Our content is free to use and share.
Did you know the clitoris is the only organ in the human body whose only purpose is pleasure? This part of the genitals may look small, but it can give lots of sensation. The clitoris gets bad press for being hard to find, complicated, and finicky. But it’s not the clitoris’s fault! It’s time for better education and information.
If you have a vulva, the clitoris is your main focus of sexual pleasure. You have other sexually sensitive areas, called erogenous zones, like the nipples, the neck and the vulva. But the clitoris is the most sensitive of all.
Most of us think that vaginal penetration should bring the most pleasure in sex. This is because we’ve seen it in movies and other media. You know, all those sex scenes where the penetrated partner is in the throes of orgasm? Vaginal penetration can feel great, but most people don’t orgasm from it. The clit is actually the main source of orgasm.
How is it possible that we landed on the moon and walked on it for 29 years before we discovered the anatomy of the clitoris? Unfortunately, this discovery has not been adopted so most people do not know the actual anatomy of the clitoris. — Sophia Wallace, artist
Structure & nerve endings
The clitoris is a powerhouse of nerve endings. It’s estimated that there are 8,000 in the clit (that’s a lot!). The penis has lots of nerve endings, but the nerve endings in the clit are much closer together. More dense nerve endings means more sensation. That’s right, the clit is more sensitive than the penis. The nerve that supplies the clit is called the pudendal nerve, and it’s different from the nerves that supply the vagina.
The clitoris is so sensitive that it can actually be painful, too much pressure or friction can hurt! Especially when you’re just getting in the mood and the genitals are not aroused or lubricated yet.
The clitoris looks like an oval shaped nub from the outside. The head (or glans) of the clitoris is under a piece of skin called the clitoral hood. The hood is at the top/front of the vulva where the inner labia (lips) meet. You can gently pull the hood back to see the round-ish head of the clitoris underneath. You may also see a small upside down V underneath the head where the skin comes together. This is called the frenulum.
Since the full structure of the clitoris was only discovered in 1998, most still people believe it’s just the pea-sized nub under the hood. In fact, the full structure of the clitoris is hidden beneath the skin.
The head of the clit is attached to the shaft. The shaft is a cylinder that goes back towards the pubic bone. You can feel the shaft with your finger through the skin of the clitoral hood. The shaft then divides into two wings (or crura) that stretch down either side of the vulva in a wishbone-like shape. Below the glans and on the inner sides of the wings are the clitoral bulbs. The bulbs swell on either side of the vaginal entrance during arousal.
All of these parts make up the full structure of the clitoris. The clitoris head can vary in size from person to person. Typically the head is about ⅕ inch (5mm) across and about the same length up and down. But the whole clitoris is about 3-4 inches long (8-10cm), much bigger than what you see at first glance.
Most of the nerve endings in the clit are in its head, but there are also a bunch in the wings and bulbs. This means that touching the head of the clit gives the most intense sensation, but touching other parts of the vulva can make the inner structures of the clit feel really good too.
Did you know that the clitoris gets erect when you’re turned on? When aroused, blood flows to the clit so that it swells up and gets firmer. The clit can get up to three times larger when you’re turned on. You can often notice the head of the clit getting bigger and harder during arousal. That’s right, it’s not just penises that get erect—clitorises do too!
Same parts, different arrangement
A penis and a clitoris may look quite different, but they have a lot in common. Both develop from the same basic structure. We all start with the same parts in, but different hormones make them develop differently. The influence of estrogen means the tissues develop into the clitoris. Or the influence of testosterone makes the tissues grow into a penis.
You can match parts of the clitoris and penis to see how similar both structures are.
Head of the clitoris = head of the penis
Legs of the clitoris (crura) = main erectile tissues of the penis
Bulbs of the clitoris = softer erectile tissue on the underside of the penis
Finding the clit
People find the clit in different ways. Experiment by touching different parts of your (or your partner’s) genitals, and noticing what feels nice. What’s the most sensitive area? For many people the area that feels the best, and the most sensitive, is the clit. The head of the clit is located one to two inches above the entrance to the vagina.
