Friday Weird Science: FINALLY, a clitoris study!

Jun 11 2010 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci has constantly been annoyed that no one seems to have performed a real, thorough study on the sensitivity of the vagina. Or at least, it's beyond her pubmed-fu. If someone has done it, please let me know! I'd really like to cover it and I'm very annoyed that I cannot seem to find it. Sci is also annoyed by this because several studies have covered the sensitivity of the penis. It's just not fair.
But today, Sci was pubmedding furiously, and she FOUND SOMETHING. I am so excited. Foldes and Buisson. "The Clitoral Complex: A Dynamic Sonographic Study" Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009.
YES! Not the whole thing, but it's a start.

I suppose you could say the pictures below are NFSW. But they're sonograms. So it could be anything, really, and most people won't know. If your boss comes up behind you, tell them you're looking at someone's baby pics.

Alright, so here we go. What this study was really after was not vaginal, or even clitoral sensitivity. What this study was after was the G-spot. As you might be aware, there is some controversy as to whether or not the G-spot actually exists, and if it does, what it consists of. For example, is there really a difference between clitoral and vaginal orgasm, and what causes the difference?
To look into this further, let's look at some anatomy:

You can see above the basic anatomy of the clitoris and the vaginal opening below it. You can see that the clitoris has a glans and a cavernous body, which is located on either side of the urethra. Keep in mind that the root of the clitoris extends pretty far in, and comes rather close to the anterior (that's the front) wall of the vagina.

The female clitoris and the male penis are really quite similar in anatomy. So the reasoning behind this paper was this: why aren't all women capable of having a vaginal orgasm if they have the equivalent of a penis? Perhaps it has something to do with the relationship between the clitoris and the vagina.
To look at the relationship between the clitoris and the vagina, they took women (age matched), and checked out the clitoris. They did this both at rest and when the women were performing perineal contraction (that's a Kegel). Their underlying hypothesis was this: if the clitoris comes really close to the vagina, perhaps the clitoris plays the underlying role in vaginal orgasms.
And here's what they got:

What you can see here is the sonogram image, aligned like the model above. The glans is at the top, the cavernous bodies (clitoral bodies) are on the sides, vagina is at the bottom.

This is a slightly different angle. Here you're looking at the cavernous bodies of the clitoris on the sides, with the top of the body above and the bottom below (like you're viewing up someone's vagina if they were at the gynecologist). What you can also see is a change resulting from the contraction of the perineum. In the contraction (on the right), the cavernous bodies are brought downward and the angle is decreased, bringing them closer to the anterior wall of the vagina.

And what you can see here is a midsagittal section, with the woman lying on her back, and the entrance to the vagina in the air (which is odd and I think due to an extreme pelvic tilt). You can see that the root of the vagina is closely located to the anterior vaginal wall.
They then had the patient locate the area of most sensitivity with their own fingers, and took an ultrasound that way. Invariably (though it was n=5), the women poked at the area closest to the clitoral root. When she then contracted her perineum, the clitoris moved closer to the area of the anterior wall she was pointing to.
So what's the conclusion? The authors conclude that women may be able to achieve vaginal orgasm via stimulation of the G-spot because the highly innervated clitoris is pulled closely to the anterior wall of the vagina. This is cool because this means there's no need for some special region of nerves to create a G-spot, it could, rather, just be an association of anatomy.
Sci does have some issues with this paper, though.
1) n=5? We can so do better.
2) All of the women apparently were able to locate their own g-spots successfully. It would be very interesting to see this done in women who do not think they have a g-spot or don't know where it is, and see where they point to when asked for the most sensitive spot.
3) Sci has issues with the fundamental question of why not all women can have a vaginal orgasm if they have the anatomical equivalent of a penis. My problem is this: a clitoris may be the anatomical equivalent of a penis. The VAGINA isn't. So perhaps a clitoral orgasm (of which almost every woman is capable unless there are underlying problems) is the equivalent of the male orgasm, while the vaginal orgasm is something else, if it IS something else, and related more of the positioning of the clitoris relative to the vagina?
In conlusion: Moar studies, pleez! 🙂
Foldes, P., & Buisson, O. (2009). The Clitoral Complex: A Dynamic Sonographic Study Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6 (5), 1223-1231 DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01231.x

42 responses so far

  • Well, there is also the distance between clitoris and vaginal opening - Mary Roach writes about it (in her well-known amazing style) in "Bonk". And the conclusion emerging from all the research described in the book is that there is probably no other "mechanical" (resulting from a physical stimulation) orgasm than the one associated with clitoris... So maybe there's no point looking for this mythical vaginal one 😉

  • Rarian Rakista says:

    I just hope this doesn't lead to a rash of clitoris implants.

