New research from Oregon Health & Science University found over 10,000 nerve fibers in the marble-sized human clitoris, the organ responsible for sexual pleasure in female bodies. Previous estimates, which put the number closer to 8,000, came from an informal study done on cows.
For comparison, the main nerve in human hands contains about 18,000 nerve fibers.
Dr. Blair Peters, a professor of urology and plastic surgery at Oregon Health & Science University and the author of the study, counted nerve fibers in human tissue that had been trimmed for phalloplasty, the surgical construction or reconstruction of a penis.
Peters says there is very little discussion of the clitoris in medical school, partly because it is related to women’s sexual pleasure.
“It wasn’t until I started doing genital surgery during my fellowship that I even learned that anatomy,” said Peters. “So there’s lots of urologists, lots of gynecologists, lots of plastic surgeons that operate in that area all the time, and have never actually seen the clitoral nerves or even understand where they are.”
Peters points out that the full anatomy of the clitoris wasn’t even studied until about 20 years ago.
“If you had to pick one specialty that you think would have a very intimate knowledge of the clitoris and clitoral conditions in vulvar health, you would think obstetrics and gynecology.” But that specialty, Peters said, “focuses on conception and the uterus and the cervix, and the actual vulva and the clitoris itself gets very little attention.”
Peters hopes his research will help surgeons working in the pelvic area — whether for bladder surgeries, labiaplasties, or tummy tucks — avoid causing injury to clitoral nerves and damaging patients’ sexual pleasure.
He also hopes it starts a much-needed conversation among doctors.
“It sort of lays the foundation to really make the point that we need to normalize talking about female sexual pleasure,” said Peters. “And to understand that all human beings have sex and deserve to feel good in their bodies.”