Your clitoris is an integral part of having a good time in bed, but how much do you actually know about it? Unlike penises, which literally let it all hang out, your goods are a bit more tucked away and compact—but that doesn’t mean they need to remain a mystery.
“All you need is a hand mirror to explore,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine. May we suggest whipping one out as a reading companion to these facts?
Chances are, when you think of your clitoris, you’re only focusing on the clitoral head, or the pea-sized nub of pleasure hiding out beneath the clitoral hood. “Beyond the head, there’s a three- to five-inch-long structure that stems inward along the vaginal canal,” says Sadie Allison, Ph.D., author of Tickle Your Fancy: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Self-Pleasure.
They’re just a little smaller than men’s. Your clitoris is made up of the same spongy erectile tissue as a penis. “When you’re aroused, blood flow to the tissue causes it to engorge,” says Allison. Clitoral and penile erectile tissue are the same because all embryos start off with a vulva. “If the embryo’s second chromosome is a Y, the clitoris grows longer and becomes a penis and the outer labia grow into testicles instead,” says Allison.
Learn other fun facts about your body:
The legs are shaped like a wishbone, and they also swell with blood when you’re turned on. “What people call a vaginal orgasm could very well be clitoral because the crura legs are being stimulated along the vaginal walls,” says Allison. Here’s a little bit of (very fun) homework: The next time you’re super turned on, run your finger pads up and down the inside of your inner labia. Press against your skin, and you might notice what feels like two swollen veins. Those are your crura! "Every body is different," says Allison. "You may not be able to feel it, but it’s worth exploring when you’re in that state."
Its official name is the commissure, and it’s a lot like the foreskin of a man’s penis. Think of it as your clit’s bodyguard, keeping all that sensitive tissue safe from irritants. There’s also a shaft right under the clitoral hood to help connect the head and legs.
It’s a serious hub of pleasure: your clitoris packs around 8,000 nerve endings into its small real estate. “That’s about two to three times more than the amount in the head of a penis,” says Allison. “It’s the reason why so many men don’t understand how gentle they may need to be with a clitoris.” Don’t be shy if you need to tell him to go for feather-light strokes instead of jamming it like a doorbell.
While experts aren’t sure how many nerves are in the vaginal walls, they pale in comparison to the ones hanging out in your clit. “The majority of women need direct clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm, but many of them feel bad that they can’t have an orgasm without it,” says Minkin. “You shouldn’t feel weird or ashamed if that’s what you need to orgasm.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Thank your basically nonexistent refractory period for that. “Unlike a man’s penis, your clitoris can maintain most of its blood supply after an orgasm,” says Allison. Although you may experience a little sensitivity immediately post-O, you can have plenty of multiple orgasms pretty quickly because you’re physically still right at the point of no return.
“Clitoris size varies very substantially from woman to woman,” says Minkin, who says vulvar cosmetic surgery, some of which includes clitoral-hood reduction for aesthetic reasons, is “nonsense.” “I’ve been an ob-gyn for 39 years, and I’ve never told somebody she needed vulvar plastic surgery," says Minkin. "Everything I’ve seen is normal." Keep that in mind if you’re ever feeling self-conscious about what you’ve got going on downstairs.
They’re something of an anatomical rainbow. “Everything from the hood to the head can vary in color between women," says Allison. "There are light pinks all the way to almost black and all the roses in between." Just like when it comes to size, every color is normal!
By the time you hit menopause, your clitoris might be up to 2.5 times bigger than it was when you were a teenager, says Allison. It makes sense that it would grow along with the rest of you, but does that change correspond with an uptick in pleasure? Maybe, says Allison. Even if it doesn’t, the good thing about your clit is that it won’t give up as you age. “I’ve spoken with women in their nineties who are still having mind-blowing orgasms," says Allison. "Your clitoris can function forever."
All hail the vibrator, pleasure producer for women everywhere! “I encourage my patients to experiment freely and have a good time with aids that enhance sexual responsiveness,” says Minkin. The one thing to look out for is getting too dependent on an intense level of buzzing. “If you solely rely on vibrators for stimulation, you’ll find you need more and more stimulation to have an orgasm,” says Minkin. That could potentially lead to some difficulty getting off with a partner or on your own sans vibrator, so try mixing up your masturbation.
“Like any other part of your body, the clitoris should be stimulated in a way that creates blood flow in and out to keep it healthy,” says Allison. "Use it or lose it is true when it comes to this!” Although chances are very low, lack of blood flow to the clitoris could potentially cause clitoral atrophy. “It’s an extremely rare medical condition where the clitoris withdraws into he body or the hood fuses and covers the clitoris head and shaft,” says Allison. Again, it’s super-rare, but keep your blood pumping with plenty of sex, masturbation, arousal, and orgasms. Better safe than sorry!