Where is the clitoris? A visual guide with troubleshooting steps | Lioness
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Where is the clitoris? A visual guide with troubleshooting steps

Where is the clitoris, but it was here all along

Not being able to find the clitoris is basically a cultural punchline. The Try Guys sequence above is tastefully (enough) done, but most jokes make it almost expected that people can't find it.

We're going to change that here. This article is going to be as concrete as possible—how sex ed should have covered it. We're even going to have troubleshooting steps!

This article will ideally be helpful to either partners or individuals who are trying to find their own clitoris and want more than vague, high-level descriptions.

Needless to say, this is going to get long and very detailed—but also have many NSFW images ahead.

It's a problem

So what's the big deal? Why do we care about this? Well, a substantial portion of women can't orgasm without some form of external stimulation—50% more women orgasmed when they got manual stimulation of the clitoris versus just vaginal penetration. [5]

Orgasms are pretty important to sexual satisfaction, and there's a pretty big gap. One widely reported study found that 75% of heterosexual men had regular orgasms while only 29% of women reported the same. [3]

South Park on Where can I find the clitoris

A lot of it is lack of basic knowledge

When surveyed, everyone from college students to adults often gets basic anatomical facts about the clitoris wrong. [6] This isn't that surprising since even popular anatomy textbooks used in medical school don't cover the clitoris and female orgasm. [4] If you want to know more about what the clitoris is, see the linked article that I wrote on the topic.

As we'll learn shortly, most of the complication is lack of basic knowledge of anatomy without handwaving or skirting details. We'll fix that.

Slight sidebar: why is it so hard?

In short, our education system is really bad at covering an organ that has no purpose but pleasure. It doesn't slot into "reproduction" in any way except purely enjoying sex—which is something that many parents and educators have a lot of trouble talking about. After all, at least in the US, the weight of the conversation is on the dangers, not the pleasures.

So, without straight talk about where it is, partners (and the clitoris-owners themselves) are stuck fishing around for it. There are pop culture tips like, "it's that button thing above the vagina"—which may or may not be helpful depending on the person/vulva—or inane tips that usually don't work like "trace the alphabet."

I guarantee you that mechanically going back to kindergarten on someone's vulva is not going to do it for most folks.

There is a way it can, but rules of thumb don't work without contextual knowledge that most of us didn't get.

Instructions unclear, image of protractor in the oven, similar to finding the clitoris without good instructions

Basic anatomy

To start, let's go with a stylized diagram. [4]

Labeled diagram of the vulva and vagina from O'Connell 2005

Two problems here.

  1. I'd say it's pretty safe to say that most real bodies don't have color-coding as nice as this
  2. Where is the clitoris?!

As discussed in the article about what the clitoris is, the clitoris is way bigger than most people think—given that it actually extends internally.

What we popularly call the clitoris, is the clitoris glans. That's the nerve-dense portion of the clitoris that is externally reachable.

To put this into perspective, see this excerpt from my co-founder's oft-cited comic on the topic.

Vulva and clitoris diagram from front-view, x-ray view

As you can see, most of it is under the surface. If we wanted to be precise when we're asking "where is the clitoris?", we're looking for the glans.

So... mission accomplished...?

So, you're all set, right? My job here is done. Well, probably not.

If you're like most people, you've probably seen stylized illustrations like that. It still doesn't seem to help when you get encountered by a real vulva. Suddenly, you're confronted with a bunch of flesh (not color-coded). Now what?

So, let's go beyond 101, and start hitting common problems.

Troubleshooting

I can't find it / nothing looks like it down there

Contrary to popular belief (cough porn cough), vulvas vary a lot. For an artistic rendition of it, see the Vulva Gallery for the kind of variation that's out there.

So alas, things are not going to look as nice and neat down there as most stylized diagrams.

That being said, engorgement is your friend.

Huh? What?

The clitoris has the same embryological origins as the penis. It is also erectile tissue. That means that like the penis, it gets filled with blood and swells during arousal. See our Atlas of Human Anatomy diagram below. [1]

Clitoris glans at different arousal and stages of engorgement

Notice that the clitoris (glans) grows far larger and is more visible during arousal.

Anatomy varies a lot, so this doesn't work 100% of the time, but MOST of the time, the job of finding the clitoris glans is going to be far easier with foreplay (which is a good general practice anyway vs. going like a homing missile for the clitoris).

So, touch around the vulva, stroke other places, do whatever makes the individual in question (your partner or yourself) aroused. That actually solves most problems, since a lot of folks try to go in "cold" and are looking for a rather small bundle of nerves on a lot of flesh.

I'm sure I'm touching the clitoris, but nothing is happening

There are three common potential problems here. The first, like with IT troubleshooting, you aren't actually doing what you think you're doing. The second is that you are, but there's "something" in the way. The third is that your partner (or you) just aren't that into it.

You didn't actually find the clitoris

We're here for real talk and not to spare feelings, so let's go over the most likely outcome: user-error. You didn't actually find it.

Hopefully, you followed the above and tried to arousal the individual in question first (if not, go back and do that). But let's say you did.

One problem with those diagrams is most people just take away (implicitly or explicitly), "it's above the vaginal opening." So, with that in mind, they fish around for something above the vagina that kind of "feels like a bundle of something."

Other than the semi-sarcastic response that there's a LOT of things above the vaginal introitus (opening), let's look at what's in the proximity of where you're searching. [2]

Labeled diagram of the vulva, labia, clitoris, and vagina from Goldstein 2005

One is that there's a lot of things labeled the clitoris. But also, there's also other stuff around there.

