Clitoris

Overview

What is the clitoris?

Your clitoris is the pleasure center of your reproductive anatomy. Many people think of the clitoris as the tiny nub of flesh located at the top of the genitals (vulva), but this is just the part of the clitoris you can see. Your clitoris consists of a complex network of erectile tissue and nerves, with parts located inside and outside your body.

Stimulating your clitoris can make you feel sexually aroused. It can heighten feelings of sexual tension until you climax (orgasm). Even if you don’t have an orgasm, the sensations from a stimulated clitoris usually feel good.

Function

What does your clitoris do?

Your clitoris has a single purpose: to enable you to experience sexual pleasure. Your entire vulva is an erogenous zone — a part of your body that gets sexually stimulated when touched. Your clitoris is the most sensitive part of your vulva. It’s capable of producing the most intense and most pleasurable sexual responses in your body.

Your clitoris is sensitive to all types of touch. The most pleasurable types of touch vary from person to person. Contact with a tongue (oral sex), fingers, a sex toy or your partner’s genitals can stimulate your clitoris. Vaginal penetration with a penis, fingers or a sex toy can stimulate the clitoris through your vaginal wall.

Experimenting with different types of touch by yourself or with a partner can help you familiarize yourself with the types of sensations that feel best for you.

Anatomy

Where is your clitoris located?

Most people think of the clitoris as the tiny button of flesh that’s the most sensitive part of your external genitals (vulva), but your clitoris is located inside your pelvic cavity, too.

Outside your body

The part of your clitoris that extends outside your body is located at the top of your vulva. Beneath your clitoris is your urethral opening (the hole where you pee), your vaginal opening (the hole where you have intercourse), a space of skin called your perineum and your anus (the hole where you poop). On either side of your clitoris and vaginal opening are two flaps of skin called your labia minora (inner vaginal lips). Your labia majora (outer vaginal lips) surround your inner vaginal lips. A mound of skin called your mons pubis is above your clitoris, directly atop your pubic bone.

Zooming in, the parts of your clitoris that are outside your body include:

  • Glans clitoris: Most people referring to the clitoris (or clit) actually mean the glans, the tiny nub that’s just above your urethral opening. The glans is filled with nerve endings that make it especially sensitive to touch.
  • Clitoral hood: Your labia minora (inner vaginal lips) meet at the top of your vulva to form a hood for your glans. Your clitoral hood may cover all, some or none of your glans.

Inside your body

Inside your body, your clitoris is shaped like an upside-down wishbone, with a clitoral body branching out to form a V shape.

  • Body (corpora): The body of your clitoris is located behind your glans. Think of it as the top of the wishbone that isn’t divided. The body extends downward and branches off to form a pair of legs, the crura.
  • Crura: The crura are two legs that extend from the clitoral body. They’re the longest part of your clitoris. Together, they form the “V” of the wishbone and surround your vaginal canal and urethra (the tube that carries pee out of your body).
  • Vestibular (clitoral) bulbs: The vestibular bulbs are in between your crura and your vaginal wall. Like the crura, the vestibular bulbs are a paired structure. When you’re aroused, they swell with blood and can even double in size.
  • Root: The nerves from the erectile tissue that makes up the various structures in your clitoris meet at the root. The root is located where the legs of the crura meet.

Research is ongoing about the relationship between the clitoris and the G-spot, or Grafenberg spot. The G-spot refers to a region just a few inches inside your vagina that may feel especially pleasurable when stimulated. You can feel it by inserting a finger into your vagina and making a “come hither” motion in the direction of your front vaginal wall.

This spot may feel pleasurable because it’s where the vestibular bulbs of your clitoris rub up against the vaginal wall. If this is the case, vaginal orgasms may be related to clitoral stimulation.

What does the clitoris look like?

Your clitoris looks different depending on the view.

The part of the clitoris you can see (glans) looks like a tiny nub of flesh that’s hooded (clitoral hood) and surrounded by wrinkly flaps of skin (inner vaginal lips). The glans is often compared to a pea or the bud of a flower. Most diagrams that show the entire clitoris depict it like a wishbone, with both legs of the clitoris (crura) extending across the vaginal wall.

How big is the clitoris?

The entire clitoris, from the glans to the crura, is about 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 inches long and about 2 1/2 inches wide. The glans is about 3/4 inch to 1 inch in diameter.

What is the clitoris made of?

Your clitoris contains a complex network of erectile tissue and nerves that make it your most highly sensitive erogenous zone.

Except for your glans, your clitoris consists of erectile tissue that fills with blood and expands when stimulated. This erectile tissue is similar to the tissue in the penis. When you’re aroused, the crura and the vestibule bulbs can expand so much that they cause your labia to swell. Your swollen labia may partially or completely cover your glans. Or, the swelling may cause your glans to stick out more.

Inside your body, the swelling adds pressure to your vaginal wall. The squeezing stimulates lubrication inside your vagina, which increases feelings of pleasure and accommodates vaginal penetration.

