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Cue your Oprah voice, because you get a hard-on, and you get a hard-on, and you get a hard-on…
That’s right, folks of all genders and genitalia can get erections, not just people with penises!
But chances are you didn’t learn that in health class. So, to help you become more cliterate, we put together this sheet on clitoral erections.
When most people say “clit,” they’re usually talking about the sensitive love button that sits at the apex of the labia (your down-there lips).
But that’s not the whole clitoris. It’s just the external part, known as the glans. There’s an internal part, too.
The clitoris extends back into the body (usually close to 4 inches!) and around the vaginal canal, explains Garrison. If you were to extract the clit entirely from the body, it’d look a bit like a wishbone.
When aroused, blood rushes to the erectile tissue that makes up the clit (the same tissue as in a penis), causing it to become engorged. This is a clitoral erection.
Yep! Individuals who have a penis get erections when blood flow gets directed to their erectile tissues.
The difference is that when folks who have a vulva get erections, you can’t really see them, because most of the clitoris is inside the body.
When erect, the part of the clit you can see (the glans) “will peak out of the clitoral hood and grow in size 50 to 300 percent,” according to Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in sexual functioning.
“And the vaginal lips will swell during arousal so that they are two to three times bigger than usual,” she said.
And remember: Even the parts of the clitoral structure you can’t see swell and engorge as a result of the increased blood flow.
“You’re not going to see the clitoris grow a few inches and point up to the sky,” Garrison says. That’s because, again, most of the erection happens on the inside.
But there will be some noticeable changes, he says.
Typically, the clitoral hood will pull back, and the external bud will become engorged, making it more visible.
As a result of the blood flow, the clit may become a deeper pink or red color.
The inner and outer labia may also become engorged and swollen. And because the Bartholin glands inside the vagina sometimes secrete lubrication during arousal, the clit and surrounding labia may glisten with the natural lube.
To the touch, the clit itself will generally feel harder and bigger than usual. “How hard exactly depends on the clit owner,” Garrison says. To the touch, it can be super-duper sensitive.
But if you have a clitoris and you’re reading this, it’s possible that you’ve gotten a clitoral erection when you were aroused and didn’t really notice.
Many folks won’t recognize their clitoral erection as a clitoral erection, explains Garrison.
“They’ll feel that ‘I’m turned on’ feeling and enjoy the physical sensations that typically accompany that, but won’t feel anything ‘special’ outside of that,” he says.
Still, for other folks, a clitoral erection produces much more obvious sensation.
For instance, Jessie K., a 33-year-old cisgender woman, says, “Yeah, my clit gets hard and swollen when I’m turned on. And it’s, like, 100 times more sensitive in this state than it is normally.”
Jake B., a 25-year-old trans man on testosterone, says, “After about 2 months on T my clit started to grow, and now when I’m aroused it becomes very visible erect. When that happens, it feels really good, almost tingly. It’s become super sensitive.”
This probably won’t surprise you, but research on the topic is completely MIA. More research is needed to conclusively answer this question.
Until then, the answer depends on who you ask.
According to Jeffcoat, yes: “This can occur in all folks with vulvas.”
Garrison isn’t so certain. He says that just as some vulva owners can squirt and some can’t, some vulva owners get clitoral erections and some don’t.
“Whether you get hard-ons or not, your bod is normal/natural/healthy,” he says.
Yep, many things!
As Garrison explains, “really anything that makes you hornier can make the erection stronger or more pleasurable.”
A few suggestions are below.
The clit, like the penis, is at its most sensitive when you’re aroused. And if you have a clitoral erection, chances are you’re horny. So go ahead and touch it.
“There’s no wrong way to touch an erect clit,” Garrison says.
To find what feels best, experiment with:
- tapping it
- moving your fingers around it in clockwise and counterclockwise circles
- stroking it up and down or side to side
- touching the sides of it
Use a sex toy
“It allows you to jerk off the clit in a similar way that you would with a Fleshlight or any other penile masturbation sleeve,” he says.
Experiment with edging
Edging is the practice of stopping yourself from reaching orgasm right before you’re about to get off over and over in order to make the final orgasm better.
“Edging will increase the amount of time you have a clitoral erection and make it stronger,” Jeffcoat says.
See a pelvic floor therapist
Because the pelvic floor plays a role in all sexual functioning, Jeffcoat notes that “making sure your pelvic floor muscles are strong and healthy can also help.”
Note: This doesn’t mean doing Kegels all willy-nilly. It means visiting a pelvic floor therapist who can assess the health of your pelvic floor and give you at-home exercises to try if needed to support its health.
Find a qualified pelvic floor therapist at this directory, courtesy of the American Physical Therapy Association.
Live an otherwise healthy lifestyle
“Clit erections rely on vasocongestion, or blood flow,” Garrison says.
So, things that support healthy blood flow, like a balanced diet, regular exercise, and not smoking or drinking, will help make your hard-on better, he says.
While getting a clitoral erection is a normal and healthy response to being aroused, it isn’t something that should be happening in the absence of sexual stimulation.
PGAD is a condition that can result in folks being aroused and having a clitoral erection even when there isn’t any physical, visual, aural, or other sexual stimulation happening.
This can be really disruptive to your daily life, Jeffcoat says.
“Priapism is when there’s an erection, but there’s zero sexual arousal,” Garrison says. “Usually the erections last 4 or more hours and can become painful.”
There are many possible causes for these conditions, but the most common include:
- certain medications, like SSRIs or blood thinners
- recreational substances, like cannabis or cocaine
- certain disorders and diseases, like sickle cell anemia and leukemia
In both cases, sex therapist Angela Watson (aka Doctor Climax) says you should seek medical attention.
“In addition to being painful, prolonged clitoral erection can result in scar tissue [that] can form underneath the clitoris that is very difficult to remove,” she says.
Isn’t the clit spectacular?
When you’re aroused, it can become hard, extra sensitive, and pretty and pink in color. So long as the erection isn’t spontaneous, painful, or seriously long lasting, just enjoy it!
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.