We may finally know how many nerve endings are in the human clitoris: ScienceAlert

We may finally know how many nerve endings are in the human clitoris: ScienceAlert

The human clitoris is a scientific iceberg, both physically and figuratively.

In the past, the research of our species the clitoris was superficial at bestand even the little we think we know now isn’t always right.

The clitoris is often said to contain 8,000 nerve endings – ‘double’ of the penis – but new findings, presented at a scientific meeting in October, suggest that this is a serious underestimation of both sexes.

The study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, but at least the results are on track to be properly scrutinized.

The numbers most commonly cited for innervation of the glans penis and glans clitoris come from old studies on—wait for it—cows; the results are simply co-opted for human anatomy.

And so those numbers last for decades. Blair Peters, a plastic surgeon at the University of Oregon School of Medicine, thinks it’s about time scientists finally got the numbers right.

Peters specializes in gender-affirming care, and his work depends on a deep understanding of the human genitalia. To conduct further research, Peters obtained clitoral nerve tissue from seven transmasculine volunteers who had undergone gender-affirming genital surgery in his practice.

Under the microscope, Peters and his colleagues counted an average of 5,140 nerve fibers in the dorsal clitoral nerve, and the clitoris has two of them.

Taking into account the entire range of studied samples, the total number of nerve endings innervating the entire cord-shaped organ ranges from 9,852 to 11,086 fibers.

Peters’ study is the first to report the number of nerve fibers in the human dorsal clitoral nerve and approximate the number of nerve fibers innervating the human clitoris.

“It’s amazing to think that more than 10,000 nerve fibers are concentrated in something as small as the clitoris,” says Peters. “It’s especially surprising when you compare the clitoris to other, larger structures in the human body.”

The median nerve, which passes through the hand, is known for its high density of nerve fibers, explains Peters. It has about 18,000 nerve fibers, but is also much larger than the roughly 10-centimeter-long (4-inch) pleasure organ.

So how does that innervation compare to the head of the male penis? Peters plans to find out.

Although it is often said that the clitoris is twice as sensitive as the penis, there are more nuances in the numbers. They have both sex organs of the same embryological originmeaning they probably contain roughly a similar number of total nerve endings.

What is most likely different is how densely these nerve endings are concentrated in certain places.

Initial studies suggest, for example, that the tip of the clitoris has greater variability in nerve density than the glans penis. Simply put, this probably means that some parts of the clitoris are particularly sensitive.

Peters hopes that a better understanding of how the genitals are innervated may ultimately help surgeons successfully reconstruct the clitoris and penis, not only for gender affirmation purposes, but also to repair cases of genital mutilation.

“There’s something profound about the fact that gender-affirming care is becoming more commonplace and benefits other areas of health care,” Peters says.

“A rising tide lifts all boats. Oppressing or limiting transgender health care will hurt everyone.”

Peters presented the findings at a joint scientific meeting The Society for Sexual Medicine of North America and the International Society for Sexual Medicine.

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