What We Don’t Know about the Clitoris (And Other Parts of Women’s Sexuality)

by | Nov 22, 2021 | gsr | 33 comments

What We Don't Know about the Clitoris

Did you know that it’s only recently that medical textbooks have started getting the clitoris right?

For years, the clitoris was shown as smaller than it actually is, and often the nerves and rooots were omitted. 

The penis, on the other hand, tended to be shown in great detail. 

In recent years women have been speaking up, demanding that medical students be taught proper information on the clitoris, because without knowledge of the roots of the clitoris, many women have experienced a cut off in sensation becasue surgeons have cut in the wrong place. And with clitoral pain and infections being so common, when doctors don’t know what something is supposed to look like, they often downplay the problem.

Dr. Jessica Pin explains the problem this way:

…throughout OB/GYN literature (update: slowly improving, but still often omitted, as in Comprehensive Gynecology, c. 2021), the innervation and vasculature of the clitoris are omitted. There are many more just like these. If you’re thinking detailed anatomy must be included elsewhere in these texts, you are mistaken. It is simply missing.

"The senseless omission of clitoral anatomy from medical textbooks"

Jessica Pin

Jessica’s on a mission to get clitoral neural anatomy (the nerves and vasculature) of the clitoris included in OB/GYN textbooks, because it’s still almost entirely left out.

So if you don’t know what your clitoris looks like, you’re not alone!

In one survey that we recently did, we found that women were more likely to report knowing the word “scrotum” when they graduated high school than they were knowing the word “clitoris”. We just don’t know our own bodies, because it’s not talked about.

 A perfect example is the history of the G-spot.

Ernst Grafenberg first wrote about the role of the urethral area in female orgasm in the 1950s, and the G-spot was named after him.

Think about that–the 1950s. We knew about the atomic bomb before this.

People described the G-spot as a quarter-sized slightly raised area of the vagina that was a bit knobbly. The only problem? When researchers tried to find it, they couldn’t, and roughly five years ago a variety of articles came out saying the G-spot didn’t exist.

Women went nuts, because many were sure it did–and that’s how they had orgasms.

But now we know what’s really going on. It’s simply clitoral roots! The clitoris is not ONLY a knob of flesh between the folds in a woman’s genitalia. It has roots that extend upward, and those roots cover the front wall of the vagina. They get stimulated when you stimulate the front wall or when you engage those muscles and tilt your pelvis forward during sex.

Why didn’t we know this? Because medical textbooks didn’t include the actual anatomy of the clitoris.

Researchers in France have started using a lifesize model of the clitoris, which looks kind of like a wishbone. There’s not a stock image I can use, but you can see one here! The nerves from the clitoris are actually quite large, and it’s important that doctors know where they are, and that women understand how our bodies work.

You may also enjoy:

Speaking of women, did you know that testosterone is not what causes libido in women?

There was an interesting–to put it mildly–discussion on Facebook last Friday about the whole lust debate, with some men saying that I was being insensitive claiming that all men don’t lust, and that I needed to show more compassion to men.

They said I didn’t understand what it’s like to have so much testosterone going through your veins. And I’ve heard that argument from other Christian authors as well–men have ten times the amount of testosterone as women, so we will never understand their sex drives. 

And that would be true–if it was testosterone alone that gave women libido. 

But it’s not. For women, it’s a cocktail of hormones in the right balance (which is why it’s important to keep our hormones in balance and to work towards wellness). For us, it’s a combination of estrogen and a number of other hormones that keeps our libido humming. Testosterone is one of those, but it isn’t the only one.

If we had high levels of testosterone but not enough estrogen or progesterone, we’d have a lot of problems.

And if it were testosterone alone that caused high libidos, then we’d find that women could never have a higher libido than a man, because pretty much all women will have lower amounts of testosterone than men.

But we know that’s not true. Our survey for The Great Sex Rescue found that 58% of men had the higher libido, yes, but so did 19% of women. And in 23% of marriages, libido is shared.

