The Clitoris Is Important for This Reason, Too

For eons it was thought that the sole purpose of the clitoris was to offer pleasure. Turns out, we were wrong.  

There are already 8,000 reasons to respect the clitoris, considering that’s how many highly-sensitive nerve endings are entrenched in this female organ. But now, thanks to a new review in published in November 2019 in the journal Clinical Anatomy, we know that there are 8,000 and 1 reasons to appreciate the clitoris. It turns out, stimulating the clitoris during sexual contact creates a cascade of changes in the brain and in the reproductive tract that creates an ideal environment for conception success.

With Clitoral Arousal, the Clitoris Talks to the Brain and the Uterus

When the clitoris is stimulated, the brain wakes up the genital area, increasing blood flow to the clitoris and vagina, upping vaginal lubrication, and boosting oxygen and temperature in the vagina. All of this enhances sperm function and survival, notes review author Roy Levin, PhD, most recently a research associate at the Sexual Physiology Laboratory at Porterbrook Clinic in Sheffield, England.

At the same time — and perhaps most importantly — during clitoral arousal, the entire uterus is lifted by muscle contractions. “This action moves the cervix away from the semen pool, which prevents the semen from traveling into the uterus too quickly,” says Dr. Levin. That’s important because freshly ejaculated sperm have to be modified by various bodily secretions in order to gain the ability to penetrate and fertilize an egg. (The process is called capacitation.) “Rapid transport directly into the fallopian tubes would just allow unfertilizable sperm to meet the ovum,” says Levin.

Earlier research by Levin published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior noted that these not-ready-to-fertilize sperm move the fastest in nonaroused women.

To help ensure that all of the above occurs, the clitoris becomes significantly larger and more prominent when the probability of conception is at its highest. (This is due to hormonal shifts and an uptick of blood flow.) In fact, clitoral size increased by about one-fifth in the days surrounding ovulation, according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. “These shifts make it easier for the clitoris to be stimulated at the best time for fertilization,” says Levin. This, and all of the other baby-friendly changes in the body, occur prior to orgasm. Translation: The lead up to climax is as important as the climax itself — which also may be key to fertilization success.

A Women’s Orgasm Encourage Fertilization, Too

“The rhythmic contractions of an orgasm felt in the vagina, uterus, anus, and pelvic floor can help propel sperm up into the uterus and fallopian tubes, increasing the chances of becoming pregnant,” says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health.

The Clit-or-What? An Underappreciated Organ

Prior to this report, the clitoris was widely thought of solely as a means for female sexual gratification. “We’ve known for a long while that women achieve sexual pleasure primarily from the stimulation of the clitoris, which has double the number of nerve endings as the penis,” says Dr. Ross. “When the clitoris is touched, caressed or stroked with varying degrees of pressure, a woman may become sexually aroused, which can ultimately lead to orgasm.”

To wit: While approximately 90 percent of women report orgasm from sexual stimulation, most don’t experience this from sexual intercourse alone, noted research published in the journal Hormones and Behavior. That means the clitoris most likely needs to be in play. (Baby-making aside: Thirty-six percent of women surveyed say that their orgasms feel better if their clitoris is stimulated during intercourse, according to a report published in February 2018 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.)

The Clitoris Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

The clitoris, by the way, resides atop the labia minora, and appears as a nub (called the glans) under a fleshy clitoral hood. However, the clitoris is actually much bigger than that. It’s largely an internal organ made up of erectile tissue (much like the penis), muscles, nerves, and blood vessels — and it extends deep inside the body. In fact, the clitoris is so complex that it’s literally impossible to convey its anatomy in a single diagram, noted research published in the Journal of Urology.

Importance of a Woman’s Pleasure Should Be Incorporated Into Fertility Counseling

While this clitoris-as-baby-making-helper is certainly news to many, it’s not quite news to Ross. “It’s no surprise that stimulation of the clitoris can be the perfect copilot in getting pregnant,” she says. Because of this positive correlation between clitoral stimulation and better reproductive success, Ross wholeheartedly believes that clitoral-centered pleasure should be at the forefront of reproductive counseling.

“When advising couples, clinicians should definitely include this information on improving success at getting pregnant,” says Ross. Levin agrees, adding that, “clearly the clitoris has a dual function — a reproductive one and a recreative one — and both are important. I hope that this report gives the organ even more attention,” says Levin.

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