Some people just know where their clit is, others make a special effort to find it. You may not remember when you “found” your clit. You might just always have known where it is (even if you didn’t always know it’s name). Or you might have decided to look for your clit at some point, maybe using a mirror, or touching with your fingers. Or maybe you’re not sure where it is yet. Maybe take some time tonight, or next weekend, to try and find your (or your partner’s) clitoris.
Attitudes towards the clitoris have changed during different periods of history. Some cultures in some time periods acknowledged the clitoris, and orgasm was considered important for fertility and wellbeing. During other time periods, and in other cultures, the existence of the clitoris was denied, and clitoral pleasure was considered shameful and immoral.
Throughout history many medical textbooks have excluded the clitoris. When it was included, the information was often incomplete or inaccurate. It wasn’t until 1998 that the full structure of the clitoris was understood. And it wasn’t until 2009, that medical researchers did a 3D ultrasound to see what the aroused clit looks like.
The long history of secrecy and ignorance influences people’s attitudes and knowledge today. There are still lots of gaps in people’s understanding about the clitoris. People of all genders have so much more to learn about this powerful pleasure zone.
Pleasure and stimulation
Now you know about the structure, let’s talk about how to make it feel good. Here’s some information and technique ideas to help you maximize your pleasure.
Asking about the function of the clitoris is like asking what sexuality is for. When you talk about the clitoris people want to dissect out the function a lot more. It is like male sexual function is a given, whereas with women there are a lot more questions asked. What do you need a clitoris for? At the end of the day it is about pleasure, about the intimate connection between people. — Dr. Helen O’Connell, urologist
Place one or two fingertips on the clitoral hood. Stroke in clockwise circles. Try stroking in the other direction. Are they both equally pleasurable? Does one direction feel better than the other? Experiment with different pressures.
Place one or two fingers on the clitoral hood. Stroke up and down. Now try side to side. Experiment with different pressures. Which do you prefer?
Lubricant reduces friction during sex and sexy play. Put some lubricant onto your fingertips and stroke your clit with your lubed up fingers. Using lube can make sensations more enjoyable for many people, party because it actually intensifies sensation, and partly because it’s makes it easier to go for longer without feeling irritation or rubbing on your skin.
To pleasure the full clit try putting some lube on your fingertips and slowly rubbing up and down the crease between your outer and inner labia. You could also try using a wide vibrator that covers much of the vulva, this way the vibrations will reach the inner structures of the clitoris. You may notice your vagina getting wet, you can use that natural lube on your clit.
Try teasing the clit by varying pressure, rhythm, and speed. As you become more aroused and are nearing orgasm, teasing time is over. At that stage, keep pressure, rhythm, and speed constant. This will maximize pleasure and the chance of having an orgasm.
Clits like vibration. Try a vibrator. Place the vibrator against the clit. Experiment with putting it on the shaft, just under the head, and on either side of the clit. Experiment with different strengths of vibration. You can have a vibrator on your labia and a finger on your clit, or vice versa. To learn more about vibrators visit our vibrators course.
Did you know that 70-80% of people with a vulva prefer or require direct clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm? An orgasm is more likely to happen from clitoral stimulation than from vaginal penetration. Many people like to combine penetration with clitoral stimulation to maximize pleasure. The clit can be rubbed with a finger, or stimulated with a vibrator. An orgasm that comes from both internal and clit stimulation is called a “blended orgasm.”
Not everyone is having orgasms
Achieving orgasm is hard for some people - in fact it’s hard for a lot of people. If that’s you, you’re not alone. If you haven’t had an orgasm don’t worry. And not everyone is interested in orgasm, it’s up to you whether this is something that’s important to you or not.
