The nerve that enables the human clitoris to detect pleasurable touch contains thousands more nerve fibers than previously estimated — about 10,000, instead of 8,000. Medical researchers discovered this by doing something that hadn’t been done before: They actually counted the fibers.
Previously, it was widely accepted that the clitoris contained about 8000 nerve fibres, but the origins of this figure are ambiguous, the study’s lead author Dr. Blair Peters (Opens in a new tab)an assistant professor of surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine, told Live Science.
“Number 8000, it wasn’t even an actual scientific paper,” he said. The number comes from a line in a book called “clitoris” (Opens in a new tab) (Warren H. Green, Inc., 1976) by Dr. Thomas B.
“It was not based on human data,” Dr. Rachel Rubin (Opens in a new tab), an assistant professor of urology at Georgetown University and a specialist in urology and sexual medicine at a private practice in the metropolitan area, according to Live Science. Cow-derived statistics have been cited many times without fact-checking – until now.
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In their paper, Peters and colleagues examined the dorsal clitoral neurons, the dense bundles of nerve fibers that transmit sensory signals from the clitoris to the brain. These nerves run on either side of the clitoral trunk and transmit information about touch, pressure, and pain, while other nerves deal with functions such as muscle tension and blood flow.
The dorsal nerves sampled contained between 4,926 and 5,543 nerve fibers each, or an average of 5,140 fibers. With two dorsal nerves per clitoris, this translates to about 10,280 nerve fibers that enable sensation in the pleasure-producing organ. These results, which have not been peer-reviewed, were presented October 27 in joint scientific meeting (Opens in a new tab) From the North American Society for Sexual Medicine and the International Society for Sexual Medicine.
What’s remarkable, Peters said, is that these 10,000 fibers all connect to the clitoral glans, which is the visible part of the clitoris that is where the labia minora (inner lips) meet from the vulva. By comparison, the median nerve, which runs through the wrist and supplies most of the hand with sensation, contains 18,000 nerve fibers. When you compare the surface area of the clitoral glans to that of a hand, “10,000 compared to 18,000 becomes shockingly high,” he said.
Peters pursued this research, in part, to enrich his work as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who specializes in sex-confirming surgeries, including sex-confirmation phalloplasty, or the surgical construction of the penis from other tissues in the body.
To create an erogenous penis, surgeons take tissue from an area of the body that has an ample supply of nerves, usually from the forearm or thigh, According to the OHSU Transgender Health Program (Opens in a new tab). Once the penis is formed, these nerves are then attached to the nerves in the pelvis, ideally, the nerves grow together and begin transmitting sensory signals to the brain.
“I wanted to take a closer look, basically, at the nerves we connect when we make a penis,” Peters told Live Science.
Broadly speaking, research into the basic anatomy of the vulva, which includes the clitoris, can help diagnose and treat nerve injury and help surgeons navigate procedures near the genitals without causing unintended harm.
The new research was made possible by seven phalloplasty patients who volunteered to donate clitoral tissue samples. This donated tissue was then preserved, stained blue and magnified 1,000 times under a microscope so that the image analysis software could count individual nerve fibers.
All patients underwent testosterone therapy before phalloplasty. There is some evidence that testosterone can promote nerve regeneration in the context of injury, but in normal, healthy nerves, hormone It shouldn’t change how many fibers there are, Peters said. “However, this study did not have controls without testosterone exposure,” they said, so it would be useful to repeat the study with tissue samples from women who did not have testosterone. Such specimens are more likely to come from cadavers, rather than from people undergoing surgery.
Rubin said the new research highlights how little is known about the anatomy and function of the clitoris. This reflects the historical biases in medical research that have left modern physicians with enormous knowledge gaps.
“It is likely that no doctor has ever examined your clitoris or asked about orgasm in a medical setting,” she said. “And that’s not because it’s not worth it.”