What is the clitoral network? Why do women achieve orgasms through clitoral stimulation?
The clitoral network is spread throughout the female sexual region where nerves are most sensitive. This area is the key to women achieving orgasms.
Learn more about the clitoral network from Ian Kerner’s book She Comes First.
The Clitoral Network
Kerner explains that all female orgasms come from clitoral stimulation. The outside of the clitoral network is called the vulva and the inside is called the vagina.
The clitoris is primarily stimulated from the vulva where the nerves are most sensitive—only a small bundle of clitoral nerves can be stimulated from inside the vagina. Kerner elaborates that the external clitoral nerves are extremely sensitive (much more than the penis) which is why cunnilingus is the best way to stimulate them—the tongue is soft, gentle, and can be far more precise than your penis or fingers.
The most sensitive part of the clitoral network, and the part that drives most female orgasms, is the clitoral head. Kerner warns that the head is so sensitive that overstimulation can be uncomfortable, or even painful, making orgasms difficult.
History of the Clitoris
In She Comes First, Kerner explains that the clitoris is the key for women to reach orgasm, and that it’s a far-reaching nerve network spreading from the outside of the vulva, through the pelvis, and into the vaginal canal. Experts explain that medical professionals have only recently understood the full extent of the clitoral network and its functions (like the ultra-sensitivity of the clitoral head and the other hot spots in and around the vagina that stimulate the clitoris). This knowledge gap, which Kerner attempts to fill, is largely due to an intentional exclusion of women from medical research until recently and a dismissal of information regarding female sexual health for years afterward.
The primary reason why women have historically been excluded from medical research is that female anatomy was often considered to be “taboo.” In the 20th century, researchers excluded women from clinical trials because (1) they thought male and female bodies were essentially the same, (2) they worried that fluctuations in hormones during menstruation would throw off results, and (3) they didn’t want research to impact women’s fertility. They add that the full anatomy of the clitoris wasn’t discovered until 1998, only 5 years before the original publication of She Comes First. Even today, most textbooks inadequately portray the clitoris, lacking detail and including inaccuracies.
She Comes First is one of the first efforts to relay the true nature of the clitoris to the public. Since its publication, several individuals have joined the effort including Sophie Wallace, who calls the subject “cliteracy.”
After the clitoral head, the most sensitive part of the vulva is the front commissure where the clitoral shaft is visible. A similarly sensitive point is the spot below the head where the inner lips of the vagina meet, called the frenulum. Next is the perineum—the stretch of skin between the vaginal entrance and the anus. After the frenulum is the labia minora—the sensitive inner lips that protect the head, urethra, and vagina. Last but not least is the labia majora, or the outer lips. Kerner emphasizes that each of these parts is very important in the arousal and stimulation process, regardless of where they rank from most to least sensitive.
During Kerner’s instructions on cunnilingus, he also references a few other parts of the female anatomy that aren’t very sensitive but can be used to help stimulate your partner. First, there’s the fourchette—the point right below the vaginal entrance where the inner lips meet. Next is the mons pubis, the bony area above the vulva where pubic hair usually grows. Finally, the anus can also be a point of stimulation.
Anatomy of Transgender Women With Vulvas
She Comes First is a guide on how to make women orgasm through cunnilingus and as such, Kerner provides a list of important parts of the female sexual anatomy you should stimulate. However, the parts he lists above are specific to cisgender women who were assigned female at birth (AFAB). Some readers may have a female partner who was assigned male at birth (AMAB) and has had a vulvoplasty—a surgery that creates a vulva. To properly stimulate the vulvas of these women, we need to understand the sensitive parts of their anatomy and how they may differ from those of cisgender women.
During a vulvoplasty, the penis, scrotum, and testes are removed; the sensitive tissues at the head of the penis (called the glans) are made into the clitoral head; and the rest of the vulva—specifically the mons pubis, labia minora and majora, and clitoral hood—are formed using the scrotal tissue.
Women who’ve had a vulvoplasty will maintain the perineum and anus which both men and women have. However, they won’t have a front commissure or clitoral shaft. Further, vulvoplasty doesn’t create a vagina so she won’t have a fourchette.
After a vulvoplasty, a woman’s most sensitive to least sensitive parts will generally be the clitoral head, the frenulum, the clitoral hood, the perineum, the labia minora, labia majora, the mons pubis, and then the anus. However, transgender women emphasize that every body is different, especially after surgery, so it’s important to ask your partner what they prefer. For example, some may prefer primarily anal play during cunnilingus rather than a clitoral focus.