Worrying about not orgasming distracts you when it’s better to just enjoy the feelings. The number one rule of orgasming is... don't try to orgasm! It's like trying to sleep when you're worried about falling asleep. That means, giving up on the goal of orgasm as a goal or focus, and instead working towards maximizing your pleasure generally. If you would like to maximize your pleasure and chances of achieving orgasm, get to know your body through masturbation, and consider getting a vibrator and some lube. During sexual play, try to relax and enjoy the sensations without focusing on having an orgasm. And if you’re not doing it for 30 minutes of more, consider a longer session.
Did you know that gender has an impact on your likelihood of orgasming during sex? Not because of biology, but because of the types of sex different people have. In heterosexual relationships women orgasm less than men during sex. To find out more, check out our Orgasm Gap video.
Challenge: Too much sensation, feels painful, or overwhelming
- Touch the vulva more broadly rather than focusing directly on the clit.
- Rub through the clitoral hood rather than on the head of the clit directly.
- Rub to the side of the clit rather than on the head.
- Try some lube - too much friction can make clit touch feel unpleasant, but lube can make it more enjoyable.
- Use a lighter, gentler pressure.
Challenge: Not enough sensation
- Rub the head of the clit directly. To do so draw back the skin of the clitoral hood and touch the clit underneath.
- Try stimulating the frenulum - this is the underside of the head of the clit that looks like an upside down V. This area can be highly sensitive for some people.
- Use lube: Lube can heighten sensation. With lube you may also be able to press harder or faster, giving more sensation.
- Try a vibrator. Vibrators can be enjoyable for people who don’t find other touch stimulating enough.
Challenge: Friction and discomfort from rubbing
- Use lube - a silicone lube is long lasting for lengthy sex or masturbation sessions.
- Use a lighter, more gentle pressure.
- Take a break and come back to it.
Challenge: Clitoris feels numb
- Take a break.
- Try “edging” - rather than providing continued stimulation, pause regularly. This can be tantalizing and gives your clit a break from getting overworked.
- Vary the stimulation. Try switching from a vibrator to a finger. Or trying switching from back-and-forward strokes to circles.
- Use a lighter pressure. We often think that more pressure will mean more sensation, but that’s not always true. Strong pressure can make the clit feel numb. A light pressure can feel more teasing and stimulating.
Challenge: You’re about to orgasm… but you lose your orgasm!
- Keep the pressure and rhythm consistent when you’re nearing orgasm. Try not to change technique at a crucial moment.
- Focus on the pleasure and sensations. Worrying that you won’t orgasm, or that you might make a weird face when you orgasm can really put a dampener on your pleasure. It can be hard, but try and relax, and feel the sensations in your body.
Challenge: Taking too long to orgasm
- Take as long as you need and want. 20 minutes? Great! 40 minutes? Fine! One hour? No worries, why not take two!
- Get realistic information. There’s no “normal” amount of time in which to reach orgasm. Factors like your environment and health can also have an impact on how long it takes.
- Focus on clitoral stimulation. You’re more likely to orgasm from clit stimulation than from penetration alone.
- Tell your partner it’s important that you don’t feel rushed.
- Focus on sensations and reduce mental distractions. This can be tough, but it can really help.
Clit hygiene and health
There are a few dos and don’ts for how to keep your clit healthy and happy. Here’s our top four clit etiquette tips:
- Wash your genitals with just water or a mild soap. Perfumes and harsh soaps can dry out genital skin and irritate the vulva and vagina.
- Gunk can build up around your clit and feel uncomfortable or smell bad. Be sure to wash under the clitoral hood to keep the area clean and happy.
- Use lube for sexy times. Treat your clit like royalty and get a high quality water-based or silicone-based lube. Avoid lubes with glycerin or parabens.
- Never put alcohol or antiseptics on your clit. Rather than cleaning your clit, those products could burn it. For cleaning, see tip #1 above!
Sex & gender
Remember how the clit and the penis are basically the same thing, just different sizes because of hormones? This is really helpful information for understanding the bodies of people who are sex and gender diverse.
Sex and gender-diverse people might want to use different names for their genitals than those that are typically assigned. Some may use “cock” or any other word they choose to. People can choose whatever terms feel right to describe their body parts. As a sexual partner it’s always good to check what words a person prefers rather than assuming.
