Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
No Uncomfortable Pumps or Messy Creams! Just Good Science!
Guest Post by Xanthippe
Amid all the fuss over including the clitoris in sex education (not the done thing back in my day, we were left in righteous ignorance), The Lady Garden are delighted to be able to reproduce this classic piece from the archives (it originally appears in Bust, fall 1999), with the kind permission of the author.
“Sermerssuaq was so powerful that she could lift a kayak on the tips of three fingers. She could kill a seal merely by drumming on its head with her fists. She could rip asunder a fox or hare. […] Sometimes this Sermerssuaq would show off her clitoris. It was so big that the skin of a fox would not fully cover it. Aja, and she was the mother of nine children, too!”
– Inuit tale, from The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, edited by Angela Carter.
It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your clitoris is? Of course you do, you’re a modern girl. You know what it is, what it does, and that it rhymes with glitterous, not Dolores. If you’re an exceptionally modern girl, you own a custom-designed silicone vibrator with an attachment dedicated to giving it a buzz. But do you *really* know its co-ordinates, or precisely how big it is? This is not an idle question designed to provoke a winner-takes-all Sermerssuaq-inspired clit-baring contest, it’s a legitimate avenue of scientific enquiry, and one with a surprising answer.
If, like me, you’re used to thinking of your clitoris as simply the handy joy-buzzer doorbell of your sumptuously appointed love-shack, it’s time to think again. Ground-breaking research by an intrepid Australian doctor offers a new picture of women down under that is both startling and thrilling. According to urologist Dr Helen O’Connell, the “little hill” (that’s what “clitoris” means in Greek) is merely the visible summit of a whole submerged apparatus of throbbing pleasure embedded in, around and behind the mons veneris. Imagine: your clitoris is not just a cute little pearl in your oyster; it’s more like that giant clam that half-devoured the Boy Wonder in one of the more memorable episodes of Batman. Kapow!
Dr O’Connell’s journey to the bottom of the C started with a straightforward feminist question about medical research and urological surgery. The thing about operating on the pelvic area is that it involves tricky manoeuvering so as to not sever crucial nerves and thus cause local power outages. For men, impotence used to be a common side-effect; but now, thanks to careful research, they are far less likely to wake up from a waterworks operation and find that their penis has stopped working.
Strangely, though, no-one had thought to ask *women* whether pelvic surgery affected their ability to have orgasms, nor wondered how to make surgery safer for women’s sex lives. O’Connell and her fellow researchers redressed this silence by producing the world’s first accurate outline of the female orgasmic nerve center. Their hard work, based on dissections of younger and healthier women than the usual elderly cadavers, and highly detailed color photography of what they found, led to the most comprehensive map ever made of the whole shebang. It turns out that the nub of pleasure that most of us think of when we say “clitoris” is only the tip of the iceberg. Iceberg be damned, it’s a highly active undersea volcano.
You see, the previously unmapped 90% of the clitoris makes it much, much more than a miniaturized dick. Have a look at the top joint of your thumb (very lucky women can borrow a big male thumb). That’s how long the front bit of your clitoris is, but you can only see the tippy-top part that sticks out (more at some times than others). The rest extends up and back into your lower pelvis, where it connects with a pyramid of erectile tissue which extends up to three inches in each direction, and includes two clitoral bulbs at each side of the vagina. Cup your hands comfortably over your groin and make a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers. There, you’re holding your gigantic clitoris in your hands. Basically, you’re packing it, girl. Is that an erectile pyramid in your trousers or are you just pleased to see me?
There’s no excuse now for a tentative lover not being able to find your clitoris – it’s not hiding, it’s all over the damn place. What sexpert Susie Bright has dubbed the “erotic command center” is now revealed to be a whacking great internal control tower, in charge of launching *and* landing all those circling orgasms. This news also puts a welcome end to the rather pointless debate about vaginal versus clitoral orgasm. Say goodbye to the “versus” in that sentence. As Dr O’Connell explained to an Australian news network: given that the clitoral system wraps itself around the entire vagina, that whole argument is really barking up the wrong tree. To which I say, “Woof!” An orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm, as Gertrude Stein no doubt said to Alice on occasion.
Now you know why your entire lower half throbs like a Harley Hog when you get horny. Suddenly size does matter. But since most of it’s hidden from the naked eye, you’ve got to speak up. Tell all your girlfriends how big yours is, which is also how big theirs is. Smile whenever a guy mentions a measurement in linear inches, and remind him that the cubic volume of a pyramid is, well, quite a lot really. Next time you read raunchy old Tom Robbins describing a clitoris as buzzing like a bumble bee trapped in a pool of honey, smirk and say “More like the queen bee *and* the whole damn hive, baby.” And maybe now we can get somewhere on the question of female ejaculation, that mysterious phenomenon many have believed to be a porn film hit or myth affair until their personal epiphany of a particularly torrid night involving several bath towels.
So it’s no wonder a decent orgasm can shake you off the bed (table, washing machine, car hood, whatever): that little perky flesh-coloured tic-tac you’ve got there is the ignition button for a great big shiny fuck-off 1100 cc motorbike engine. Well, what are you waiting for? Rev it up! Burn some rubber! Go out and test-drive your giant clitoris now. Me, I’m off to purchase an XXL thong for mine… fox-fur, I think, would be perfect.
Q. Where can I find out more about my new giant clitoris?
A. Not on the bookshelves, that’s for sure. My university library contains one book on the subject of the equine clitoris, about which, alas, I don’t really give a horse’s ass. Go to the serials shelf or the internet. Dr O’Connell’s work was first reported in New Scientist, 1 August 1998, by Susan Wilkinson and Rachel Nowak (paid link, alas)
The original research paper appeared in the July 1998 issue of the Journal of Urology, under the title “My God, It’s Huge! New Investigation Reveals Clitoris Is Fucking Enormous.” OK, it was actually called “Anatomical Relationship Between Urethra and Clitoris.” [A follow-up paper, “Anatomy of the Clitoris, appeared in October 2005 and is written about here.]
Also, Natalie Angier’s book, Woman: An Intimate Geography (1999) has a whole chapter on the clitoris, and Rachel P. Maines tells you everything you need to know about vibrators in _The Technology of Orgasm: “Hysteria,” The Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction_ (Johns Hopkins UP, 1999).
Q. Um, about that female ejaculation you mentioned?
A. Although they didn’t directly address the question of female ejaculation in their breakthrough paper, Dr O’Connell and pals explored the interaction between the clitoris and the urethra. Three walls of the urethra are surrounded by the fabulously big clitoral mass. When things get all hot and stiff down there, your urethra gets closed off, which the researchers say makes perfect sense — it helps to protect you from cross-infection.
If you’re interested in experimenting with ejaculation — that is, if you don’t already do it on cue, you big stud — you’ll want to vigorously stimulate your G-spot. It’s a particularly dense interaction between the clitoral erectile tissue and your urethra, on the front wall of your vagina, just inside and above the pelvic bone. In one of her novels, Lisa Alther described it as the bit “where velvet turns to corduroy” … you’ll know it when you find it.
Note that female ejaculate is not in any way like urine — rather, it’s an invigorating squirt of colorless and mostly fragrance-free liquid, and quite a delightful addition to any orgasm, especially if you enjoy being a show-off in the sack. And although it’s not completely clear yet what the relationship is between the new, improved clitoris and female ejaculation, that’s all the more reason for us dedicated amateurs to continue the clinical research in the bedroom.
For further information on the G-spot and female ejaculation, see The G-Spot (Dell Paperbacks, 1982) by Alice K. Ladas, Beverly Whipple and John D. Perry.