Who says the clitoris is pea-sized? Well, for a very long time, science did. But sometimes science gets it wrong before it gets it right.
And even when science gets it right, sexism still takes the stage and moves away the spotlight. It’s time that both men and women learn that a woman’s pleasure center isn’t a tiny nub: It’s an expansive playground, and we need to relearn the rules to having fun.
Why has the clit been left in the dark?
It’s little wonder that the penis receives the vast amount of attention in research and under the sheets. The male sexual organ isn’t just external. It’s also attached to what has historically been considered the dominant sex.
The clitoris, on the other hand, took much longer to discover, let alone correctly comprehend. It also has the unique distinction of being the only organ in the human body dedicated solely to pleasure, an amazing fact that has ironically been left neglected by science and romantic partners alike.
Dr. Sybil Lockhart, PhD, is a mom, neuroscientist, and full-time researcher at OMGYES, a website that focuses on research and content related to understanding and enhancing female pleasure. Lockhart has a few ideas as to why the clitoris has been given the cold shoulder by science.
“In order to get funding, researchers must often pitch their projects as solutions to problems,” she explains. “But the clitoris is not problematic. It is a pleasure enhancer!”
“We hope that in 10 or 20 years, health researchers will look back and say, wow, we knew for years how physical exercise and brain exercise improve our longevity and happiness — why didn’t we get to the clitoris sooner?” adds Lockhart.
Not only has the clitoris been largely ignored throughout history, information about it — when given — has often been partial or plainly incorrect. In the 1400s, a guide for finding witches considered the clitoris the “devil’s teat,” and any woman with one was a witch.
Even in the early 20th century, Freud was convinced a woman’s ability to orgasm was based on her psychological maturity and that only mentally healthy women could have vaginal orgasms.
Ignorance surrounding the clitoris isn’t just bad for women. It’s also bad news for the significant number of women who experience clitoral pain caused by disease or infection.
Not knowing how to talk about the clitoris — let alone not knowing how a healthy clitoris functions — harms our quality of life, our health, and even our chances at equality in general.
The good news is that the tide is shifting.
On the flip side, knowledge about the clitoris can improve lives
“What we’ve observed again and again is that as women begin to discuss their pleasure with [OMGYES] and with their sexual partners, they report more fun, improved relationships, and better orgasms,” Lockhart says.
The advent of female doctors and researchers has pushed back against the sexism of science, while general societal changes have made space for open discussion of the clit.
At the same time, new technology allows us to better see, understand, and utilize all of the clitoris.
We now know that the tiny, pea-sized body part most people think of as the clitoris is only the gland — and the tip of the iceberg.
We also know that while “clitoral orgasms” and “vaginal orgasms” were once seen as different entities, all female orgasms are technically the result of clitoral stimulation (i.e., different parts of the iceberg).
As the award-winning mini-documentary “Le Clitoris” explains, there are two 4-inch roots that reach down from the gland toward the vagina.
The clitoris might also be the “woman behind the curtain” when it comes to the G-spot. A study using ultrasound found that that magical area is likely so sensitive because the clitoral root is located right behind the anterior vaginal wall.
Reclaim the clitoris and get ‘clitorate’
A growing body of knowledge and research is great. So is a slow lifting of the taboos surrounding sex, female anatomy, and female pleasure. But how can these things help you, your clitoris, and your female pleasure? Well…
Start reading. Lockhart’s research, for example, can be accessed at OMGYES, where it has been condensed into dozens of short videos.
Say goodbye to taboos. A lot of the ignorance about women’s bodies is because of taboos. It’s time to be open and honest, beginning with the realization that women’s sexual pleasure is good and healthy. Also, our ideas that tie the worth of women to whether they can orgasm solely through penile penetration? That has to go.
Check out a 3-D model. Unlike the penis, much of the clitoris is internal. You can either check out pictures in the mini-doc above or print out your own three 3-D model. (The website is in French, but you can use Google Translate to find the instructions for the 3-D printer.)
Schedule a date with yourself. “There are many different ways to touch a clitoris … just as we might prefer different combinations of menu items at a restaurant,” Lockhart says. “Learning and finding words for the particulars of how you or your lover like to be touched can take the pleasure to a whole new level.”
Get your partner involved. Even just talking with your partner about these topics can make you closer and improve your bedroom romps. Once you’re educated, educate the person or people in your life who happen to have a relationship with your clit.
Talk to your doctor. Women are turned on by many, many different things, and can orgasm in many, many different ways. Some women have trouble reaching orgasm (research puts the number around 10 percent), while others might have an issue with clitoral health. Both topics are totally normal to talk to your doctor about.
Lockhart has one last tip as well: “After the first orgasm, many women have a completely different sensitivity to touch. One wouldn’t have brisket for two courses in a row. It is well worth one’s time and energy to investigate what new dishes you or she might enjoy for dessert.”
Keep the learning inside and out
The clitoris can seem like a mystery, but the time to get a healthy understanding of it is now. Ignoring or misunderstanding the clitoris is also ignoring female health and pleasure.
And health and pleasure come from knowledge, so let’s get learning, inside and outside the bedroom. We’ve been in the dark for too long. It’s time for everyone to get clitorate.
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer who lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has appeared in publications that include The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, and Reductress. You can reach out to her on Twitter.