Scientists make ‘important step’ in understanding the clitoris

The clitoris contains more than 10,000 nerve fibres, several hundred more than previously thought, according to new research that counted these nerves for the first time in the pleasure centre of the vagina.

It is commonly understood that the clitoris has “8,000 nerve endings”. However, researchers, including those from the Oregon Health & Science University, say this number is derived from an outdated claim made on the sex organ in cows.

“No study has yet quantified the number of nerve fibres (axons) innervating the human clitoris,” scientists wrote in the yet-to-be-peer-reviewed research, presented last week at a joint meeting of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America.

In the study, scientists examined nerve fibres of the clitoris called the dorsal nerves (DNC), which are a dense bundle of nerve fibres relaying sensory signals from the sex organ to the brain.

Reporting the number of these nerve endings “is an important step” to further understand the organ’s sexual response, according to scientists, who say the findings also have many implications for other fields of medical practice.

A better understanding of the nerve connections in the organ could also help restore the organ to its proper functioning following injuries and cases of genital mutilation and gender-affirming genital surgery as well.

“This knowledge will also be an important factor contributing to the optimisation of nerve selection and sensory outcomes in gender-affirming genital surgery,” researchers added.

In the research, scientists obtained DNC samples from seven transmasculine patients undergoing gender-affirming surgery after getting informed consent from them.

Researchers then assessed the microscopic structure of the dorsal nerve in 1000x magnification, and found the average number of nerve fibres was over 5,000 by using image analysis software.

With two dorsal nerves present per clitoris, researchers say more than 10,000 insulated nerve fibres are present in the sex organ.

All these nerve fibres are present in the clitoral glans – the visible part of the clitoris where the inner lips of the vulva meet.

In comparison, the median nerve running through the wrist that supplies sensation to most of the hand, contains about 18,000 nerve fibres, study co-author Blair Peters told Live Science.

“This study is the first to report the number of myelinated nerve fibres in the human dorsal clitoral nerve and approximate the number of nerve fibres innervating the human clitoris,” scientists wrote in the research.

“It is clear that far more than 8,000 fibres innervate the human clitoris,” they added.