The Great Sex Rescue

Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

It is not only testosterone that impacts libido in women, so to tell a woman that she can never understand what men go through with their libido because we don’t have as much testosterone is simply not true. Men and women have different hormonal makeups, and women’s hormonal makeups can ALSO boost libido. But there’s a big misunderstanding about this, as that Facebook debate showed, and as many Christian marriage books show.

Basically, I think the problem is that we start with men’s sexuality as being the standard, and then we judge women when they don’t work like men. In The Orgasm Course we talked about this at length, and it’s a big reason many women feel broken. We assume that because he enjoys intercourse, we should just as much–and we judge ourselves when we don’t orgasm that way (or orgasm at all). We assume that because he doesn’t need foreplay, we are selfish for wanting it (even though 60% of women who CAN orgasm regularly don’t do so through intercourse alone).

Women don’t have broken bodies; they just have women’s bodies. And we work differently–but we’re not substandard, and our bodies still matter. 

That’s also why I’m a big fan of Femallay’s Vaginal Melts.

When we hear about women losing lubrication at menopause, or having a more difficult time after they’ve had a baby, or at certain times of the month, we often turn towards personal lubricants–the kind that you buy at a drug store that he puts on his penis so intercourse is more comfortable.

Lubricants are meant to make sex comfortable and easier; vaginal melts do so much more.

They’re not only focused on intercourse; they’re focused on everything a woman needs. They help promote elasticity; they moisturize the vagina, which is important when it starts thinning with age. They help your body, not just make it so that you can have sex with your husband.

So many products for women are focused on ensuring we can still have sex, as if the main points of our bodies is sex.

While sex is a huge part of marriage, and a very important part, it is not the only thing.

Our bodies are still our bodies, and promoting vaginal health impacts prolapse; stops dryness and discomfort; stops itchiness; and so much more.

The Melts are vaginal suppositories that nourish you. They come in different flavours (or no flavour!) to make sex fun. But they’re focused on you!

Femallay Vaginal Melts

And you can even buy samples to see which ones you like best!

Chocolate Melts with Applicator

We’ve been talking about sexual confidence throughout October and November.

And as we come to a close on this series, I hope that we can show tremendous grace to ourselves. That’s really been my goal for this series–to help you show grace and compassion to yourself. If you don’t feel sexually confident, maybe there’s a reason. If you dont’ know how your body works, maybe there’s a reason. If you feel like you’re “less than” a man, maybe there’s a reason. If you went for help for sexual pain, and your doctor didn’t even know what it was or minimized it, maybe there’s a reason.

We don’t need to berate ourselves for these things. We can just understand, “oh, this is why I find this so frustrating!” And then we can show compassion to ourselves and move on, telling ourselves, “I was never taught properly about all of this, but now that can change. We can walk forward knowing that my body is great, just the way it was made. And I’m important too!”

That’s such an important step in confidence, and if that’s been a struggle, I hope you feel closer to being able to say that!

What We Don't Know about the Clitoris

Did you know the word “scrotum” before you knew “clitoris”? Have you had trouble finding the clitoris or getting proper medical help for sexual issues? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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33 Comments

  1. Andrea

    Ugh, men and their testosterone obsession. If it’s the higher levels of testosterone that make you more sexual, then how come your penis deflates after JUST ONE orgasm (and do you realize how ridiculous that looks to clitoris possessors, who can just keep going)? Women have the equipment that would allow us to keep orgasming until we literally died of exhaustion, whereas men get to have only one at a time and eventually need medicine to even get it started, but OK, we’re the less sexual ones, got it.

    If you’ve ever wondered at the scope and perniciousness of the patriarchy, it is nowhere more evident than in its ability to convince the half of the population with an organ whose exclusive purpose is sexual pleasure that we’re the LESS sexual half.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, it definitely is. I’m still so amazed about that one line in Emerson Eggerichs’ book Love & Respect that changed everything for me–“if your husband is typical, he has a need you don’t have.” So typical men need sex; women don’t. Wow.

      Reply
      • Anonymous

        It’s thinking like that that made me feel like my desire was wrong or unusual or weird for many, many years. I’m so glad you are talking about these things.

