What do you know about the clitoris? What’s it for? What does it do? And did you know it’s nearly the same size as a penis?
After I attended a Clit Night, I asked all these questions to my friends. Surprisingly – many of them are doctors – you would think that they would have more anatomical knowledge than the rest of us. I’m in my late 20s, well-educated, rooted in a liberal/progressive environment. In my social circles, when it comes to sex, (nearly) everyone is open-minded, educated, aware. Or at least we think of ourselves as such. We can talk about sex, masturbation, STIs, no problem. After all we live in Berlin, a city known for its (sexual) hedonism. We are liberated as fuck. And still, most of us couldn’t draw a clitoris – we couldn’t even draw a shape that was as close to reality as a stick man is to a real human. Most of us have seen an anatomic image of the penis, but why not one of the clitoris? It’s not just the lack of biological knowledge that got me, it’s also that I couldn’t help but wonder why we all knew so little.
The Clit Night had answers to both of my questions; the what and the why.
To share some of my insights, I interviewed Louisa Lorenz, the founder and facilitator of the Clit Night:
Me: Thank for you for making the time! So, what’s a clit night?
Louisa: It’s basically a 2-3 hrs workshop about the clitoris. Part one is about the clitoris’ anatomy, what it looks like and how it works. For example, in proportion to the average body size of its owner, a clitoris is the same size as the penis: 10-12 cm length. That’s just one fun fact. The clitoris is often seen as that tiny button on top of the vulva, and one has not even heard of its internal part.
Part two is about why most people don’t know much about this body part. We don’t talk about it in sex ed, and you can’t find it in most biology books. Even in many health brochures there’s no complete picture which means there is really a lack of ways people can come across this topic or educate themselves. In the workshop, we discuss in small groups what we already know and why most of us didn’t have the chance to learn more about it.
And where do you have these events and who attends?
Because of the settings and who puts on the events, it’s often been a rather political and feminist crowd. The workshops are open to everybody of course. All genders, sexual orientations, backgrounds and ages are welcome. Although for liability issues people must be over 18. I think it’s an important topic for everyone, no matter their age, gender or genitalia. No matter if you have a penis or a vulva or something in between: the workshop is for people who want to be educated.
That brings up one of my favourite parts of the workshop, which was the question in the clit quiz “Who has a clitoris?”
In my opinion you could say that everyone has a clitoris. No matter what genitalia one has as an adult, we all start out with the same, clitoris-like thing in utero. It’s the same genetic base. The penis’ shape is actually very similar to the clitoris, but it’s more on the outside of the body while the clitoris is a mostly internal organ. For some of us, our genitals stay closer to the shape that they were at the beginning of our development as a fetus, and for some of us the genitalia turn further to the outside of our bodies. Of course, all varieties in between that we see as male and female exist as well. The strict distinction between male and female genitals is a myth. So, in some way no matter what it looks like, we all have/had a clitoris. It’s an interesting way to look at it.
What are people’s reactions to your workshop?
Generally, there is huge interest and the reactions are very positive. Some people who show up didn’t know anything about the clitoris before and are super stoked and grateful afterwards, some people knew a little bit beforehand and are just curious. That way it’s mixed and really depends on whoever shows up.
What happens nearly every time is that somebody comes to me after the workshop, saying with shining eyes, saying “this was so simple and eye-opening, I’m going to think about it a lot more”. I often get messages from people saying their friends enjoyed my workshop, and they invite me to bring it to their city too.
That sounds so rewarding! But how did you start this in the first place? What’s your background?
I mostly started out because of sheer personal interest. My academic background is cultural studies and gender studies which is why I focus so much on the cultural history of the ignorance surrounding the clitoris, but academia didn’t lead me to the topic.
A few years back I started educating myself on sexuality and gender. I attended workshops and learned all I could about sexuality and different practices, catching up on all the vital information regular sex ed never provided.
The topic, the clitoris, just came to me. A few years back, I randomly found an article titled “the internal clitoris”. For the first time, I saw a picture of the internal structure of the clitoris and it blew my mind. I realized I had never seen that before, and I was about 24 at that point. Looking back, the most interesting part was that I was completely in denial that this was all new. I couldn’t admit that! It didn’t align with my view on myself of being a feminist, sexually liberal and liberated. I felt that I was really supposed to have known this already. This is something I encounter a lot with other people now: there’s a whole lot of resistance to acknowledging that you don’t know anything about the clitoris (yet).
One thing led to another, but seeing Sophia Wallace’s art project “Cliteracy” created additional momentum. It’s all about the clitoris and what it looks like, and that people need to know more about it. In 2016, I wrote my undergrad thesis on Sophia Wallace’s art. While I was in the process of doing research for my thesis, I chatted with many friends about it and they were all really into it. When I finally was done writing my thesis, somebody approached me asking if I could do a workshop on the topic. So, that’s how the clit night came into being.
