Ever wondered about the science behind why things feel good? Unfortunately, most high school anatomy lessons don’t focus on pleasure. Understanding the what and how of your anatomy and why different types of touch may feel better than others is a fantastic tool for navigating sexual situations and gaining more awareness of your own body! Of course, all bodies react in different ways to various sensations, but knowledge of general pleasure areas is a great starting point.
One helpful concept to keep in mind right off the bat is sexual analogues. When genitals are first forming, they all start with off the same. This means that although the prevailing myth is that penises and vaginas are as different as can be, in fact they are made of the same kinds of tissue which can respond in very similar way! Throughout this article, we’ll be discussing various sexual analogues and the way they can impact pleasure.
Vulvas, Clitorises, and Vaginas
Let’s start on the outside and work our way in! The area outside of the vagina is called the vulva—this includes the labia, pubic mound, and everyone’s favorite the clitoris!
The mons pubis/pubic mound is the fleshy area above the rest of the vulva where pubic hair usually grows. This area usually responds to pressure and humping. Pushing on the pubic mound can also indirectly stimulate the clitoris. Depending on someone’s sensitivity, indirect stimulation of the clit can be anywhere from a light tease to intensely pleasurable. Some folks find that their clit is too sensitive for direct touch and might prefer indirect stimulation of some kind.
There are two sets of labia/lips, the inner and the outer. The outer lips grow hair and the inner do not. There is a ton of variation in labia size, shape, and color -- sometimes the inner are larger than the outer, and sometimes they are smaller. Labia are often asymmetrical. Regardless of how they look, labia can feel great to touch. When someone is aroused, the labia tend to open up and get a little larger. This is because folks with vaginas have erectile tissue! Like penises, vulvas become engorged with blood when someone is aroused. This increases sensitivity.
The clitoris is another site of erectile tissue! Clits are analogous to the head or glans of the penis and they can grow when someone is aroused. The clit is extra amazing because it’s the only body part for which the sole purpose is pleasure. The clitoris was designed for one function; to make you feel good. In order to do this, the clit has 8,000 nerve endings—making it a lot more sensitive than the head of the penis! And that’s only for the glans, which is the external part of the clit. There is also an internal structure to the clitoris consisting of a 5-9cm “root” that branches out from the glands in a wishbone shape underneath the labia. This is part of what can make touching or pressing on or around the labia feel really good. The root of the clit can also be stimulated internally, because it surrounds either side of the vagina.
Speaking of internal stimulation, let’s talk vagina! Different parts of the vagina respond to stimulation differently. You may have heard that the 1st third of the vagina is the most sensitive. This portion of the vagina responds to friction. The latter two thirds respond more to a feeling of fullness. The vagina itself changes size in response to arousal. It is able to do this because of folds in the vaginal wall called rugae. If you touch the inside of a vagina you may feel bumps or ridges—these are the folds that allow the vagina to expand. During arousal, the cervix also moves up and back to elongate the vagina. Contrary to popular myth the vagina doesn’t magically stay the same size as the largest thing ever inserted into it, but like other muscles expands and contracts. If someone’s vagina seems too small to accommodate a toy or body part, they might just need some more time to get aroused! And of course, another important aspect of arousal is vaginal lubrication. Vaginas produce varying amounts of lubrication. Don’t be shy about adding lube!
Inside the vagina is the G-Zone. Lots of folks call it the “G-Spot” but we find zone to be a more accurate word because the size and placement of the G-Zone differs from person to person! The G-Zone is located on the front wall of the vagina and is usually stimulated with curved fingers or toys. G-Zone stimulation can be very powerful, and is usually what causes squirting! However, it’s important to remember that there isn’t a magic button to produce amazing orgasms. Not everyone enjoys G-Zone stimulation.
