More than 10,000 nerve fibers provide pleasurable sensations to the human clitoris, according to a new Oregon Health & Science University study research presented at the joint scientific meeting of the Society for Sexual Medicine of North America and the International Society for Sexual Medicine.
This finding is the first known count of a human clitoris nerve fabrics. This is also about 20% more than the oft-cited estimate of 8,000 nerve fibers, which is believed to have been derived from animal studies.
Blair Peters, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the OHSU School of Medicine and a plastic surgeon specializing in gender-affirming care at OHSU’s Transgender Health Program, led the study and presented the findings. Peters obtained clitoral nerve tissue from seven adult transmasculine volunteers who had undergone gender-affirming genital surgery. Tissues were stained and magnified 1000 times under a microscope so that individual nerve fibers could be counted using image analysis software.
Nerves are made up of bundles of thin nerve fibers, also known as axons. Nerves that carry electrical impulses between the brain and the rest of the body—allow humans to sense and respond to stimuli such as touch.
The clitoris is the only known human organ whose sole purpose is pleasure. While the tip of its little shaft – the very sensitive part of the clitoris, also known as the head of the clitoris – is outside the body, most of the clitoris is inside. Beneath the surface is the spinal nerve, the main nerve responsible for feeling the clitoris. The spinal nerves are symmetrical, tube-like structures that run along the top of the shaft of the clitoris and then down either side like a lever.
Peters collected samples from one side of spinal nerve tissue, a small amount of which is usually cut off during a gender-confirming phalloplasty procedure. An average of about 5,140 dorsal clitoral nerve fibers were counted among the specimens. Knowing that the dorsal nerve is symmetrical, the average value was multiplied by two to give an estimate of 10,281 nerve fibers for the human clitoral dorsal nerve. Because the clitoris also has other, smaller nerves besides the spinal nerve, Peters pointed out that the human clitoris actually has more nerve fibers.
“It’s mind-boggling to think of more than 10,000 nerve fibers concentrated in something as small as the clitoris,” Peters said. “This is especially surprising when you compare the clitoris to other, larger structures in the human body. The median nerve, which runs through the wrist and hand and is involved in carpal tunnel syndrome, known for its high density of nerve fibers. Although the hand is many, many times larger than the clitoris, median nerve contains only about 18,000 nerve fibers, or less than twice as many nerve fibers as are packed into the much smaller clitoris.”
While the penis is widely studied, the vulva, which includes the clitoris, labia majora, and labia minora, is understudied. Medical science has historically not paid much attention to the sexual function of people with vulvas, which has led to a significant gap in knowledge in the field of sexual health.
Peters is studying the clitoral nerves to improve the results of phalloplasty, which creates a new penis for transmasculine patients. He aims to use the findings to improve sensitivity in surgical patients by better selecting nerves to connect during phalloplasty procedures, as well as to develop new surgical techniques to repair damaged nerves.
The findings may also help reduce accidental nerve damage in patients undergoing a cosmetic procedure known as a lipoplasty, which reduces the size of the inner flaps of skin on either side of the vaginal opening.
“A better understanding of the clitoris can help everyone, no matter what they are gender identity, but it’s important to recognize that this research is only possible because of gender-affirming surgeries and transgender patients,” Peters said. “There is something profound about gender-affirming care becoming more commonplace and benefiting other areas of health care. . A rising tide lifts all boats. Oppressing or limiting transgender health care will harm everyone.”
Moving forward, Peters is also interested in learning and counting nerve fibers in the part of the penis that causes pleasure: the tip, which is also known as the head of the penis. This knowledge may improve clitoral design for gender-affirming genital surgery for transfeminine patients, and may help clinicians better understand the comparative neural structures between the clitoris and the penis.
In addition to the abstract presented today at the meeting, a more detailed paper explaining Peters’ research is undergoing peer review in a scientific journal.
The authors of the study are Peters, Maria Uloka, MD, of the University of California, San Diego, and E. Paige Isabi, MD, of the University of Manitoba. Matthew D. Wood, PhD, and Daniel A. Hunter, both of the University of Washington School of Medicine, assisted with nerve analysis in the study.
Maria Uloka, Paige Isabi, Blair Peters. How many nerve fibers innervate the human clitoris? Histomorphometric Evaluation of the Dorsal Clitoris Nerve Blair Peters Abstract 2:00 PM ET October 27, 2022 October 23rd annual joint scientific meeting of the Society of Sexual Medicine of North America and the International Society of Sexual Medicine, https://issmsmsna2022.org/program/program/?persons=4928&q=.
Oregon Health & Science University
Citation: Pleasure producing human clitoris has more than 10,000 nerve fibers (October 28, 2022) Retrieved October 28, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-pleasure-producing-human- clitoris-nerve-fibers.html
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