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The Anatomy of Pleasure

The mysterious journey to orgasm begins with a better understanding of our anatomy. For people with vaginas, the discovery of the complex and powerful organ system of the clitoris wasn’t revealed until 1998 when an Australian urologist, Helen O’Connell completed a series of MRI studies and named 18 different parts of the clitoral structure which previously had only been known as the external glans. It turns out that two-thirds of our sexual power is internal. I was close to 40 years old before I understood the connection between what was happening inside and outside my vagina in sex.

Clitoral Anatomy 101

During my early years of sexual exploration – and for a remarkably large percent of the female population today – I believed my clitoris to be only the little bump on top of the vulva.

It turns out that little highly charged glans is not only a powerhouse for pleasure with 8,000 nerve endings (twice as many as the head of the penis), but it is also the gateway to a pair of wings known as the crura which extend into the body and around the vaginal canal like a wishbone.

Underneath these vaginal legs lie clitoral vestibules which like the top glans are loaded with more nerve endings and become engorged with blood when you are aroused.

The blood is released along with the orgasmic spasms. Voilà – the why and how orgasm pulses through your entire body.

1. Opening the Door to Pleasure

It was amazing to me when I first learned about this and have given out Rebecca Chalker’s book The Clitoral Truth: The Secret World at Your Fingertips more times than I can count. Learning about this organ structure changed how I thought about my arousal and opened up a world of pleasure that before often made me worried about whether I was normal or if something was wrong with me.

I am not alone with this fear about my sexual pleasure which up until that time, followed me whether it was good or not. Not understanding what was happening inside of me made it hard to talk about or ask for what I needed.

2. Learning What Works for You (And Your Clitoris)

Another fun fact to ponder in this clitoral discovery is that the clitoris is the only organ in the body with the single purpose of pleasure, which has to give you pause.

Learning that we are blessed with a built-in capacity for pleasure is one way to give yourself permission to explore it. This is where curiosity and education inspire each other. Even with all these nerve endings in common, women all have different preferences when it comes to the kind of touch that the external clitoral glans responds to - some women want really firm pressure and others can’t stand direct contact.

Figuring out what works for you on the external clitoral glans is like being given the keys to the kingdom.

3. Putting the Pieces Together for Heightened Arousal

Once you know what kind of touch works it gets easier to share this mysterious dance with a partner. Solo sex play removes the pressure of someone else’s desires and needs, and lets you focus on your own pleasure. Now it is understandable why so many women have more orgasms solo than with a partner. No wonder the art of masturbation has long been called the cornerstone of a healthy sex life.

Letting someone into the gates of your sexual kingdom without turning the key of your external arousal can be painful even with a good lubricant. External clitoral arousal is how the system gets primed with the vast circuitry of nerves anticipating more on the inside. The blood rushing to the area is how the vaginal walls soften and expand to take more in.

Taking whatever time is required is sexier for everyone.