Ask The Expert: Medical Anthropologist Dr Suzanne Belton on Clitoris and Orgasm Research and Your Perfect Body

In this Vaginismus series blog, Dr Suzanne Belton joins me all the way from Australia to discuss what the latest medical research tells us about the clitoris, all about the orgasm gap and why she believes your female body is a wonder to behold! Suzanne’s mission is for everyone to understand female sexuality, sexual desire, and the beautiful and true anatomy of the clitoris.

All about Dr Suzanne Belton

Dr Suzanne Belton (PhD in Public Health / Medical Anthropology) is a medical anthropologist and qualified midwife. Her research interests include female sexual and reproductive health. Most importantly, she has expertise in medically researching the clitoris, so she has kindly joined me in this vaginismus blog series to share her expertise with readers.

I want women to know that all of you is perfect. Every part of your body is a wonder and a miracle. Your vagina, your vulva, your clitoris, your anus, your urethra – they each have a function.’

Dr Suzanne Belton

More recently, Dr Belton set up anatomicaleducation.org, which develops, produces and markets anatomical clitoris models for medical, health and wellbeing professionals. Suzanne explains that the clitoris was not well researched and is often not portrayed correctly in medical literature, text or diagrams.

Suzanne, I find in my practice that Irish women can struggle to discuss many things related to sex, including talking about themselves as sexual female women. Why do you think this is?

Find out more about the weekly Women's TLC Online group for vaginismus and sexual conditions or visit the events page to see what's coming up soon.

It is a shame and stigma that often prevents women from talking openly about sex – as women, we are almost hardwired into it. Women often don’t really know how to even go about talking about it.

Why do you think female self-intimacy, self-pleasure and masturbation remain taboo for women but not for men?

Growing up, we know that sex exists, of course, but we don’t really learn any details about sex or masturbation. We often discover masturbation ourselves when we are young. Masturbation is normal for males and females. It’s a normal part of many people’s puberty experiences.

Female sexual pleasure and orgasms are not discussed with young women. As a result, throughout puberty and adolescence, women get very confusing messages about sex. They are told how you get pregnant, please don’t get pregnant, don’t get an STI, and this is how you don’t get an STI, but there are few messages about how you enjoy yourself or that sex should be very pleasurable.

There should be more opportunities for young people, especially women, to learn about their bodies and what’s normal and natural; that way, women wouldn’t have so many hang-ups, shame or feel ashamed of themselves. Research shows that when young women learn to masturbate and have self-pleasure during sexual development, they can orgasm as quickly as males can. Women can learn to masturbate and orgasm at any age, and it is healthy.

‘On so many levels, women’s sexual energy has been suppressed and is still being suppressed.’

Tell us all about your clitoris research

The clitoris is portrayed in many medical textbooks, and anatomical pictures show it as a small protruding bean at the top of the vulva. Often, it is not even identified. The fact is that a woman’s clitoris is approximately a ten-centimetre by nine-centimetre organ that is both external and internal. It is around half the size of the palm of your hand, significantly different from what people, even medical professionals, have been taught about this important part of the female anatomy.

The clitoris is beautiful and perfectly designed to make orgasms. Thousands of nerve endings are situated in the wishbone-shaped clitoris. The clitoris slings around the urethra and hugs the vagina and engorges when aroused. It is fixed to the pubic arch. Most of us are unaware of the complete structure of the clitoris and we have not been taught what it looks like or what it can do.

Lifesize anatomical model of a clitoris by anatomicaleducation.org

Clit facts!

  • The clitoris was ‘discovered’ by an Australian urologist Professor Helen O’Connell in 1998
  • The clitoris has over 10,000 nerve endings
  • The clitoris is huge
  • The clitoris is made of the same cellular material as the penis
  • Cosmetic surgery on the vulval lips can cause sexual problems.

Despite fifty percent of the world population having a clitoris, many people do not know much about it. They can benefit immensely from understanding this part of the female sexual body, and so too can their partners!

The clitoris is beautiful and perfectly designed to make orgasms.

The well-researched orgasm gap

Women have an exceptional ability to orgasm and have multiple orgasms, contrary to what you may have heard or learned. But unfortunately, the sexual script that women are typically provided is that you have penetrative sex, the man orgasms, and the woman may or may not orgasm… often not. This gender orgasm gap is very well-researched. As a result, women are left in a state of frustration; they learn to manage or deal with this orgasm gap and have unfulfilling intimacy as they get older or a relationship gets less exciting.