Your glans is filled with nerve endings that make it incredibly sensitive. It’s so sensitive that applying too much pressure or touching the glans directly during sex may feel painful. Multiple nerve bundles and nerve endings create these sensations in your clitoris. Important nerves in your clitoris include:

How many nerve endings does the clitoris have?

The glans alone contains about 8,000 nerve endings. Your clitoris has more nerve endings than any other part of your vulva. Together, these nerves can produce a range of pleasurable sensations, depending on how your clitoris is touched and how sexually aroused you are.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that may affect your clitoris?

Clitoromegaly describes a clitoris that’s larger than what’s considered normal. It often results from exposure to too many androgens (sex hormones associated with being designated male at birth) when you’re still a fetus. It may lead to congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). With CAH, your clitoris may resemble a small penis. Conditions that arise from hormone imbalances, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can also lead to an especially large clitoris.

Many conditions that affect your vulva, in general, can affect your clitoris, too.

Infections

Skin conditions

  • Lichen sclerosus is an autoimmune disease that can cause scarring on your vulva, including your clitoris.
  • Clitoral adhesions occur when your clitoral hood sticks to your clitoris. Without freedom of movement, your clitoris can feel painful. Infections, lichen sclerosus and hormone imbalances can all cause clitoral adhesions.

Cancer

  • Vulvar cancer: Cancer on your vulva most commonly affects your labia, but it can affect your clitoris, too.
  • Metastatic cancer: Breast cancer, cervical cancer and endometrial cancer can metastasize and spread to your clitoris.

Common signs or symptoms of a condition affecting your clitoris?

  • Soreness: Your clitoris may feel sore if your glans receives too much direct pressure or stimulation during sex, including sexual stimulation with a vibrator.
  • Pain: An injury, an infection or a condition can cause your clitoris to hurt (clitorodynia). Lichen sclerosus, clitoral adhesions and vulvar cancer can cause pain in your vulva, including your clitoris.
  • Itching: An itchy clitoris or clitoral hood may result from an allergic reaction to creams, lotions or bathing products with harsh ingredients. You may be allergic to the materials in your partner’s condom or in your vibrator.

Common tests to check the health of the body organ?

If the appearance of your clitoris changes suddenly, your provider may order imaging or a biopsy to check for cancer.

A provider may order blood tests to check hormone levels if an infant is born with an unusually large clitoris. They may recommend genetic tests to diagnose disorders of sex differentiation, including instances when a baby has ambiguous genitalia.

Common treatments for the clitoris?

  • Infections: Prescription creams and pills can treat infections caused by bacteria or fungi.
  • Cancer: Your provider can excise (cut out) the area of skin that contains the cancer cells and some of the nearby healthy tissue.

Historically providers altered ambiguous genitals surgically to make them look more conventionally “male” or “female” (clitoroplasty). Increasingly, intersex individuals are deciding on their own whether they would prefer medical interventions. Often, surgery isn’t needed unless anatomical differences interfere with your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body), making it difficult to pee.

Care

Simple tips to keep your clitoris healthy

Keep your clitoris healthy by:

  • Getting regular pelvic exams and Pap smears: Regular screenings allow your provider to detect conditions that affect your clitoris early so that you can receive the treatment you need.
  • Protecting yourself against STIs: Receiving the HPV vaccine can decrease your risk of developing cervical cancer. Using condoms or dental dams during sex can protect you from infections that may affect your clitoris.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The relationship between the clitoris and sexual pleasure may make you feel embarrassed to talk or even think about your clitoris. But your clitoris is an important part of your sexual health. Explore your clitoris so that you know what type of stimulation feels pleasurable — instead of painful — during sex. Communicate what feels good to your partner. This kind of exploration can prevent clitoral soreness during and after sex. It can also connect you with your partner and your sensuality.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/25/2022.

References

  • Baskin L, Shen J, Sinclair A, et al. Development of the human penis and clitoris. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30249413/) Differentiation. 2018;103:74-85. Accessed 4/25/2022.
  • Filho AC, Garbeloto E, Santiago KC, da Motta LL. Endometrial carcinoma metastatic to the clitoris: A case report. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3930815/) Gynecol Oncol Case Rep. 2014;8:1-3. Accessed 4/25/2022.
  • Jackson LA, Hare AM, Carrick KS, Ramirez DMO, Hamner JJ, Corton MM. Anatomy, histology, and nerve density of clitoris and associated structures: clinical applications to vulvar surgery. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31254525/) Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2019;221(5):519.e1-519.e9. Accessed 4/25/2022.
  • Vieira-Baptista P, Lima-Silva J, Preti M, Xavier J, Vendeira P, Stockdale CK. G-spot: fact or fiction?: a systematic review. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8498956/) Sex Med. 2021;9(5):100435. Accessed 4/25/2022.

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