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Meet Your Clitoris. Everything You Need To Know

It’s small and hidden, but the clitoris plays a key part in women’s sexual pleasure. Doctors check to see if it looks healthy during ob-gyn well check-ups, but other than that, it’s not discussed much between patients and medical professionals.

Let’s change that. You should get familiar with what your clitoris is, where it is and what its function is. That will make it easier to express concerns about it to physicians, and possibly to enhance your sexual pleasure.

Meet Your Clitoris

Pronounced CLIT-er-iss, the clitoris is a bulb-shaped part of a woman’s anatomy. The tippy top of the clitoris is called the clitoral gland; it’s located under a hood above your vagina (it’s called the clitoral hood, or prepuce), where the inner lips (labia) meet; the rest of the clitoris is about five inches long, comprised in large part of erectile tissue, but it’s inside you where you can’t see it. Anatomically, the clitoris has the same origins as a man’s penis. The identical mass grows differently as a fetus evolves into a female or male.

Likewise, the clitoris gets larger and firmer when aroused. It is related to orgasm. In fact, the clitoris has more than 10,000 nerve fibers. Many women achieve orgasm only when the clitoris is stimulated.

What Can Go Wrong with the Clitoris

During well-women visits, OB-GYNs, nurse practitioners and midwives take a look at the clitoris before or after performing a pap smear. The examiner looks for discoloration, enlargement or other visual cues that there may be an issue. Possible problems could be lichen sclerosus or lichen simplex chronicus, both treatable with ointments, or a cancer or precancer.

Problems can result in discomfort or an ability to have an orgasm.

In some cases, a clitoris can be damaged. That can happen during vaginal childbirth, if the baby’s size, position or other delivery specifics happen to hit the wrong way. Certain surgeries can damage the clitoris, too. In rare cases, a clitoris can also be hurt when a doctor inserts a mesh to help with urinary incontinence. The same is true for certain cosmetic surgeries, such as labiaplasty.

How To Protect Your Clitoris

Gynecologists don’t get a lot of clitoris complaints, but if you have any questions, worries or observations, it’s crucial to bring them up to your healthcare practitioner. Here are ways to protect your clitoris.

  • Pay attention. You can take a tour of your vulva, including the tip of your clitoris, using a handheld mirror. If that’s not your thing, just be aware of changes. If your clitoris feels different than it did in the past, ask a doctor. That might mean it’s sensitive, painful, burning, itchy or irritated. If you struggle to reach orgasm following any kind of procedure in the vaginal area, bring that to a medical professional’s attention, too.
  • Pass on piercings. If you’re thinking of having your clitoral hood or glans (the nub that sticks out) pierced, realize that, on rare occasions, that can result in an end to having orgasms, at least temporarily. The cause can be nerve damage, infection, tears -- even allergies.
  • Ask questions before surgery. The papers you sign before a surgery in your vulva or vaginal area might not mention that your clitoris could be damaged, so ask beforehand. Get specific answers about exactly what parts of your anatomy will be touched, with what tools, and how close those will be to your clitoris.

While more doctors than ever examine the clitoris during well-woman exams, it’s up to you to protect yours. That involves avoiding physical disruptions like piercing, asking questions about discomfort and orgasm struggles, and getting clear information before vaginal-area surgeries. A healthy clitoris is related to sexual pleasure.

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