Anyone who knows anything about women's sexuality knows how damn important the clitoris is (or they really, really should).

We figured out long ago that the vagina is not the only star of the show when it comes to female pleasure. The clitoris is easily as important for orgasm for many women—if not more important than the vagina for some.

But the sad truth is that growing up, in pop culture, and in sex education, most of us learned very little about this essential female sexual organ. The majority of us end up way too clueless about this part of the body—as evidenced by that experience we've all likely had in which we sleep with someone who seems to have no idea what the clit is or where it is.

This lack of knowledge about the clitoris makes it that much tougher for women to get what they want and need in bed. It creates one more barrier to pleasure and makes it less likely that women will have truly fulfilling and pleasurable sex lives.

So, we've gotta educate ourselves about the clitoris so that we can become fully "cliterate" and empower female sexuality.

The History of the Clitoris

hand touching sliced orange fruit

It isn't all that surprising that it took Western society a longgg time to figure out the clitoris. It was pretty much ignored for centuries, and most of the focus was on the vagina and vaginal pleasure.

Clitoral orgasms were typically not acknowledged as a real thing or just weren't taken seriously. One example of this is Sigmund Freud. While Freud is revered for his many contributions to the field of psychology, there is no doubt that many of his views were extremely misogynistic. He characterized clitoral orgasms as "infantile." (Makes you feel oh-so sorry for the lady lovers he had who had to put up with his clitoral disdain.)

Over the course of the 20th century, there was increased focus and scientific research on the clitoris. Helen O'Connell is one pioneer who, in the second half of the century, helped redefine what we know about and how we understand the clitoris. She's an Australian urologist who did extensive research—and many cadaver dissections—on the anatomy of this overlooked sexual organ.

The 21st century has continued to build off the progress of the 20th century. We are undoubtedly a more cliterate society than our ancestors, and there is more and more cultural awareness of the clit.

The Anatomy of the Clitoris

anatomy of the clitoris
Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

What we didn't figure out for an embarrassingly long time—and what many of us are still unaware of—is that the clitoris is much bigger than it looks.

When we talk about the clitoris, we think of it as a tiny "button" that rests at the top of the vulva. And that's definitely a part of the clit—but it is far from the whole thing.

As Sophia Wallace says is her fantastic TED Talk Cliteracy, "The clitoris is not a button; it is an iceberg." She also points out that this wasn't even discovered until less than 40 years ago (after we managed to land on the moon, identify the Higgs boson particle, and clone sheep).

As much as 90% of the clitoris is actually internal. It can be anywhere from 7 to 12 centimeters in length (and swells quite a bit during arousal). From that little "button" that we can see, it drops down and surrounds much of the urethra and vagina. This means that stimulation of the clitoris also doesn't only happen externally. When we experience pleasure vaginally, much of that is actually stemming from the stimulation of the internal clitoris.

A shocking number of people have no idea that so much of the clitoris is unseen and that "vaginal" pleasure is actually in many ways clitoral pleasure. It's about time that we change this.

Why the Clitoris Matters

hand touching yellow rose

The fact is that the vast majority of women require stimulation of the clitoris in order to orgasm. For some women, internal stimulation through the vagina can be enough to get off. But for others, stimulation of the external "button" is essential. And still, others need both internal and external stimulation in order to reliably orgasm.

This is where depictions through porn and many typical approaches to sex fall short. Too often, there isn't enough attention paid to the intricacies of female anatomy and the effort that is required to actually make women come.

Cliteracy is incredibly important for changing this and having satisfying, orgasmic sex.

How to Stimulate the Clitoris

hand touching sliced mango

There are so many different ways to stimulate the clitoris, as it is the primary female sexual organ of pleasure.

Externally, hands, tongues, and toys are all great ways to stimulate the clit. For many women, oral sex is the easiest or most pleasurable way to have a clitoral orgasm. Vibrators are similarly an "old reliable" that work wells for lots of folks. Fingers are also a feel-good option, both for partnered and solo sex.

One frequent issue is that partners who don't have clitorises often fail to grasp just how sensitive the organ is. Most of us have probably had that partner (if not many) who presses way too hard or is just all-around too aggressive with the clit. Be sure to communicate with any partners about what feels good, so that your clit isn't at risk of getting pummelled ('cause who wants that??!).

In terms of internal stimulation of the clitoris, it might be helpful to carefully examine a diagram of the female anatomy. This'll enlighten both you and your partner on the location of the clitoris and how it might be stimulated through the vagina. Play around with hands, toys, and intercourse as different methods of hitting the right spots internally.

Anything you can do to become more cliterate will only help in the long run with sexual pleasure and satisfaction. Educate yourself (and others), explore, and experiment!

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