Everything You Need To Know About The Clitoris

Illustration by Sarah C. Wintner

Illustration by Sarah C. Wintner

Oh, the clitoris.

So often, the clitoris is a neglected topic of discussion in sterile sex-ed classes. Hell, I barely remember learning about it in my ultra progressive school’s approach to teaching us about the birds, bees, and everything in between. When it comes to “female bodies”, talking about the vag reigns supreme. I mean, I guess I get it: People are familiar with the vagina–at least by name. Unfortunately, people start to refer to everything in the vaginal region as the vagina. Ask someone to talk about labial folds, the vulva, or the clitoris, and they’re stumped.

Well, when it comes our friend the clitoris, you no longer have to worry about being one of those clueless people. From its physiological purpose to its orgasmic potential, here’s everything you need to know about the clitoris.

Okay, so what–technically–is the clitoris?

The clitoris is a female sex organ that sort of looks like a little button surrounded by skin (the clitoral hood). It’s located around the inner lips of the labia and right above the opening of the urethra (where urine comes out). It’s the number one most sensitive erogenous zone on folks with vaginal genitalia, meaning that it is super responsive in a sexually pleasurable way.


Why is the clitoris important? Does it serve any real purpose?

Uh, sexual pleasure is totally a real purpose! I mean, just because it doesn’t keep your heart beating doesn’t mean that its purpose is flippant! Actually, here’s a cool fact: The clitoris is the only organ in the human body that is for the purpose of pleasure and only the purpose of pleasure. Woop!

Clitoral stimulation is usually seen as the key to an orgasm for female bodied folks. Orgasms are pretty important in the realm of masturbation and a pleasurable sexual experience. So, yeah, try to tell someone with a clit that it doesn’t matter and prepare to get roasted. 


Is it true that it’s made out of the same stuff that a penis is made of?

penis punch

Well, not exactly, but there are a few similarities between the two. In scientific talk, folks will describe the penis and the clitoris as homologous to each other. What does that mean? Well, in the case of penises and clitorises, it means that they both share “common embryonic origin.”

What does that mean? Basically, both penises and clitoris develop from the same tissues while a baby is cookin’ in the womb. They also have a tendency to stiffen, swell, and become engorged with blood during arousal. Honestly, you can kind of look at a penis as an elongated clitoris; the clitoral hood is sort of like a penis’ foreskin!

With that said, it’s worth noting this fun fact: The average penis has about 4,000 nerve endings. The clitoris? 8,000 or more. The clit wins!


So, is it impossible to have an orgasm without clitoral stimulation?

The short answer is, well, sure. But it’s worth pointing out 75 percent of women claim that they cannot achieve orgasm without clitoral stimulation. So, if you can, you’re definitely in the minority and probably a clueless penis owner’s dream partner in the sack (a lot of people don’t really know to include the clitoris in sexy times, which I’ll touch on a little later).

Here’s the long answer: There’s a lot of debate over whether or not vaginal orgasms even exist, because research shows that the clitoral glands that extend into the inside of the vagina are stimulated during penetrative sex. This leaves some wondering if so-called vaginal orgasms are actually just more invasive clitoral orgasms. Still, whether this is about semantics or science, we should all be able to agree that the clit matters.


How can I, er, stimulate it?


Well, there are all sorts of ways you can stimulate your clitoris and achieve an orgasm, whether you’re going solo or getting intimate with a partner. Hell, you can even stimulate your clit unintentionally from exercising!

When in doubt, there’s always manual stimulation. Er, by that, I mean you can stimulate the clitoris with your fingers with a little rubbing or prodding. You can do that with a vibrator or some other type of sex toy, too, if you prefer. Team masturbation!

You can even throw some lube into the mix. Sure, a vagina often lubricates itself, but lube is never a bad option because the clit can get a little dry and sensitive after a lot of stimulation.

Of course, there’s always tongues! Oral stimulation of the clitoris is, understandably, pretty damn popular. Oh, and if you’re having penetrative sex, it’s important to know that certain positions can stimulate the clitoris thanks to a little bumpin’ and grinding.


Why do so few people know of the clitoris’ mighty powers, though?

Because who cares about sexual pleasure for female bodies?

No, seriously, this is probably the best–though admittedly cynical–answer to this question.

People have only started to talk about the clitoris recently, but it still isn’t really covered very thoroughly in sex-ed. The sexuality of female bodies is so vagina focused that even folks who have a clitoris are clueless about it. A small study in 2005 found that female undergrads weren’t more likely than their male counterparts to locate the clitoris in a diagram. Perhaps those with a clitoris would have been able to locate it if they weren’t made to feel shamed for a little self exploration in the form of masturbation, an act that is still far more socially acceptable if someone with a penis does it.

susie rugrats blink unimpressed

There’s more sinister reasons behind a lack of appreciation for the clitoris: Some cultures just don’t believe that women have the right to have sexual satisfaction. You can look at several different cultures over the course of history and discover that the treatment of women was pretty paltry, and their bodies were seen as baby making machines above all else.

Millions of girls and women experience female genital mutilation, in which some or all of the external bits of one’s genitals are removed, including the clitoris. These practices stem from traditions of female subservience, gender inequality, and myths and misinformation about purity. While this is prevalent in parts of northeastern Africa, don’t be fooled into thinking that female genital mutilation is something that would never happen in the west. Just so you know, western doctors in the 1800s were slicing away women’s clitorises as a cure for masturbation–yes, a cure–or “immorality.”


Er, what should one do if their partner is totally clueless about the clit?

Yo, knowledge is power. If you’re a cis-gender girl with a vagina and you’re in a sexual relationship with a cis-gender boy with a penis, there’s a pretty high chance that your partner is ignorant about the extent to which the clitoris can make or break a sexual experience. If your partner is under the impression that a few penetrative thrusts are all it takes to get the job done, let them know that that ain’t the case! You can be upfront about it or be a little playful and guide their hand to your clitoris while you guys are experiencing some foreplay or are actually in the act.

By helping your partner become woke AF to the power of the clitoris, you’re making the world a better place.

orgasm gif

Wait, before this post is over, can we talk about clit piercings for a second?


Do those hurt as much as they seem?

Well, everybody will have a different opinion about this, but from my minimal research the answer is yes, it’ll probably hurt. But here’s what you should be aware of: Most clit piercings don’t involve actually piercing through the clitoral shaft. Rather, it’s the clitoral hood that is pierced. So somebody who is talking about getting their clit pierces is probably actually getting a clitoral hood piercing. However, for those who do wish to get their actual clit pierced, it is important to know that that can lead to nerve damage and over stimulation of the clitoris. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.


Why do you think the clitoris is pretty glazed over during sex-ed? Do you think that the perks of clitoral stimulation aren’t known enough to the average person? Tell us in the comments!

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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