        Reply
        • Eva Thiessen

          Same here. That men were sexual and women weren’t was shoved down my throat throughout all my teen years. It’s taken me so long to unlearn things like this, and still am actually.

          Reply
      • Codec

        I find that statement by Eggerichs agravating as a man.

        Men are not tires that need to have air hosed out sometimes so that they do not explode.

        Look at my post on Freud. This stuff is ridiculous.

        Reply
        • CMT

          Men are not tires. Haha!

          Freud definitely had some bizarro ideas about sexuality and women’s sexuality in particular.

          I don’t know if all this can be traced back to him. I suspect not. Certainly he can’t be responsible for the fact that they are continuing to be propagated.

          Reply
          • Codec

            Not all of it sure, but it is there.

            Glad i cpuld make folks laugh and get folks thinking.

    • CMT

      “we start with men’s sexuality as being the standard, and then we judge women when they don’t work like men.”

      This.

      Makes no sense. It would be more logical to say the guys are the amateur league. (Not kind, not really accurate, but more logical).

      Gender essentialist types like to stress how immutably and completely different men and women are, even in areas where we actually overlap a lot (emotional sensitivity, leadership ability, etc). Yet on the one area where we truly have the least overlap, the differences are conveniently overlooked.

      Reply
      • Codec

        I blame Freud.

        Reply
  2. A2bbethany

    I will say that it’s frustrating to try and make medical decisions, when you know, just how much guess work, the doctors are also using. And while most medical studies don’t focus on the differences between men and women’s reactions, it’s even less data for pregnant women. Unsurprisingly, pregnant women want to feel safer than a lab rat for science, along with their baby.
    Hormones are not well understood, and even less in women.

    Reply
  3. Jane Eyre

    My understanding is that there is virtually no overlap between the amount of testosterone men have and the amount women have. Women usually have 15-70 ng/dL, whereas men have 270-1070 ng/dL. The highest end of women isn’t even at the lowest end of men.

    This isn’t like height, with different distributions but plenty of overlap. There is no overlap. You cannot compare the effect of the hormone on men’s bodies and women’s bodies. We build muscle mass when testosterone is at a tenth of the level it would be in men. We need much, much less of the hormone to have healthy bodily function.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      EXACTLY. If testosterone were the only thing determining libido, then NO women would ever have higher libidos than men. Women’s and men’s libidos work differently–but that doesn’t mean that women don’t have libidos that can be comparable to men’s.

      Reply
  4. Anna

    Sheila, if I see any more comments made by Jason insisting that women need to be “prescribed” testosterone for low libido, I’m going to start reporting his comments to Facebook for false (and dangerous) health information.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yeah, I’ve told him one more and he’s done. I don’t want to block him because then all his comments disappear and you can’t see the threads.

      Reply
    • Tiffany

      that’s a good idea. I will report him too.

      Reply
  5. Wild Honey

    You know, “hard”‘complementarians (no pun intended) go out of their way to insist that men and women are different. But when that difference (libido, sexual pleasure, etc.) becomes inconvenient for men, the loudest contingent is unwilling to accommodate those differences.

    That’s just really sad.