For any couple, when a woman does not know her own body as a result of being disconnected from herself in adulthood, it can put an enormous burden on their partner to have a feeling that they are always responsible for their partner’s orgasm.

The pornography culture influences this orgasm gap between men and women. Porn has many extreme gender stereotypes, and that’s the trouble with porn. It is harmful in many ways and feeds into unrealistic expectations for men. Exposure to the constant narrative and sexual script portrayed in porn is not good for men or women. It does not depict real sexual intimacy focusing on women, female pleasure and typical human sexual behaviour.

You might like to listen to…[Orlagh Reid on the Woman Up! Podcast talking about female sexuality, vaginismus and developing self sexual awareness]

Women’s exceptional ability to orgasm!

For most women, the idea of multiple orgasms is not explained well. Research now proves that multiple orgasms are possible and realistic for women to strive for. A women’s refractory period (the fourth stage of the female sexual response cycle) is exceptionally short. This means that women can stimulate and climax, stimulate and climax over and over again until their heart’s content!

Knowing how to climax and have an orgasm is a healthy, normal thing to know and do. Arousal and orgasms release hormones in your body, such as endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine. These hormones drop your blood pressure and release stress. They make you feel warm and fuzzy, and of course, orgasms are quick and free. Sex and orgasms can also be a way for women to self-soothe, so you can help yourself sleep and relieve headaches and menstrual cramps.

Female self-pleasure and arousal is a beautiful thing. Self-pleasure involving the clitoris is something that is fun to experience, and you are entitled to do it. It is okay, normal, natural, and that is a really important message for women to learn – that nothing bad or negative can happen to you if you masturbate in the privacy of your own space or consensually with somebody else watching or helping you. It is sexually healthy.

On so many levels, women’s sexual energy has been suppressed and is still being suppressed. Unlike men who climax once with a much longer refractory period. If women really let loose, got to know their own bodies and mastered self-pleasure and orgasms, men would just be bewildered with what to do with women’s sexual energy.

Your body is a wonder

I want women to know that all of you is perfect. Every part of your female body is a wonder and a miracle. Your vagina, your vulva, your clitoris, your anus, your urethra – they each have a function. And as women, we are also luckily endowed with thousands of nerve endings around all of these parts, and those feelings are there for a range of reasons.

And for those women who do not have penetrative sex for whatever reason or condition, you can still experience immense sexual pleasure and satisfaction. Sensual touching can give you many wonderous feelings. Even using a clitoral stimulator and holding it against the clitoris or pelvic bone can radiate unmeasurable pleasure.

You might like to read… [Dr McEvoy on her research insights, compassionate practices & understanding Vaginismus as a sociocultural phenomenon]

Your vagina is there for many reasons, and one of these is for sensual pleasure. Sensual pleasure, not just penetrative sex, is another part of being a sexual human being; it is what your body is designed to do. That can be by yourself through self-intimacy and self-pleasure or with somebody else. Don’t let learned sexual shame hold you back from developing that awareness.

Sensual and sexual pleasure with somebody else promotes intimacy and relationship bonding. We connect in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes, we bake cakes for people we love, and sometimes we have sexual intimacy with them. This bonding between partners and human beings and connecting with others is an essential part of humanity. Sex and pleasure are all part of the love languages we share with each other.

More about Dr Belton

Listen to Dr Suzanne Belton’s fantastic interview talking about Getting Cliterate on the Woman Up! Podcast with Hazel Larkin here or on your favourite podcasting platform.

Visit her website anatomicaleducation.org, to view and purchase anatomical clitoris models for your clinical and medical practice or sexual health practice.

Contact Dr Suzanne Belton by email anatomical.education@gmail.com

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy

Orlagh Reid

Orlagh Reid is an IACP accredited Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Addiction Counsellor, Gottman Couples Therapist and Fertility Counsellor in private practice based in Co. Kildare, Ireland and worldwide online via DOXY. She specialises in addiction, recovery, well-being and clinical sexology. To find out more or to book an online consultation visit www.orlaghreid.ie

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy MIACP Therapy Ireland

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