  • Deb Burns says:

    Ya'll need to interview a few lesbians-- they've (we've ) got it figured out! But I'm not telling!

  • Janis Chambers says:

    I aways thought the clitoris was the female penis, of course the vagina it's self is different because it's developed in utero form a separate set of glands fom the ones that form the connecting bits between the gonas and the penis. Biology is great, is't it?

  • Janis says:

    Eep.... sorry about all the typos, still learning how to thumb type on a smart phone.

  • Wazza says:

    if we're looking for a direct analogy, the vaginal orgasm might be similar to one caused by stimulating the prostate gland in men... but really, this is a case where the differences in anatomy are larger than the similarities.

  • I don't know about other guys, but I've never orgasmed purely from stimulation of my scrotum. Why anyone expects women to orgasm purely from vaginal stimulation is beyond me.

  • IanW says:

    Since you specified gender in "The female clitoris and the male penis", some of us are probably wondering when you intend to blog about the female penis and the male clitoris. Any word on that? Might it be early April of next year?

  • ENT-TT says:

    I agree with Benjamin. Sensitivity does not always equal pleasure. Changing topics, I think a study should be done (in a similar vein to this one) regarding women who are fortunate enough to orgasm during labor. Do the positions of the clitoral bodies relative to the vaginal roots create an effect of pleasurable sensitivity in these cases?

  • hectocotyli says:

    Well, this penis cross-section looks decided less cute than the last.

  • Sue says:

    Anyone who wants practical testing, results, and clear explanations should check into the NWSE (new world sex education). This husband & wife team are changing the world's understanding of pleasure & orgasm. If you can't get to the web just go buy their book, "Red Hot Touch". It speaks of the clitoris, G spot, AND the A spot. ( are you curious yet? You should be!)

  • James says:

    Wait, why is this weird science? It seems to me that the science regarding male sexual function/dysfunction is mainstream and considered not weird. What should be considered weird is that this is the first paper published (?) on the subject.

  • Mokele says:

    I'm skeptical of these results, particularly the change in angle of the clitoral bodies. I've dissected enough female cadavers to know that those bodies are pretty firmly anchored to the pelvis. In the paper, they don't anchor the ultrasound probe, nor quantify it's angle relative to the pelvis - the perceived angle change could be nothing more than the Kegel causing the vulva (and thus probe) to change angle slightly, altering the view and causing perspective distortion. It's much more plausible that the clitoris and associated structures are staying put, the the vagina (which has no such firm anchoring) is being shifted in position by the contraction of the various pelvis floor muscles.
    Sorry to be a killjoy, but I'm generally fairly skeptical of ultrasound-based-studies as a result of errors I've seen in such studies in my own field (biomechanics). Single-view systems (whether it's a single ultrasound probe or a single external camera or a single histological slice) can have serious limitations due to parallax, perspective distortion, shifting viewpoint, out-of-plane motion, etc, and I have yet to see those issues seriously addressed in most such studies.

  • NomadUK says:

    I've dissected enough female cadavers
    You know, you must be a blast at cocktail parties...

  • Ivan says:

    I've always wondered if the vaginal orgasm is similar to a male orgasm via stimulation of the scrotum and perineum (which I find only works after the point of climax has been approached by more usual means; it gives a distinctly different and more intense flavor to the climax).

  • Chris says:

    it might be possible that vaginal orgasm were just a myth or just a rare phenomenon.

  • Ben W says:

    #16, definitely not true.

  • Rr says:

    @8 IanW
    Are you genuinely curious or are you being a jerk? Transgender people who have not undergone bottom surgery have "man-clitorises" and "woman-penises". There would be some differences from the standard female clitorises and male penises thanks to the hormones they'd be taking, but not many.

  • Rr says:

    @16 Chris
    I don't know how true it is, but IIRC the "geeky" pornstar Asia Carrera claimed something like 10% of females can get off on vaginal stimulation alone. No idea where she got her numbers from.
    Personally, I was under the impression that the female g-spot consisted of the same stuff as prostate tissue, the same way men have breast glands too. That and the amount of that tissue being highly variable in females: some having none, some having a lot (though less than males), and everything in between. i.e. that in theory women can get prostate cancer, it just being even more unlikely than breast cancer for men. I wish I remembered any of the sources for that "g-spot tissue == prostate tissue" impression.
    Rumors and hearsay, oh joy! </sarcasm at self>

  • Sexycelticlady says:

    Women can climax from vaginal stimulation alone, it is the main method for climax with me and it took many years before I was able to enjoy clitoral climax.
    It would be interesting to see more studies on the g-spot and female sensitivity. 🙂

  • naddyfive says:

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I have never, ever understood why people dichotomize vaginal/clitoral orgasms. They are the same thing. There is no difference, at least for me, in what happens- only in the relative intensity of what happens. Orgasms that result from penetration are almost always better than the other kind, in my experience. It's one of those "more=better" situations; more stimulation of the general region is better than less.
    Maybe we could settle this once and for all if people finally realized that an orgasm is an orgasm- same neurological events, same muscular contractions, etc.- even in women, because the clitoris is very obviously involved in all female orgasms. Even those that result from intercourse. I think the problem is that people are seeing two different things instead of the whole system that the two things obviously make up. (There must be a name for this kind of cognitive hiccup but I don't know what it is...)
    Or maybe I'm some kind of freak, who knows? We may never know, if the research doesn't get off the ground.