    Reply
  6. Judy

    Robert Sapolsky, a biology professor from Stanford University, has a great lecture on YouTube about testosterone. He states that the role of testosterone is often misunderstood. According to him, research shows that higher testosterone in males is not linked to more sexual partners or higher rates of infidelity. An exception is within cultures where more partners is associated with higher rank in the male hierarchy. This indicates that while testosterone is linked to sexual desire, that doesn’t automatically translate to temptation to illicit sex, or infidelity…those values are culturally imputed to male identity. I believe this supports the Biblical narrative that men are designed for intimate, monogamous relationships too. Edited to add: if you are asking lower libido spouses to empathize with the higher libido spouse’s greater desire for sex, I’m with you. If you’re asking them to empathize with a greater temptation to infidelity, whether acted upon or not, you lose me. Thought experiment…imagine a parent struggling with thoughts of desiring a different child than the one(s) they have. Imagine that parent, when they saw a healthier, better-looking, brighter child than their own, was tempted to wish for that child. Normal: desiring one’s child to be healthy, happy, and bright. Not healthy: wishing someone else’s child was mine, because they are healthy, happy, and bright. Normal: noticing a healthy, happy child. Not normal: wanting that child instead of the children I have. Biological drives must not be confused with unhealthy derivatives of those drives. Would you ask a child whose parent is struggling with thoughts of wishing for a different, better child to have empathy for that parent? I surely hope not. The parent’s therapist or mentor can have empathy. The child is the one affected and harmed by the the parent’s “struggle.” Such a “struggle” is sure to impact their relationship and the child’s self esteem, whether the parent acts upon it or not. I think this is why you are receiving pushback from spouses who feel as though you are asking them to have empathy for something that is harming them.

    Reply
    • Judy

      I copied this comment from Facebook, where I was replying to someone insisting on empathy from women for make sex drives, based on the fact they have much higher testosterone levels.

      Reply
    • Bek

      That’s a great analogy!!!

      Reply
  7. CMT

    As a professional in healthcare, I agree that education on women’s sexuality and anatomy is lacking. I do think my anatomy textbook included the nerves, though. Still, I recall the anatomy and function of the penis was taught in some depth, and the clitoris was discussed as an afterthought. It leaves the impression that the clitoris is just a smaller version of a penis (which isn’t completely inaccurate but is definitely incomplete). And OBGYN was basically all about pregnancy/birth, Pap smears and vaginitis. Sexual health per se wasn’t on the radar. I think I learned more about this topic from Dr Jen Gunter’s pop health work than from my formal schooling.

    Reply
  8. Anon

    I spent years trying to get a gynecological medical issue fixed – because I was celibate, the doctors assumed I had a ‘phobia’ of sex (in their minds, that was the only explanation for a 20- or 30-something woman who had never had sex!) which ‘must’ be causing my issues. When I finally found a doctor who was willing to put me forward for further tests in hospital, they found not one but THREE separate PHYSICAL issues, all of which would have caused pain and other difficulties. Of course, there was no apology for the years of being brushed off as a neurotic, hysterical religious nutcase!

    One of my friends had an even worse experience. She was married with three kids, and was told by her doctor that the sexual pain she was experiencing was due to ‘psychological issues’ caused by her ‘Christian faith’ making her see sex as ‘something shameful’. He advised a couple of one-night stands to get rid of her ‘hangups’. She reported him for his outrageous behaviour and demanded a second opinion. By the time she actually found a doctor to take her seriously, she needed an emergency hysterectomy.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow. That’s awful! I wish it were less common, but I hear these sorts of horror stories everyday. So terrible.

      Reply
  9. A

    I’m 26 and I had heard of the clitoris but hadn’t bothered to look at my own body and find it until very recently. I’m a virgin but now I’m engaged and starting to feel that it’s a good time to learn about these things. I think this blog is a good help in learning things about sex in a way that isn’t too graphical but still detailed enough so that you actually get answers to some relevant questions. Me and my fiancee will continue to use it to prepare for married life. Thank you for the good content.

    Reply
    • Anon

      The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex would also be really worth reading. I read it in the weeks leading up to our wedding and found it informative (for a total sex-ignoramus!) without being more detailed/graphic than I was comfortable with pre-marriage.

      Reply
  10. Codec

    So much of this as a continupus problem can be traced back to one guy.

    Dr Sigmund Freud.

    Freud had some truly weird ideas. His ideas he branched into entire theories on sexual cultural and physiological development.

    He came up with the idea of Penis Envy. Basically growing woman a young girl would comw to resent her mother because she would resent that the mother got to have sexual relations. The girl would thus come to subconcipusly want her dad. This desire according to Freud would be sublimated and in chosing a partner subconciously a woman would choose a man who in some way resembled her father.

    It should also be noted that Freud believed that clitoral orgasm was less mature than vaginal orgasm which is medically nonsenseical.

