Feel-good areas: erogenous zones
Erogenous zones are areas of the body that elicit a sexual response when stimulated. This can include the genital area, nipples, or anywhere really—whatever you’re into. The most sensitive erogenous zone of a female body is the clitoris (2). By stimulating an erogenous zone (like during masturbation or intercourse), a sexual physiological response can be set into motion.
Stimulation of the clitoris can be applied directly, internally (through the vagina), and/or through stimulation of the vulva. Many people with vaginas—despite perhaps enjoying and getting excited from penetrative sex—don’t always orgasm from intercourse. Direct stimulation to the glans clitoris or hood is usually needed for the final push to reach orgasm (1,4).
The clitoris and the penis—a shared beginning
The penis and the clitoris are related in structure to one another. In fact, they actually originate from the same developmental tissue (5).
At eight weeks of fetal development, the Y chromosome on male DNA will activate the differentiation of the genital tissue to develop into a penis, instead of a clitoris (2,4,5). Many of the parts of the clitoris are similar to that of the penis, but differ in shape and size, and are located in different places. Is the clitoris a small penis—or the penis a giant clitoris?
The anatomy of the clitoris
The clitoris is not just the part of your vulva that feels like a tiny button. The clitoris is composed of multiple parts: the glans, the clitoral body, and the paired crura and vestibular bulbs (2,5).
External parts of the clitoris
The glans clitoris is the name of the part that most people call the “clitoris.” It is the external part of the clitoris, about the size of a pea, and is located above the urethra. Because the glans is the most highly innervated area of the clitoris, it’s extremely sensitive to touch (5,6).
The function of the glans clitoris is to detect sensation and stimulation. Unlike the rest of the clitoris, the glans does not swell or grow during the female sexual response, as it does not contain erectile (expandable) tissue (5).
Just above or on top of the glans is the clitoral hood, which is formed by the two sides of the connecting labia minora (5). Clitoral hoods can vary in size and degree of coverage from person to person (7).
Internal parts of the clitoris
The majority of the clitoris is not typically visible when looking at the vulva.
Connected to the glans clitoris is the body of the clitoris. The clitoral body projects upwards into your pelvis, and attaches via ligaments to your pubic bone.
From the body (located in front of the urethra), the clitoris splits in half to form the paired crura (these are like the “legs” of the clitoris), and vestibular bulbs (1,2). These bulbs extend through and behind the labia, passing by the urethra, vaginal canal, and towards the anus (2).
The bulbs and crura contain erectile tissue that swells with blood during female sexual arousal. By swelling on either side of the vaginal canal, they increase lubrication in the vagina, while increasing sexual stimulation and sensation (5,8). This expansion of clitoral tissue can also cause pressure to be applied to the anterior of the vaginal canal (5).
Clitoris research and the G-spot
The clitoris—both its anatomy and function—is a hotly debated topic (1). Taboos about discussing women’s sexuality and pleasure have contributed to the lack of research in these areas. But as taboos are broken, more research will hopefully provide further clarity in understanding the clitoris.
The existence or function of the G-spot is not 100 percent clear. Some research claims it could be associated with female ejaculation (also known as “squirting”) (9,10). Other researchers suggest that the G-spot isn’t necessarily an actual physical entity, but instead the place where the sides of the vestibular bulbs of the clitoris make contact with the anterior wall of the vagina (11). This suggests that a “vaginal orgasm” may actually still be connected to the clitoris—each thrust during penetrative vaginal intercourse or contraction of the pelvic muscles—can stimulate the clitoris (1,3,11)
Reaching an orgasm differs for every body. Experimenting with masturbation or sex positions, as well as patience, can help you figure out what works best for you.