  • J says:

    My first reaction when I first read this article: I KNEW IT!
    Why would I react in that way?
    I always wonder if the vaginal climax or clitoral climax is different. Well, for me, it feels way too different.

  • From a woman who was naive and greatly uniformed who had her clitoris vulva & lymph glands removed due to cancer 16 years ago this is great news and great discovery. For anyone interested I can still have an orgasm so I am not completely and "it". Even after 16 years many women still think their vulva is a vagina. Somebody has to do more research and education to women in the world.
    I am more than willing to contribute any information for progress in this important issue for women in the world - not to mention the partners of thes women.
    International GYN Awareness Day 10 September 2010
    viva la vulva

  • Deb Burns makes a very good point: Lesbians are likely to have explored the topic close-up, so to speak, in detail and over time. Pity she is not revealing what she knows.

  • tes says:

    So the g-spot and vaginal orgasms come up, and once again I am surprised and a bit puzzled to see how few commenters seem to have first- and secondhand experience of these things. Or at least feel free to speak about it.
    Is it really that rare?
    Female sexuality seems almost a near-mythical thing, and what many women keep reporting is apparently not very trustworthy at all. Faking it again, perhaps?
    I want to thank Sexycelticlady for pointing out the leading female orgasm myth: that stimulation of the clitoris is absolutely neccesary to achieve orgasm and that vaginal orgasm alone is somehow a suspect male fantasy.
    This particular myth complicated my sexlife no end for many many years.
    It is simply not true.
    Glad to know I am not alone.
    My personal suspicion is that clitori and g-spots have at least a few things in common. Both work very well in some women, one or the other or both. Neither neccesarily works very well in ALL women. Just as with sex in general, I guess.
    Which brings me to another destructive female sex myth: that orgasms are always important and fantastic and possible and all that.
    This has probably ruined more relationships and lives than a lot of other ideas. Underachieving in this particular area really must hurt. And may be one reason this is so hard to discuss, perhaps?
    Orgasms are like every other human experience. They cover the whole spectrum from nonexistence via lousy and frustrating to pure bliss and back. Most of the time they end up somewhere in between.
    Love helps, though.
    As with everything else.
    More techincally:
    Yes, the g-spot kind of feels like "the other end of the clitoris", at least in me.
    No, clitoral and vaginal orgasms feel very different, at least in me.
    And yes, lesbians might know a thing or two about this subject... 😉

  • Lola says:

    It might be possible that the vaginal orgasm is just a societally constructed myth propagated by porn that allows men to keep the power in sex and society.

  • Basia says:

    For many women I know, there are large differences between clitoral and other (vaginal, g-spot, etc.) orgasms. I can orgasm without clitoral stimulation and actually prefer my clit be left out during play. Through just vaginal intercourse or even asleep without contact feels different. As fir those saying vaginal orgasms are a myth... Keep trying! It was only after I had 3 kids that I managed other types! A lot has to do with sexual knowledge or a patient partner that isn't clitoral- focused.

  • TMK says:

    The G-spot study was done on identical twins assuming that the G-spot is simply anatomically programmed at birth. That doesn't include neural patterning that is independent of a true genetic component (like learning). The G-spot exists, if it doesn't, my body is seriously strange.
    The research on the clitoris is fascinating and thanks for sharing! I think there are the three main types of female orgasms - clitoral, vaginal and G-spot. The thing I don't get is why women orgasm at all (thankfully we do!!). I'm not the only one who has wondered about this either. This video explores the female! (

  • David says:

    "Maybe I'm missing something, but I have never, ever understood why people dichotomize vaginal/clitoral orgasms. They are the same thing."
    Neither have I, and it's rather hilarious to me as a man. Maybe we men should have endless discussions about "penis orgasms, testicle orgasms and anal orgasms". Heck, maybe we should have a term penis/testicle/anal orgasm for when all 3 are being stimulated simultaneously. Silly me when I have an orgasm I just thought I was having an orgasm, regardless of what stimulation caused it.
    And I so wish some people would stop with the tired canard that when women orgasm through penetration it must be because somehow the clitoris is being stimulated. How can anyone but a celibate nun believe that? Anyone with any real world experience knows that different women (GASP) orgasm from different things and or combinations of things. Imagine that! Jesus