Penises, Scrotums, and Prostates
The head, or glans of the penis, is generally extra sensitive. It has similar tissue to the clit and like the clit has a huge amount of nerve endings. It responds to friction. Some folks find it overstimulating to have it directly touched, especially if they are uncircumcised. Underneath the head is the frenulum, an elastic band of tissue that is very sensitive. If someone is uncircumcised, it attaches to the foreskin. Sometimes the frenulum is removed during circumcision. The frenulum is incredibly sensitive. Penis vibrators like the hot octopuss work by stimulating the frenulum—just stimulating this one area can produce powerful orgasms!
The shaft of the penis responds more to pressure. It’s important to remember that the size of someone’s shaft isn’t a good indicator of how much pleasure their partner will receive during penetrative sex. The most sensitive areas of the vagina and anus are the front few inches, and penetration is certainly not the be all end all when it comes to pleasure. External parts of the vagina and anus are incredibly sensitive and there is so much more to do than just put one part inside another!
The scrotum and testicles generally respond to vibration and gentle pressure. But, every individual is different! If you’re just exploring with a new partner, start out gentle. It’s a delicate area, but this sensitivity can lead to a whole lot of fun. When someone nears orgasm, their testicles tend to move up closer to the body. This is because of the contraction of the cremaster muscles, which connect to the testes and control their movement in response to temperature. Some people believe that preventing this movement can stave off orgasm. This is one of the reasons that people enjoy ball stretchers and testicle cuffs, though the stretching sensation itself can also be pleasurable! BDSM toys like those also show the wide range of sensations that can be pleasurable for different people and bodies!
Behind the balls is the perineum—the taint! grundle! fleshy fun bridge! This area can feel really great to stimulate for folks with penises because it allows you to externally stimulate the prostate. That’s right—you don’t need to get up in the butt for your p-zone fun. The prostate is famous from providing a lot of pleasure during anal play for folks with penises. It has three different nerves, and it can produce sensations that are either incredibly enjoyable or very overwhelming. If you’re curious about your p-zone, you don’t need to venture into anal play to explore! Just get acquainted with your taint. But(t) if you’re interested in stimulating a prostate internally, try using curved fingers or toys on the front wall of the anus, similar to g-zone stimulation!
ButtsThe prostate is far from the only fun thing about the butt! Anyone with any anatomy can enjoy anal play.
A little known fact about anal play is that it can be entirely external! Butts can feel great in a variety of ways, and if you’re nervous about or just not into penetration that’s a road you never have to go down. The anus itself (which only refers to the opening) has plenty of nerve endings. It can feel great to touch with fingers, tongues, vibes, or anything else (body safe!) you can think of. Even if you do plan on doing some internal anal play, spending some time on the outside can be a fantastic idea in order to get comfortable and relaxed. Relaxing is extra important with butt stuff because of the sphincters. Sphincters are rings of muscle, and they are in charge of letting things out of (and into) your butt. There is one external sphincter at the opening and that’s the sphincter that you voluntarily control. About a quarter to half an inch into the anus is another sphincter that is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Because you can’t voluntarily expand or contract this muscle, you need to be relaxed enough for the sphincter to open on its own.
The internal portion of the butt at play in anal sex is the rectum. The rectum is about 5-7 inches long and generally responds to a feeling of fullness. Unlike the vagina, the rectum does not self-lubricate. That makes it especially important to make friends with your lube! Some folks find that silicone lube is helpful for anal play because unlike water based lube it won’t be soaked up by the super absorbent tissue of the rectum. However, be cognizant of your toy materials because silicone lube can interact with silicone toys. The first curve in the rectum is created by the pubo-rectal sling. This is one of the most powerful muscles in the body and it responds to pressure by clamping down. It can cause pain during anal play. If you experience this pain, positions that straighten out the rectum—like bringing your knees up to your chest—might help. (https://www.gmfa.org.uk/know-your-arse-for-better-sex#pubo)
I think we can all agree that genitalia have a wide variety of both external and internal pleasure areas. Just like with any other part of the body, people with the same parts can respond very differently! Knowing where your pleasure areas are is a great starting point in creating positive stimulation for yourself and for your partners!