Lately, the clitoris — that lovely sex organ comprised of 8,000 nerve endings — has been getting a lot of play on listicles, poster boards and hell, even on Gloria Steinem's ring finger. We're getting educated, upping our so-called "cliteracy" with facts about the tiny organ, diagrams of its location and stats proving its importance.
But for all that education, there's one important part to truly enjoying the pleasure the clitoris has to offer: We need to be able talk about it — out loud — to the people we have sex with.
And with our sheepish euphemisms ("love button," much?) and hesitation, not enough of us are doing that.
The forgotten piece of cliteracy: "It's not that we don't see the female body," Sophia Wallace, artist and founder of the Cliteracy movement, told the Huffington Post. "It's that we don't know it." Studies show women have just as hard a time as men identifying the clit on a diagram, and even scientists didn't "discover" the full structure of the clit until the late 1990s.
But what good is the textbook education if we can't talk about it? According to Google Trends, mentions of penis still dominate mentions of the clitoris across the Web. And when was the last time you heard the word "clit" casually dropped at your local bar? When it comes to TV and movies, we rarely hear "clitoris" or "clit" used; while it isn't formally banned by the Federal Communications Commission, it has been censored in the past.
Current discomfort over the word isn't unlike past discomfort with "vagina," which has resulted in the more TV-friendly "vajayjay." The problem, as Eve Ensler argued in the Vagina Monologues, is that "what we don't say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear and myths." When we rely on euphemisms, we buy into a word's wrongness. If we're going to close the tell-tale orgasm gap, we need to learn how to actually talk about the clitoris in the bedroom.
"Clit" isn't a dirty word: Talking about the clit seems simple, but studies show that couples don't engage in nearly enough frank sex talk. "My boyfriend is always asking me what he could do to make it better for me. The problem is, since I can't go down on myself or anything, it's hard to know what to suggest," one reader wrote in to Bustle.
"My boyfriend will spend a whole hour trying to get me there while we're making love, but he doesn't seem to understand the kind of attention my clitoris needs," Heather, 25, told Cosmopolitan. "I want to tell him how to do it right, but I'm afraid that if I do, I'll hurt his feelings."
The key may be to reframe the conversation, said Jenny Block, sex educator and author of O Wow: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm, to Mic. "Make it part of your flirting and your sex play as opposed to some sort of order or reprimand," Block said. "If someone hears, 'You're doing it wrong,' it's a huge turn-off. But if someone hears, 'Doing this will make me melt and want you all the more,' it's a huge turn-on."
Having that conversation outside of the bedroom — away from the pressures and expectations of sex — might help, said Block: "When the two of you are just hanging out and feeling relaxed and perhaps a little romantic, that can be a great time to broach the subject."
Give some directions: Apart from mustering the courage to say the word, what feels good for one person might not work for another — and navigating a partner through that requires talking, not just diagrams.
"One thing I hear from a number of women in my workshops is that they wish their partners would do more clit-adjacent stimulation," sex educator Kate McCombs told Mic. "Often, male partners go straight for the clitoral glans without warming up the whole area first. If she's moving her pelvis away, that might be an indicator that you're providing too much direct clit stimulation."
"The best approach is to get some high-quality, glycerin-free lube and explore the whole area around the clit. Try moving the clitoral hood around. Massage the labia majora to get blood flowing. Explore new sensations with a body-safe vibrator."
Whatever works, just voice it. "If you don't guide your partner, you can't be disappointed that they don't know what it is that works for you," Block said. It will pay off: Couples who communicate more about sex ultimately experience more satisfaction in the bedroom.
As McCombs said, "The best way to find out if you're stimulating the clit correctly is to ask. Words are the best sexual accessory."