Remember the sex ed discussion we had awhile back? The post was titled Advice About Sex for a College-Bound Girl. I really appreciated your comments on that post, and I read something yesterday that made me think we need a discussion round two. A Facebook friend named Twila, shared a link about Cliteracy. It’s a project site that is hosted on the Huffington Post, but is it’s own mini-site within their site. (It will make more sense when you click through.)
Before I visited the Cliteracy project, I assumed I had a pretty decent understanding of the clitoris. But it turns out I knew very little, and what I thought I knew was mostly wrong. Maybe worse than my ignorance, is that when I clicked over to the site and saw what it was about, I definitely felt kind of squeamish — like that no-thanks-I-don’t-really-want-to-know-feeling. Which is definitely not a healthy or smart attitude to take.
If you’re feeling the same way, I hope you’ll stick with me on this post, because understanding the clitoris is not just about orgasms. Our societal lack of knowledge about women’s sexuality and women’s bodies is super harmful. It affects healthcare and medicine, relationships and marriage. It ties into the whole consent discussion, it ties into the female pain discussion, and informs (or dis-informs) our entire view of what healthy sex looks like.
Some of the things I learned:
The medical community didn’t have a true understanding of what the full clitoris looked like until 1998. That’s not a typo, people. 1 9 9 8 ! That’s only 20 years ago. The medical community and our entire population should be horribly ashamed of that fact. Women’s pleasure is held in so little esteem, that we didn’t bother to even map the clitoris until 1998. List all that we accomplished before 1998, and then consider where “understanding women’s bodies” ranks on that list. Depressing.
The clitoris is about the same size as a penis. But, it has twice as many nerve endings. Again, not a typo. The little nub that we think of as the clitoris, is just a tiny bit of the whole organ. It’s mostly internal, it’s mostly made of erectile tissue (the whole thing, not just that tip), and again, has twice as many nerve endings as a penis.
The clitoris is the only organ in the human body that is only for pleasure. It is not a reproductive organ, it’s a sexual organ.
Freud was super wrong about the clitoris. He was super wrong about vaginal orgasms too. Unfortunately, everything he taught about the female orgasm is still pretty widely accepted. Boy oh boy he did a ton of harm.
I was impressed with the project site, and I hope you take some time to explore it. Some of the highlights:
In the Intro Section, there’s a video, and at about 1:50, a man named Ian Kerner, who is a sex therapist and author of She Comes First, talks about how bizarre it is that we assume women don’t really need to have an orgasm during sex, and how strange it is that we think male orgasms are more important.
His observations really resonated with me, because I have never understood that thinking. In my own life, I have no interest in sex without an orgasm, and never have had interest in sex without an orgasm. It’s a rare occurrence for me, and when it happens it basically does the opposite of what sex usually does. Instead of leaving me on a happy endorphin high, I’m left grumpy and feeling like I just loaned out my body. (Sorry if that’s TMI.) That said, I know from earlier discussions, that other women totally disagree with my take and have been able to find joy in sex whether or not they have an orgasm.
In the History Section, I was surprised to learn that the clitoris was erased from diagrams in Grey’s Anatomy in 1947. But my favorite part of the history section was definitely the timeline of scientific records or mentions of the clitoris. For sure take a moment to read about Princess Marie Bonaparte and what she discovered. And another bit of new knowledge for me: In 2014, “A controversial study published by Italian research team Puppo+Puppo in The Journal Of Clinical Anatomy asserts that both the vaginal orgasm and the G-spot are, in fact, myths.”
Controversial seems like the right word. Though my own experience matches up with the study, I’ve met plenty of people that would say it’s bunk.
In the Anatomy Section, there’s a helpful video at the bottom that shows how the full clitoris fits into and around other female genitalia. It also talks about Helen O’Connell who is the woman who finally mapped the full clitoris in 1998:
“Helen O’Connell, an Australian urologist, took note of the many machines and mechanisms hooked up to men during medical procedures like prostate surgery — devices meant to keep surgeons as far away from nerve endings in the male sexual anatomy as possible.
She wondered why there was no equivalent to help protect the female sexual anatomy during surgery. Without these precautions, how could doctors know they weren’t cutting into clitoral nerves during routine procedures like hysterectomies?”
Those paragraphs left me stunned. Because the answer to her question is of course: they didn’t know, and no doubt countless women have had their sexual pleasure diminished or destroyed because we were just blindly cutting (and in many cases are blindly cutting still!) with no real sense of the size or shape or position of the full clitoris. And then imagine how many relationships have been damaged or destroyed because of our ignorance, and lack of interest, in knowing more about women’s bodies.
In the Education Section, it helps explain why we still seem to have so much misinformation about the clitoris.
In the Sex Today Section, I learned that “just eight percent of women can reliably orgasm” from vaginal penetration alone. That’s right, just 8%. Which is basically like someone yelling at you: Your vagina is not your pleasure organ.
In the Sex Today section they also tackle the longstanding myth that women simply aren’t as sexual as men, or that women aren’t as hardwired for pleasure. As it turns out, “Women who are in same-sex relationships have similar orgasm counts to men and achieve climax in the same amount of time as their hetero male counterparts. The same is true when women pleasure themselves. Women’s bodies are not the problem. The problem is that most of us don’t have a full understanding of how they work.”
Those facts seem really, really important to this discussion. Basically, if you’re not having orgasms as quickly or as easily as your male partner, then it might be time for you (and your partner) to get to know your body better.
The most hopeful thing I learned? In 2009, Pierre Foldes invented the first successful female genital mutilation reversal surgery. “He removes scar tissue from the vulva and exposes some of the internal clitoris, returning sexual sensation to many of his patients.”
The history of female genital mutilation is discouraging and disheartening. Learning that some women have experienced a successful reversal of the procedure made me super happy.
If you’ve stuck with me through the whole post, I’m sending you a virtual high five, because I know that many of us weren’t taught to be comfortable having open conversations about the clitoris; about our clitoris.
And to tie this back to how I started. If I were going to add anything to the Advice About Sex for a College-Bound Girl post, it would be to get to know her body better. Her reproductive organs, and her clitoris. And that her sexual pleasure is equally important to anyone she’s having sex with.
I also want to reiterate, knowledge about the clitoris ties in really closely to the male pleasure and female pain discussion we were having.
What’s your take? I’d love to hear. I’m so curious, were you as il-cliterate as I was? Were any of these tidbits, facts or stats news to you? Or are you already a clit pro? Anyone ready to order a clitoris necklace?