What drives you? Where does your passion come from?
A lot of work goes into planning and redeveloping the workshop, researching content, but the interest of people out there who want to attend is great. That makes it easy for me to keep going. It makes me feel useful. I just provide information that really fills an existing gap.
Let’s talk more about this gap. Why is this gap an issue? Why should people learn about the clitoris? People don’t know that much about their own brains either.
Yeah, I get that question from time to time. For me, this has a lot to do with gender equality. The penis, or the orgasms of people with penises, are often at the center of sex ed. Ejaculation is connected to lust and desire. When we talk about the female parts though it’s often centred around conceiving and reproduction.
Then there is also the practical aspect that the penis is much more visible than the clitoris which makes it even more important to educate around this. You need more anatomical education to understand your own sexual organs. That’s why from a political perspective, it’s about gender equality.
To look at it from a personal perspective, knowing more about yourself gives you power. Knowing how your own body works gives you independence. People with vulvas and clitorises need to work harder to achieve this since we are less exposed to information on our genital anatomy. Once I learned about how my own organs function, so many things made more sense. Suddenly, I felt more power over my own body and it gave me a new sense of independence. It was very liberating.
Of course, what you do with that knowledge is up to you. It’s not connected to sexuality necessarily, people are so different and it can mean something different for everybody.
How long have you been doing this already?
I’ve been doing this for about one year, and have held the workshop at least 15 times. The first time I did it in somebody’s apartment, just between friends. Way more people showed up than I would have expected. Since then, I’ve brought the clit night to festivals and conferences, to universities, and all kinds of cultural and community spaces.
You mentioned earlier that people appreciate how you talk about language. Can you say more about that?
I’m trying to point out that the terminology we use is loaded with ideology. So far, I have only given the workshop in German, and in this language, it comes up on a regular basis. Vagina for example is an interesting term. The vagina is just the inside part, and the outside part would be called Vulva. Interestingly, vagina is Latin for sheath, which brings up the image of sword and sheath, which refers to insertion and passivity, to the need of the penis to complete the vagina. By calling the whole thing vagina, we really focus on the part that is important for penetration and reproduction. All the other parts just don’t seem to matter.
Another thing is that in German it’s called bigger and smaller labia, and many women think something is wrong with them when their labia don’t fit these names. Most often, the inner labia are bigger and visible, which can create a lot of confusion and pain for people when their bodies don’t fit the norms language creates.
Everybody should just use the words they like, but often people don’t have a chance to reflect on this. That’s why the workshop is important: It’s an opportunity to create awareness, and people can take that awareness wherever they like.
What are your next steps? Once everybody knows about their vulva and clitoris, what is your plan?
I am planning to create a few other workshops. One of them will be on menstruation, the cycle, and natural contraception. So many of us take or have taken hormones for many years, without ever having had thorough education on that. For some people hormonal contraception may be the right way to go. In my opinion, people need to be able to make informed decisions and just as with the clitoris, knowing your cycle and how your own body works gives you independence.
What other resources do you recommend?
Check out the clit night facebook page. That’s the best way to reach me, and I publish information on upcoming workshops there as well. A website is still in the making.
If you want to read up on that topic, I highly recommend: “Story of V, A natural history of female sexuality” by Catherine Blackledge. It has information on the clitoris, all sexual organs, the female orgasm- it’s a vast collection of knowledge. I’m still amazed by how few people actually have heard of this book. Another one is “A New View of a Woman’s Body by the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers”. This book was really groundbreaking in the 70s and 80s. Gladly in Germany it’s becoming more popular again since Laura Méritt re-published it a few years ago. It’s fully illustrated, tells you about every anatomic detail and also helps with medical self-examination. And then of course Sophia Wallace’s work.
Louisa Lorenz holds a BA in Cultural Studies and English and is currently a student of the Gender Studies MA program at the University of Göttingen, Germany. She has been interested in feminism and gender issues for many years and her research interests include sexuality, sex education, women’s rights, and politics of the body. Louisa also works at the Equity and Accessibility Office of the Faculty of Humanities at her university. She volunteers with a student-organized group that teaches sex-ed to local schools. Currently, she is working on workshops that deal with (self)empowering knowledge to educate people on sexuality in a positive, feminist, and shame-free way.
Marietta Wildt is the Director of Public Relations for the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning. The IYAFP is a registered 501(c)3 based in Washington, DC. It is a pro-choice, pro-rights organization for youth aged 15–30, no matter where they are from.
Marietta graduated with an MA and MSc in Global Studies from the universities of Wroclaw, Poland, and Roskilde, Denmark. Her focus of research was femicide and poetry as a medium of female resistance. After researching in Canada and working on community organizing for the past few last years, Marietta is now based in Germany and uses her background in academia, grassroot activism, and NGOs to improve the lives of youth and women.