external structure: it extends deep into the body and branches down into the labia. The external part is really just the tip of the iceberg! The legs of the clitoris extend down and back into the body, shaped like a wishbone with the clitoral shaft on the top in the centre. The clitoral legs contain lots of sensitive nerve endings and can be internally stimulated by using deeper pressure on the labia.
The clitoris is intimately entwined with all of the pelvic structures around it, including the urethra (the duct for urination), the vagina and the labia.
Besides the tip of the clitoris (or C-spot), a woman has three other erogenous zones inside and around the vagina that connect with and stimulate the clitoris. These include the famous G-spot and the lesser known A and U-spots. The G-spot, located just inside the vagina in the anterior wall is the size of a five pence piece and has a texture similar to that of a walnut shell. When gently rubbed it produces a sensation similar to needing to urinate, but this feeling passes and can lead to strong, powerful orgasms, different from clitoral orgasms.
The U-spot is made up of small glands located in front of the anterior wall of the vagina and around the lower end of the urethra. They are similar to the male prostate glands in origin and structure and produce a liquid chemically similar to semen, which may be expelled in considerable quantity during orgasm accompanied with female ejaculation.
The A-spot is a patch of sensitive tissue found deep inside the vagina, at the inner end of the vaginal tube between the cervix and the bladder. Direct stimulation of this spot can produce violent orgasmic contractions. Unlike the clitoris, it is not supposed to suffer from post-orgasmic over-sensitivity.
Due to the similar structure of the clitoris to the penis, most women require clitoral stimulation to experience an orgasm and 70 percent of women achieve an orgasm clitorally. A clitoral orgasm involves between 3-15 contractions and lasts from 10-30 seconds, and some women also have pelvic contractions or a series of multiple clitoral orgasms which last much longer. The average clitoral orgasm lasts longer than even the best male orgasm!
The best sexual positions for achieving an orgasm through clitoral stimulation is being on top of your partner, you can reach down and use either your fingers or a small vibrator, or from behind whereby you or your partner can stimulate your clitoris with either fingers or a vibrator. Some women can orgasm clitorally by rubbing hard on their partner’s pubic bone when on top.
Your vagina and clitoris are both highly absorbant so it is advisable to avoid using products that contain substances which can cause irritation or an allergic reaction, just as you would with cosmetics and hygiene products.
To ensure you don’t experience any adverse reaction to your lubricant, it is best to avoid ingredients such as parabens, petroleum-based ingredients (found in petroleum jelly), glycerin and glucose, as these can promote yeast infections and leave your vagina feeling itchy, sore and uncomfortable.
In a world where breast augmentation, nose jobs and other cosmetic surgery is growing, the popularity of making your labia more “normal” and your vagina “tighter” has turned into a designer demand. The constant need to have the perfect body comes at any cost for some women.
Every woman’s body is unique, and vulvas vary in colour, shape and size. The vulva is the female’s external genitalia. The labia majora are the outer lips where pubic hair grows, and the labia minora are the inner lips that extend from the clitoris. Some women have small, smooth, pink labia while others have larger, wrinkled and dark labia.
The exposure of people to surgically enhanced vulvas seen in pornographic videos, the lack of exposure to normal female genitalia, the practice of Brazilian and genital waxing, exposing the labia can lead them to believe that this is normal and wish to change the way they look.
Bleaching products are the worst, perpetuating the myth that our vulva, vagina and anus need to look peachy pink, despite destroying intimate health, causing irritation, scarring and infection, fuelling racial bias yet sold on some sex toy and sexual health websites who profess to care about vaginal autonomy and sexual liberation!
A recent survey by The Eve Appeal (2016) found that half of young women (aged 16-25) couldn’t locate the vagina on a medical diagram. Sadly 65% of the women found it difficult to use the word vagina, demonstrating a dangerous lack of knowledge amongst UK women.
This highlights the problem young women have when talking about sexual health and gynaecological issues with friends, family and especially their GP.
It also shows that this subject is not being covered properly in sex education lessons in schools, thus depriving children of the opportunity to learn about their bodies and getting them to use the correct terminology.
This may also explain why some young women struggle to experience an orgasm as they don’t realise that they need to stimulate their clitoris.Teaching them about their bodies enables young people to learn what feels and looks normal and what is abnormal, especially when so many worry that they are “abnormal”.
Some women suffer from vulval pain and need to seek medical help. Often the reason is unknown but this can impact upon women’s sexual health and pleasure.
You can develop clitoral atrophy whereby the clitoris will retreat into the body or the hood can fuse closed, covering the head and shaft of the clitoris. The menopause can cause this to happen due to the reduction of oestrogen. The clitoris, like any tissue within the human body, requires a good blood flow to stay healthy so using good vaginal moisturisers, lubricants and local oestrogen can all help to keep the tissue of the vulva healthy in addition to regular orgasms which promote godd blood flow to the clitoris.
With or without a partner, masturbation is an important part of self care and the physical and psychological benefits of orgasms are huge, boosting the immune system, balancing hormonal levels and generally creating a great sense of well being as well as putting a smile on your face and making you look younger too!
A fantastic work of art, “The Great Wall of Vagina” by UK-based sculptor Jamie McCartney, on display in the UK depicts vulvae casts of 400 women aged between 18-76 years. He created this work over 5 years, casting the vulvae of women who were identical twins, transgender individuals, pre and post natal women, all of whom were more than willing to submit their genitalia to plaster in the name of art.
This ingenious piece of art is neither erotic art or pornographic in nature, but an excellent way of educating people about what normal women really look like by grabbing the attention of the nation, both male and female.
McCartney comments that: “For many women, their genital appearance is a source of anxiety and it’s time society grew up around these issues”.
As every one of the 400 labia is different, McCartney has emphasised that there is no “normal” labia and the growing trend of “designer vaginas” is worrying for future generations.
Clinicians at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists at the World Congress in Brisbane have called for more research to understand, in depth, women’s motivations for such surgical interventions.