The clitoris develops from the exact same fetal tissue the penis does--see, the sexes are NOT opposites! Whatever our gender identity, we have a version of this amazing organ. And the clit is the most effective source of sexual arousal for most people who have one. Sex without clitoral stimulation is often not optimal or orgasmic. Respect the clit! – Dr. Carol Queen, Sexologist
Someone with a clit can take testosterone if they want their body to be more masculine. Many trans men do this. Taking testosterone often increases the size of the clitoris.
Someone with a penis can take estrogen and other hormones if they want their body to be more feminine. Many trans women do this. Taking estrogen may reduce the size of the penis, and make it difficult to get an erection. Some trans women have surgery to change their penis into a clitoris and vagina.
An intersex person is someone whose genitals, reproductive organs, hormones, or chromosomes are not typically male or female. Some intersex people have genitals that are in between a clit and a penis. Some intersex people underwent genital surgeries as babies to make their clit smaller and more typically female. This can damage nerve endings and lead to a loss of sensation.
Female Genital Cutting
Some people have had their clit cut or removed as a cultural or religious practice. This is called female genital cutting (FGC). This can cause loss of sensation, pain, and medical complications.
Reduced pleasure and difficulty orgasming are common for people who have experienced FGC. However, if the head of the clit is cut, some may still feel pleasure from the internal part of the clitoris.
Pop Culture (the public life of the clitoris)
New York-based artist Sophia Wallace wants everyone to know more about the clitoris. Wallace has created a range of art pieces including clitoris sculptures, clitoris street art, and even a golden clitoris people could ride like in a rodeo! It is all part of the artist’s “Cliteracy” campaign.
In 2016, Refinery29 and Dorian Electra teamed up to make perhaps the world’s first clitoris pop song. This catchy song takes listeners on a wild ride through the history of the clitoris. The range of clit costumes and props in the music video is also impressive.
If you prefer a cute animation, check out Lori Malépart-Traversy’s 2016 video “Le clitoris.” Practice your French (or read the English subtitles). This video follows the evolution of our understanding of the clitoris over time.
If you’re looking for a how-to manual on clit stimulation techniques then you’ll love OMGYes. This website is based on science. It explains and shows different techniques with a bunch of videos. You can even practice techniques with the aid of a cartoon and a touchscreen.
A 2015 episode of The Bachelorette censored out the word “clitoris” from one of their episodes. Viewers expressed their disapproval for the censorship, calling it sexist.
O.school’s take on adding Pleasure to Sex Ed
Not everyone had sex ed in high school. And even for those who did, chances are it focused on preventing disease and pregnancy with little or no mention of pleasure. Sex ed shouldn’t stop in school, and it shouldn’t stop at STIs and birth control. O.school believes that everyone should have access to a whole lot more information so they can have the awesome sex lives they deserve. Everyone should have access to accurate and judgment-free information about anatomy and pleasure.
We’re glad you’re learning about the clitoris from us. Knowing where the clit is and how it works is powerful for gender equality in the bedroom. The clit can be seen as complicated and mysterious and get less attention. But everyone’s pleasure is equally important, so knowing more about the clit and how to work it helps everyone get the attention that makes them feel good. Knowledge is power, knowledge is pleasure.
Call to action
So, you’ve just upgraded your clit knowledge. High five!
So, what now?
Here are some ideas for things you can do right now:
- Share the love and tell your friends about what you’ve learned. Everyone should know the truth about this powerhouse of sexual sensation.
- Set aside some time for your pleasure. Whether it’s putting your new-found clit knowledge to use, or going for something tried and true, masturbation is a form of self-care.
- Learn more about your own clit.
- Grab a mirror and have look at your clitoris.
- Try a new lube or vibrator and see how it feels.
- You may find that some parts of your clit are more sensitive than others. Be a clit sleuth and find out more about how you’re wired. Many people find the left side of their clit more sensitive than the right!