Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sensing your Clitoris

Let's talk about sensing. You have touch receptors over all your skin. The number of touch receptors in the skin depends on the body part. For example, your fingertips have more of those receptors than your arm. The motor cortex in your brain processes this sensory information from all your body parts. Unsurprisingly, those body parts with more touch receptors are processed in a larger area of the motor cortex.

This can be represented in a sort of body map, called homunculus, in which the size of the body parts is proportional to it's representation in the cortex, and is placed onto the region of the cortex that represents it.

However, although a bunch of body parts have been localized in this "body map" in our cortex, it was still unknown where the clitoral stimuli is processed. Swiss scientists worked to fill that gap of knowledge and studied 15 healthy women to map the somatosensory representation of the clitoris (Michels et al., 2009). The Neurocritic gave a great discussion of this paper. Go visit and take a look at the brain image and where the clitoral stimulus is processed.
Curious about their methods?
Prior to the imaging session, two self-attaching surface disc electrodes (1 × 1 cm) were placed bilaterally next to the clitoris of the subjects so that we were able to stimulate the fibers of the dorsal clitoral nerve. Before the start of the experiment, electrical test stimulation was performed to ensure that subjects could feel the stimulation directly at the clitoris. In addition, the strength of electrical stimulation was adjusted to a subject-specific level, i.e. that stimulation was neither felt [as] painful nor elicited – in case of clitoris stimulation – any sexual arousal.

(It makes me want to make a pin-the-tail type game with a fMRI image of the brain and some body part cartoons.)

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