    It is also worth noting that that flies in the face of the collective sexual wisdom of humanity.

    The Song of Songs describes the woman as feeling as though she is on fire in her pursuit of the man. The Kama Sutra describes the female genetalia and clitoris as being like a tinderbox.

    So from a biology medical anthropological cross cultural archetypal perspective Freud is not even wrong he is outright deleriously incompetent.

    Think about it this way. A young cpuple gets married and they are excited but nervous. If the couple were to use Song of Songs and or the Kama Sutra as a guide of sorts wgat would they find.

    Thwy would find a lot of practical advice. Compliment the ones you love. Enjoy the experience of a trusting relationship. Have variety. Seek out that whis is beautiful. This applies not only to sex, but to life.

    Carl Gustave Young and others rightly criticized Freud for his psychosexual ideas.

    Personally I would love to see this blog cover psychology and literature like Songs of Songs.

    Reply
    • A2bbethany

      I don’t remember the name, but Sheila actually had connor read through Freud’s research and they discussed it. On a podcast, and tried to be as little scarring as possible! He was a messed up guy! Look into the archives of pods, and see if you can find it. I think you’d find it interesting.

      Reply
      • Codec

        Sounds like an interesting podcast.

        Yeah, Freud was a weird dude. He had a serious cocaine problem.

        Reply
  11. Angela

    I would like to learn more about complete clitoral phymosis ( sp?). It’s when the hood of the clitoris becomes attached. I have found info about when this occurs with a man’s foreskin but very little for women. My doctor said it’s common among women that take hormones. Have you heard of this and can you tell me where to learn more?

    Reply
  12. S

    Thank you for sharing your passion with us on this topic and for helping us other women. I have found your advice to be the only helpful source.

    I was homeschooled and isolated, so all of the information I was fed came from my parents and church.

    I was not taught anything about my sexual body except about periods and conception. I understood more about a mans body than I did my own.

    There was a lot at play in my personal life that got in the way of my sexual fulfillment, but this missing puzzle piece contributed.

    I’ve been greatly missing out all of these years. From lack of sex education, to a selfish porn addict of a husband, to feelings of guilt surrounding sex through purity culture.

    I’ve been fighting a lot of anger and grief over this. It wasn’t fair for me to enter marriage thinking sex was mainly for my husband and not important for me (also not understanding the mind of a sex addict). And I definitely thought I was broken when intercourse didn’t bring me to orgasm.

    The only marriage advice my mom gave me when I was engaged was that sometimes I won’t be in the mood when my husband will be, that I should still fulfill his need in those times. I received this mindset from both my mom and my church how men are so much more sexual than women, that I will never understand them and I believed it.

    Also, why did my church always replace the word sex with the word intercourse? Further planting in my head that was all there was to it.

    Men have such an advantage from the day they are born. I think it’s actually THEM who don’t understand WOMENS need for sex.

    There is so much more I could say. There is so much wrong and imbalanced priorities going on here that is apparently not just within the church.

    I sometimes wonder if my own mom has been sexually fulfilled. She is too embarrassed to talk about it though.

    I think that all I can really do is to keep educating myself and make sure that my kids are well informed and hopefully they will avoid the problems I have faced.

    Reply
    • S

      To add, I actually have a good, healthy sex drive. It was only being suppressed. I imagine things would have turned out great for me regarding my sexual fulfillment if the messages I had received were not selfishly male centered and also guilt free.

      My husband is working on breaking his addiction and we have been focusing on finding my own pleasure now. I still have a lot of emotional healing to do though, with his betrayal and selfishness and all.

      But things are looking better.

      Reply
  13. Sally Poyzer

    Hi Shelia

    Thanks for your great resources about helping women enjoy sex. I often recommend ‘The good girl’s guide to great sex’ to wives as an easy to read and very helpful book. However, I have had some wives ask for help where they have struggled to enjoy sex due to being sexually abused as a child (their husbands are loving and supportive). Do you have any resources/books you could recommend for those women? Thanks!

    Reply

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