There's much more to this piece of female anatomy than you might expect.

By Gigi Engle
Getty Images/Alexmia

Raise your hand if you ever heard the word "clitoris" in school? No one? What about at home? Hmm. Not many, huh? Well, despite the cultural shame around sex and our bodies that many of us grew up with, we must soldier on and learn about our sex organs and how they works because *everyone* deserves pleasure and education.

Especially when it comes to the clitoris. It's one of the most miraculous and incredible pieces of human anatomy, well, ever, and it's long been ignored and misunderstood. (Related: Is Squirting Real? What to Know About Female Ejaculation)

Shockingly, the medical community didn't know about the full internal structure of the clitoris until urologist, Helen O'Connell, M.D., figured it out while dissecting cadavers (she published her work, "The Anatomy of the Clitoris," in 1998). But it wasn't until 2005, when MRIs were done of the clitoris, that its full structure was finally revealed, and not until 2008, that we finally had the first 3D images of the clitoris. Yep. You did read that correctly. 2008. Are you cringe-smiling yet?

If you feel like you have a murky understanding of what and where your clitoris actually is (and isn't), read on for four crucial facts every single human person needs to know about the clitoris. Your orgasm depends on it.

1. The clitoris is much bigger than you think.

First thing's first, it's important to note that the clitoris is NOT part of the vagina. It is a part of the vulva, the external part of female sexual anatomy. The "vagina" refers only to the vaginal canal. (Related: 7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Your Vulva, But Should)

But here's where things get even trickier. The clitoris is often thought to be the tiny, pearl-like gem at the very top of the inner labia. While this is a part of the clitoris, the glans clitoris, the whole clit is MUCH bigger than this bitty bud.

The glans clitoris is "in fact, the most sensitive portion of the clitoris and also the smallest," says Felice Gersh, M.D. ob-gyn, founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, in Irvine, California and the author of PCOS SOS. The glans clitoris is about 0.5 to 2 cm in size, but size will vary from female-bodied person to female-bodied person. (No two are the same—and every single clitoris, regardless of shape, size, or color is completely normal.)

What most of us are unaware of is the internal part of the clitoris. It extends beneath the labia and into the abdomen. You can't see it when you simply look directly at a vulva, but the internal clitoris, or clitoral body, can reach up to five inches in some women, though the average is about 2.75 inches. To put this into perspective, five inches is roughly the size of the average penis.)

The clit also contains bulbous internal extensions (the vestibular bulbs) and wings on either side (the cura). If you look at a sonogram (or removed the clitoris from the female body, which you can see pictured here) it looks much like a wishbone.

2. The clitoris and the penis are closely related.

If you flipped the full clitoris to the outside of the body, it wouldn't be very different from a penis. In fact, most parts of the clitoris have analogous counterparts to the penis.

"They both have erectile capability and are the structures involved in the creation of orgasms. The Y chromosome of the male takes the embryological tissues down the pathway to become the male genitalia," explains Dr. Gersh. "You could consider the penis to be a very large, modified clitoris."

The clit even gets erect! Yes, a clitoral hard-on. "The crura and the neighboring vestibular bulbs become engorged with sexual excitement, comparable to the penis becoming erect," explains Dr. Gersh. When sexually aroused, the clitoris can actually expand up to 200 percent. "This is all part of the female sexual response." The clitoris also has a protective hood, similar to male foreskin, designed to protect the clitoral head.

3. You need the clitoris for female orgasm.

The clitoris is the epicenter of the female orgasm. It is the Queen of the O. (Related: How to Have Multiple Orgasms In 7 Steps)

"The clitoris is a neurological bundle. It is through the stimulus of this neurological structure that an orgasm is reached," says Dr. Gersh. In fact, it contains over 8,000 nerve endings, most of which are clustered in the clitoral head (the glans clitoris). "Some women require direct stimulation and others can climax with indirect stimulation to it through pressure transmitted through a neighboring tissue."

In other words, if you experience internal orgasms without any direct stimulation to the clitoral glans, it's probably because of the internal clitoral structure, most notably, the G-spot. More on that below...

4. The G-spot is part of the clitoris.

The G-spot is located on the anterior wall of the vagina. You can reach it by inserting one or two fingers or a G-spot wand into the vagina and tilting upward toward the belly button, behind the pubic bone. It's more like an area than an actual spot.

"The G-spot is where the two halves of the clitoris join, beneath the anterior portion of the vagina, allowing pressure in that area of the vagina to transmit to that part of the clitoris, essentially stimulating the same nerve bundle which the glans clitoris is a part of," says Dr. Gersh. "Orgasms achieved by stimulation of the G-spot are not different from those achieved by direct stimulation of the clitoral head, though intensity may vary."

Translation: Despite what you may have read, no type of orgasm is intrinsically 'better' than another just because it's achieved through the G-spot. Some women experience clitoral orgasm more intensely, some experience G-spot stimulation more intensely. It's all about finding what works and doesn't for you.

The best way to get to know the clitoris, and the whole of your sexual anatomy, is through exploration. Get a hand mirror and take a look at yourself in the mirror. Try locating the G-spot. The more you know about your own body, the better equipped you will be to show a partner how to bring you pleasure.

Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator, and writer living in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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