Our expert says:
A happy, healthy "joy button" or clitoris is a delight to press, caress, nibble, or rub, but one that is irritated and sore can send electric jolts of pain through the body at the slightest touch. A brief anatomy lesson can help to explain how and why this can happen. The clitoris is made up of three main parts:
The Glans (a.k.a. the tip or head of the clitoris)
This little ball of erectile tissue is located directly above the opening of the urethra and directly below the pubic bone. Depending on an individual woman's anatomy and her state of sexual arousal, the glans may or may not be visible. When women become sexually aroused, the erectile tissue in the glans becomes engorged (swollen), much like the penis, and increases in size and sensitivity.
The clitoris narrows directly behind the glans and continues back into the body, where it meets with the nerve bundle that transmits the incredible signals that the glans receives.
Both the glans and shaft of the clitoris are covered with this fold of skin that is actually the upper part of the labia. The hood seems to protect the clitoris from too much direct stimulation. When a woman is not sexually aroused, or when a woman is in high arousal, the glans retreats under the hood and is out of sight.
The hood of the clitoris contains glands that produce a lubricating fluid called sebum, which allows the hood to move smoothly back and forth over the glans and the shaft of the clitoris. When sebum accumulates, it turns into a white, cheese-like substance called smegma. Smegma, in turn, if it is not washed away with frequent bathing, can harden and rub between the hood and the shaft similar to a grain of sand under an eyelid — the result is an irritated clitoris that can produce incredible pain at the merest movement. Tight jeans or pressure from sexual stimulation can be excruciating. Accumulations of smegma can also cause the skin of the hood to adhere (stick) to the shaft and glans (similar to what can happen with a man who has foreskin). These clitoral adhesions can cause pain and irritation as well.
Usually, frequent bathing and good hygiene can prevent or resolve this problem, but some women may have narrow openings to their clitoral hood that make it harder to wash away built-up secretions. If you have recurrent episodes of clitoral pain, you may want to try soaking in a steamy tub and gently moving the skin around the clitoris back and away from the glans — don't tug or forcibly retract the hood since this can cause further pain and irritation. These gentle "stretches" can, over time, widen the opening of the hood, allowing more freedom of movement for both pleasure and washing.
For a few women, "do-it-yourself" measures are not enough. Gynecologists might remove adhesions and/or stretch the opening of the clitoral hood after using a local anesthetic to first numb the genital region. If diligent bathing and gentle hood massage do not relieve the pain, talk with your gynecologist about the possibilities of a "stretching" procedure, among other options. Remember, minutes spent maintaining good clitoral health can pay you back with hours of indescribable pleasure.
Please call SA Sexual Health Association on 0860 100 262 if you need a referral for counselling
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