  • megan says:

    Simple explanation if you've finally understood the male and female genitalia are basically the same in structure but mostly different purposes. Men can orgasm from purely prostate stimulation and the reason sexually exploring males (not just gays) enjoy anal stimulation with stimulation of their penis = woman having her clitoris stimulated while having her vaginal wall stimulated. The uterus and cervix also contract during deep female orgasms. A woman's G-spot is probably a bundle of sensitive nerves as much as men enjoy pressure and stimulation at the base of their penis or scrotum. It's not rocket science and only ignorant clueless men and women unable to be stimulated at the base of their clit witnin their vagina want to deny G-spots.

  • not really says:

    start at the link here - the research has been done and appears sensible unlike the mythology approach or the surveying of women about a time when they are likely to be pre-occupied with something other than science.

  • moonkitty says:

    @naddyfive #21 and @David #30

    "Maybe I'm missing something, but I have never, ever understood why people dichotomize vaginal/clitoral orgasms. They are the same thing."
    Neither have I, and it's rather hilarious to me as a man.

    If you don't understand, it's because you're too young to remember. Once upon a time, kids, Sigmund Freud was taken seriously (yes, really.) Pretty much all throughout the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, Freudian ideas held sway in popular culture, in literature, and in people's understanding of sexuality.
    Freud claimed that "mature" women had vaginal orgasms, and "immature" (that is, women with "penis envy", and those who had not accepted their role as passive helpmeets) women had clitoral orgasms.
    So now you know where this particular dichotomy comes from. There's no telling how much mischief this sort of thinking did, back in the day.

  • kestrelsparhawk says:

    Thanks for the attention to history, moonkitty. I was struck by the fact how long I've lived already; when I was a TA in Women Studies in the early 70s, I gave my students a copy of an article entitled "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm." Very, very few people believed it; Freud was still where everyone went for information on women. The fact that people are NOW arguing there isn't "only" a clitoral orgasm I'm going to take as progress.
    Sex certainly has been more fun for a lot of women when the "fact" of normal women all having vaginal orgasms started being challenged

  • doll says:

    I read Bonk and it gives lots of useful information.
    More recently there has begun to be research looking at prostate tissue in women and a hypothesis that women that squirt and have good orgasmic potential can do so because they have a prostate albeit minute compared with the male.
    That begs the question can men have several types of orgasms like women.... one based purely on the glans penis and one based on stimulation of the prostate.

  • doll says:

    Posted by: ENT-TT | June 11, 2010 10:04 AM
    I keep very quiet indeed about having an orgasm during my first labour. It was absolutely amazing and nothing will ever compare with it. Sadly I was too eager to experience it again with my second labour and delivered too quickly so it never happened.

  • Marcia says:

    Any study looking into female orgasm should also take into account the highly variable Skene glands around the urethra that are often identified as a vestigal prostrate and have been implicated in female ejaculation. Perhaps they're the missing link between the vaginal and the clitoral orgasm? Or perhaps Freud's dichotomy should be laid to rest (as so many of his other ideas have been) and we should start examining the genitalia in toto rather than in pieces.

  • OsToGo says:

    My secondhand experience (being as I wasn't the one having her orgasms) with a very awakened woman, who was a very scholarly student of her own body, was that there is a distinct difference between clitoral and vaginal orgasms. Clitoral Os were described as snacks, appetizers. Nice and sometimes all that were possible, but for real body-numbing explosive events, vaginal orgasms were the ticket.

  • DeborahJean says:

    Kudos @ #38. If only we were all so awakened and scholarly about our own bodies. Not only can we climax at different levels through clitoral, vaginal, and 'eek' anal stimulation, and/or a combination of any of the above (let's not forget nipples, lips, neck, and...)but "gulp" many women have sex drives that surpass those of our male counterparts. This of course is a well kept secret because the male "ego" is as fragile as his erections. Ergo, no go on the mojo if you're a sex driven woman looking fo a good man and can only find a man-ho. We just like to let you men THINK you rule the world. My theory is that the reason there are so few studies on female sexual sensitivity which includes the clitoris is because those of us in the know want to keep the mystery to avoid more exploitation. Only the best lovers know and they aren't sharing either.

  • Peter says:

    This is very informational>

  • IanW says:

    @Rr - I'd explain but you're simply not worth the time.

  • Cliff says:

    My reaction to this article was that, i just figured out the ultrasound result from the penis and vagina.. i am not aware with the vaginal or clitoral climax..but i think it simply educated me for awhile. Thank you very much!