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15 Jan 2020 (Last updated 25 Jan 2024)

The Clitoris and scientific research

Sexual Health 4 min read
Smile Makers Author
The Clitoris and scientific research

From ancient to the present day, the anatomy of the clitoris has been discovered, repressed, forgotten, denied or shrunk and rediscovered many times.” - Mark Blechner

So, what you’re saying is, one more theory can’t hurt right?

The Role of the Clitoris

We often shout from the rooftops that the clitoris is the one organ in the entire human body that’s the sole purpose is pleasure. However, one researcher and former staff member of the Department of Biomedical Science at the University of Sheffield argues that this isn’t the only purpose of the clitoris.

Roy J Levin, writes that it’s other reason guessed it, reproduction!

This argument might have many of us already on the defensive; we are tired of our sexual pleasure being defined by reproduction from the very first sex ed class we take at school. It appears that this research aims to strengthen the battle against the clitoridectomies that are “undertaken in a number of countries and cultures.” Of which versions include the psychological, symbolic, Freudian, ritualistic and medical clitoridectomy. Levin is most interested in the latter.

So, what has the clitoris as a reproductive organ, Freud and clitoridectomy got to do with one another? And WTH is “tenting!”

Understanding the latest research on the clitoris

In his lengthy The Clitoris—An Appraisal of its Reproductive Function During the Fertile Years: Why Was It, and Still Is, Overlooked in Accounts of Female Sexual Arousal, Levin shares key findings in 20th Century research, citing too the famous, Masters & Johnson. He lists ways that the clitoris, upon stimulation, signals to the brain to set in to motion “a combination of changes in the female reproductive tract that creates its readiness to receive and process sperm to achieve possible fertilisation of the egg.”

Levin’s list of clitoris-brain-vagina changes include;

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure to enhance vaginal blood flow
  • Increased vaginal lubrication—augmentation by neurogenic transudation facilitating painless penile vaginal penetration
  • Increased vaginal pO2—facilitating sperm motility and aerobic metabolism with increased energy production
  • Partial neutralization of basal vaginal acidity
  • Activation vaginal tenting and ballooning which delays sperm transport from the vagina facilitating their contact with capacitation factors
  • Increased vaginal temperature—enhancing male sexual arousal through penile temperature sensation (hedonic amplification)

All these points, with a little assistance from Google, are somewhat self-explanatory. One point that struck us however is Activating vaginal tenting and ballooning which delays sperm transport from the vagina.

How does delaying sperm help with reproduction?

How can clitoral stimulation play a role in reproduction?

During arousal lots of things occur, two of those are tenting and ballooning.

Vagina tenting

During arousal the vagina lengthens or pulls upward along with the cervix due to increased muscle tension.

Vagina ballooning

The vagina balloons to accommodate penetration - this case of Levin’s reproduction theory, a male penis – more comfortably, therefore freeing up room for the semen because…

'Immediately after ejaculation, semen solidifies into clots that are sticky and jelly-like in consistency. This is thought to protect sperm from the acidic vaginal environment. But, after about 5-20 minutes, these clots liquify, and semen becomes runny and clear. This allows sperm to swim free, so they can move into the uterus.'

For more details on this

When the vagina tents and balloons, it gives the semen space to liquify, in order to move toward the uterus and then the ovum (female egg). Given that only 30-40% of sperm, in one normal ejaculate, are forward moving, they need all the help they can get to go in the right direction! Levin argues that this assistance is usually set in motion by clitoral stimulation.

Freud and the clitoris

Levin touched on Sigmund Freud and his disdain for the female organ, which arguably caused immeasurable ramifications for the medical and cultural understanding and emancipation of female sexuality. He does note, however, that “the detailed physiological responses of the female genital tract to sexual arousal were not yet identified and described” in Freud’s day.

This does cause an aching amount of cognitive dissonance when we think how women and vulva owners may not have been so deprived of pleasure if Levin’s findings were mainstream before Freud’s misogynistic prognosis of the clitoral orgasm as “immature” and a sign of mental illness. BIGGEST EYE ROLL! Would Freud have reconsidered? Would he have championed the female orgasm as important, nay crucial to the survival of humanity?

Clitoridectomy: a reproductive crime?

A clitoridectomy is a type of female genital mutilation involving the surgical removal of all or part of the clitoris.

Levin shares that some “apologists” have argued that the ramifications of female clitoridectomy mean only an impairment on a female sexual enjoyment, and so the procedure is comparable to male circumcision. Levin goes on to share some post-surgery and post-reconstructive surgery stats of women and people with vulvas who have undergone some form of clitoridectomy. This type of research is still lacking. However, it is known that a variety of complications, disability and death can result from FGM and clit cutting.

To conclude, citing back to the reproductive role of the clitoris or rather the neurological and physiological effects of clitoral stimulation, Levin states then that “clitoridectomy creates not only sexual disability but also a reproductive disability.”

WHO predicts 200 million girls and women currently living have undergone clitoridectomy.

Blog post based on Roy J Levins’ The Clitoris—An Appraisal of its Reproductive Function During the Fertile Years: Why Was It, and Still Is, Overlooked in Accounts of Female Sexual Arousal

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