The clitoris is a rather complex part of our anatomy and it is unique because it exists purely for pleasure. But it is perhaps unsurprising if you're at all familiar with the history of women's health in the field of science that the clitoris has largely been misunderstood, misrepresented, and even deliberately ignored (hint: it's because patriarchy).
Thankfully, research during the past two decades, including MRI imaging and 3D sonography, has provided more solid evidence regarding the extensive internal components of the clitoris. Despite this research many people still don't know that the clitoris is more than a small sensitive nub at the top of the vulva (external genitals). This part of our external anatomy that we refer to as the clitoris is actually just a part of the clitoris. It's called the glans and is homologous to the head of a penis, meaning they are similar and develop from the same tissue in utero.
A common analogy is that the glans is like the tip of an iceberg; it's the part that is visible externally, but there is a lot more going on internally.
So what else is the clitoris besides the glans?
The other major parts of the clitoris include the shaft, crura (singular: crus), and vestibular bulbs, all of which are made of erectile tissue. That means that during arousal, these parts will fill with blood and become firm, like a penis does. The crura and bulbs don't exactly become as stiffly hard as an erect penis does, but they become engorged with blood, making the vulva more sensitive.
The shaft is what connects the glans to the rest of the internal clitoris and can be felt under the clitoral hood just above the glans. The shaft is made of two corpora cavernosa (plural: corpus cavernosum), which is erectile tissue that fills with blood and causes clitoral erection. The corpus cavernosum then split into the crura.
The crura are the wishbone-shaped “legs” that extend outward from the shaft. They attach to the pelvic bone and may even wrap around the vagina during arousal.
The vestibular bulbs lay between the crura and surround the urethra and part of the vagina. During arousal the bulbs cuff the vagina and cause the vulva to expand outward.
And how does this affect pleasure?
It makes sense that typically when we discuss the clitoris we tend to focus so on the glans. With 8,000 nerve endings – twice as many as a penis – it is an incredibly sensitive and pleasurable spot! But it's important to understand what else is going on behind the scenes, so to speak, since the the internal clitoris is so extensive and interacts with other pleasurable parts of our anatomy.
As described above, when the crura and vestibular bulbs become engorged with blood, it increases sensitivity of the vulva. These structures also surround the urethra and vaginal walls, interacting with even more nerve endings. This means more pleasure from both external stimulation and through vaginal penetration.
Vibrators can be used to stimulate the entire clitoris through both internal and external stimulation. Using a strong, rumbly insertable vibrator like the LELO Mona 2 or We-Vibe Rave can stimulate the internal clitoris through the vagina for more intense sensations. And while the glans of the clitoris is already very sensitive, stimulating the internal structure is possible as well with powerful and/or rumbly external vibrators such as the We-Vibe Tango or Magic Wand Original.
According to researchers, less than 10% of folks with vaginas report reliably reaching orgasm through vaginal sex only, and about 25% report never being able to, so incorporating the clitoris in sexual stimulation is very important! Luckily, there are lots of ways to do that.
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