The clitoris is the only organ in the human body that exists for the sole purpose of providing pleasure; yet, until now, scientists had never counted the number of nerve endings that give rise to all that sensation. However, new research has revealed that despite its miniature size, the female bliss spot contains in excess of 10,000 nerve fibers.
“It’s startling to think about more than 10,000 nerve fibers being concentrated in something as small as clitoris,” explained study author Blair Peters in a statement. Presenting the team’s findings at a recent conference, Peters explained how the true number of nerves within the clitoris far exceeds previous estimates.
In their study abstract, the authors state that “it is frequently quoted in mainstream media that the clitoris has “8000 nerve endings”.” However, this figure is believed to be based on studies conducted on cattle rather than humans.
To perform the first ever analysis of human clitoral innervation, the researchers analyzed tissues obtained from seven transmasculine individuals who underwent gender-affirming genital surgery. During phalloplasty – which creates a new penis for transgender patients – surgeons connect clitoral nerves to a sensory nerve in the phallus, thus enabling patients to experience sensations in their new member.
While performing the procedure on the seven volunteers, surgeons removed a five-millimeter (0.19-inch) section of the clitoris from each patient. More specifically, they collected tissue containing one of the two dorsal nerves that are responsible for carrying electrical signals from the clitoris to the brain in order to generate pleasurable sensations.
After dyeing and magnifying these tissues 1,000 times under a microscope, the researchers used image analysis software to count the individual nerve fibers present within each sample. Across the seven individuals, they found that the number of nerve endings in the dorsal nerve ranged from 4,926 to 5,543, with the average being 5,140.
Because the clitoris contains two symmetrical dorsal nerves, the researchers multiplied these figures by two in order to obtain the total number of nerve fibers. This gave them a final count of 10,281, which is far more than the often-cited figure of 8,000.
Furthermore, because the clitoris contains other, smaller nerves in addition to the two dorsal nerves, it is likely that the actual number of nerve endings is even higher than that identified by the researchers.
According to Peters, these findings could help to improve the outcomes of phalloplasty procedures by helping surgeons to better select nerve endings to connect to the penis. This information may also lead to less accidental nerve damage during other vaginal surgeries, thus improving the sexual function and general quality of life of patients undergoing a range of procedures.
“Better understanding the clitoris can help everyone, regardless of their gender identity, but it’s important to acknowledge this research is only possible because of gender-affirming surgeries and transgender patients,” says Peters.
“There’s something profound about the fact that gender-affirming care becoming more commonplace also benefits other areas of health care. A rising tide lifts all boats. Oppressing or limiting transgender health care will harm everyone.”
The findings were presented at the joint scientific meeting of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America and the International Society for Sexual Medicine.