How to Improve Your 'Cliteracy'
The term "cliteracy" was born out of a 2012 text installation titled, "Cliteracy, 100 Natural Laws," by artist Sophia Wallace, emphasizing education about female pleasure and sexuality. In a pointed comment about the lack of this education in society, Wallace's website notes, "Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, but it took another 29 years for the complete anatomy of the clitoris to be proven."
With misconceptions and taboos surrounding the clitoris, it's no wonder the orgasm gap continues in 2022.
A 2017 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior indicates straight and gay men climax about 95 percent and 89 percent of the time during sex, respectively. Lesbian women orgasm 86 percent of the time, and straight women climax only 65 percent of the time.
First-time hookup numbers are even more dismal, with a men-to-women orgasm gap of 80 percent to 40 percent, respectively.
The often-told myths that circulate about the clitoris—such as "it's impossible to find" or "it's like pressing a button"—only further widen the orgasm gap. Though the numbers are disheartening, let's optimistically say most people want to please women better but aren't quite sure how.
Enter the educational world of cliteracy.
1. Understand the anatomy of the clitoris
"The clitoris is not a button, it's like an iceberg—most of the organ is internal," Wallace said in her TED Talk, "A Case for Cliteracy," in 2015 at the University of Salford in Manchester in the United Kingdom.
"Only a small portion of the clitoris or glans is exposed just north of the urethral opening on the vulva," said Elizabeth Tekanyo, a sexologist and researcher at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. She is also a sex tech entrepreneur who co-founded Kinsae, a consumer-facing medtech company that innovates sexual health products.
"The full clitoral network of nerve endings that produce pleasure extends a full 3.5 to 4.5 inches long in an upside-down wishbone shape underneath the skin," she added.
The internal part of the clitoris we can't see looks similar to a penis in 3D imaging, with the external clitoral glans being similar to the tip.
"The clitoris involves an entire network of tissue that includes the clitoral glans, shaft, crura ['legs'] and vestibular bulbs," said Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., a sociologist and clinical sexologist and an author for the Sex Toy Collective, based in California.
"The crura and vestibular bulbs are made of erectile tissue that responds similarly to penile erectile tissue," she explained. "As sexual arousal increases, blood vessels expand, increasing blood flow and causing the tissue to become engorged."
Once we understand there is actually a whole internal organ that can be stimulated from inside a woman's body, we can identify more opportunities for pleasure and orgasms.
2. Stimulate indirectly and internally
Most women find direct touching of the external clitoris too intense, even painful. Since the majority of the clitoris is internal, it's best to stimulate it indirectly by touching or licking the inner labia, which are connected to the clitoral hood, said Cay L. Crow, L.P.C., of San Antonio, a licensed sex therapist with Orchid Toys.
"When the clitoris swells with blood, the entire vulva and entrance to the vagina become sensitive," she added. "Women who enjoy anal sex are actually experiencing the stimulation of the back of the clitoris."
So don't be afraid to venture away from the external clitoris glans (the part you can see). Experiment with touching and licking the labia, and stimulating the internal clitoris from inside the vaginal wall. You can use your fingers or a sex toy for this action.
3. Be gentle
There's an art to stimulating each unique clitoris. For example, some women prefer fast-paced stimulation, while others prefer subtle and slow. Most women agree, though, that rougher is not better. Remember, the clitoris is primarily internal with thousands of nerve endings, so it's very sensitive.
"You are not ringing a doorbell and expecting fireworks," Crow explained. "Female sexuality is complex and requires nuanced erotic skills and patience. The entire female body can be an erogenous zone once a woman is aroused. Go slowly but consistently with indirect arousal, like making out, petting, erotic massage, oral sex, and see where it takes you."
Pleasuring a woman isn't constrained to pressing down on the clitoris or rubbing the small external part in circles. The light grazing of your hand or tongue, or even just blowing air softly over the area, can be enough to stimulate some women. The key here is an open mind and experimentation.
4. See clitoral stimulation as the main event
Stimulating the clitoris is not a race to the finish line. It's a slow burn that should take time and be enjoyable to both partners.
"Women are like water: slow to boil and slow to cool off," Crow said.
Experts agree that we need to reframe how we look at clitoral stimulation.
"We call oral and digital sex 'foreplay.' However, we really should reframe this narrative to include the clitoris as part of the main act in and of itself," Tekanyo explained. "Stimulating the clitoris and focusing on clitoral pleasure assists with vaginal lubrication and lengthening of the vaginal canal, allowing room for penetration if desired, heightens sexual tension and can lead to multiple orgasms. Who doesn't love that?"
It might take a few seconds or a few minutes for a woman to have a clitoral orgasm. Or it might not happen at all, which is also fine. See clitoral stimulation as exploring a map rather than racing to a destination.
5. The clitoris is more than the clit
Imagine if we stimulated only the tip of the penis. Blowjobs, penetration and handjobs would probably be way less pleasurable and, for some men, not pleasurable at all. In the same way, because of a lack of cliteracy, many women have been closed off to a world of pleasure.
When we look at the clitoris as a larger internal organ, our perspective on how to give pleasure changes. Taking time to understand the clitoral anatomy and, in turn, giving women better and more frequent orgasms isn't just about pleasure, it's about equity. Cliteracy helps men treat a woman's body with the same care and attention that women give a man's. And that makes the world a nicer place for all genders.