Note especially the urethral meatus (where pee comes out—and yes, that's not the same place as the vagina, contrary to an unfortunately popular belief). Without getting more technical, that's also an anatomical structure with "stuff" underneath that can feel like "something." It also looks more like "something" as well. It can protrude a bit and look like the hand-wavy description of a button.

Hence a lot of people actually stroke that instead of the clitoris—especially if you're going in cold. See again that Atlas of Human Anatomy illustration in the first question—the urethral meatus is far more prominent in a "flaccid" or "partly erect" state.

That's one possibility, so if so, try (again) more arousal and potentially moving farther up.

As said before though, there's a lot there. There's another part you could be touching: the prepucial hood, also known as the "clitoral hood." That leads us into the second part of this.

There's "something" in the way

There are no precise statistics on how common a "hooded" clitoris is—especially given that many cases may be, as said, user error. That being said, given variations in anatomy, some individuals will have more prominent clitoral hoods than others—in some, it may mostly or completely obscure the clitoral glans.

The first thing to note here, drawing the analogy to penis anatomy (which is usually more extensively covered in sex ed), the clitoral hood is natural and acts similar to the foreskin in males. Not to sound like a broken record, but arousal is going to help you A LOT.

However, in some, even in an aroused state, you'll get an "obscured" clitoris glans. In this case, you can usually (gently) "push back and open" with your palm while reaching with fingers, your other hand, etc. to "un-obscure" it.

Feedback is pretty key here—either from your partner or yourself—on whether it's working or making a difference.

If you end up in a real bind where nothing seems to be working, try a "clit pump" or vacuum. While that description might sound vaguely uncomfortable or horrifying, their functionality is what you need.

Basically, their suction will both create more engorgement and "draw out" the clitoris glans more, which both helps create more direct stimulation and potentially revealing it more post-use. See a guide about them here.

They're just not that into it

The final part of this multi-part answer is that your partner or you might just not be that into it. It's not impossible. Some do prefer internal stimulation to clitoral stimulation. Communication, if it's your partner, is key.

Of course, as I've encountered before in a question... it's a little more complicated if you're both not sure if you're hitting the clitoris glans or not. In which case, keep trying, read on, but always keep this point in mind.

Pubic hair

Along the lines of real talk, let's talk about something that we haven't tackled in all of these diagrams but is quite common in real human beings: pubic hair.

While pubic hair grooming, shaving, and waxing been increasing in popularity due to pornography, it still isn't universal—and shouldn't be, depending on the preferences of the person.

Now, this kind of thing is why things get complicated—after all, this is pretty much something almost every adult human has (unless artificially changed) but no idealized color-coded diagram possesses. Depending on hair thickness, you're not going to necessarily be able to rely on sight.

This is where your memory of the anatomy of the vagina introitus, the urethral meatus, the clitoral glans, and the clitoral hood comes into play! Whereas it would be frustratingly random without this knowledge, you should now have enough anatomical knowledge to narrow down on what is where by touch and general "outlines" of what the structures are like and where they are relative to each other.

Again, communicate and experiment—ideally in a sexy and not clinical manner (but whatever floats your boat).

I'm there and I/we hate it!

Unfortunately, just because you found the clitoris glans doesn't mean mission accomplished.

There isn't a rule of thumb here since it depends on the person, but some things to keep in mind:

  • Is the pressure enough or too much? Usually, it requires less than you think, but this depends on the person. Sometimes you should actually indirectly stroke the glans/stroke around it instead, since direct stimulation may be too much.
  • Is the pacing good? Speed matters—sometimes you want to go slower and more sensual, other times you'll want more stimulation and go faster.
  • Is the type of sensation good? Fingers aren't the only tool you should explore—try different aids like the aforementioned pumps or vibrators.

[Something] still doesn't work!

We've gone in much more detail here than most articles, but we're inevitably not going to be able to cover absolutely everything here—because people are different.

You'll have to experiment with your partner or self-experiment a lot to both truly find what works—and what keeps things novel.

Communication, again, is key—either with yourself (listen to your own body) or with a partner. A big part of sexual satisfaction and understanding just comes from experience and trying things.

Ideally, if done right, the journey of figuring things out is as enjoyable as the destination.

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References

[1] Atlas of Human Anatomy, Descriptive and Regional. Volume I, Osteology, Arthrology, Myology. By M. W. Woerdman, Professor of Anatomy, University of Amsterdam. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore. 512 figures, many in color; 17 × 26 cm; (2005). http://doi.org/10.1002/ar.1091030308

[2] Goldstein, I., Meston, C., Davis, S., & Traish, A. (2005). Women's Sexual Function and Dysfunction. http://doi.org/10.1201/b14618

[3] Laumann, E. O. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[4] O'CONNELL, H. E., SANJEEVAN, K. V., & HUTSON, J. M. (2005). ANATOMY OF THE CLITORIS. The Journal of Urology, 174(4), 1189–1195. http://doi.org/10.1097/01.ju.0000173639.38898.cd

[5] Richters, J., De Visser, R. O., Rissel, C. E., Grulich, A. E., & Smith, A. M. A. (2008). Demographic and Psychosocial Features of Participants in Bondage and Discipline, “Sadomasochism” or Dominance and Submission (BDSM): Data from a National Survey. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5(7), 1660–1668. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00795.x

[6] Wade, L. D., Kremer, E. C., & Brown, J. (2005). The Incidental Orgasm: The Presence of Clitoral Knowledge and the Absence of Orgasm for Women. Women & Health, 42(1), 117–138. http://doi.org/10.1300/j013v42n01_07

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