Gender-affirming surgeon and nerve researcher Blair Peters is the first person to quantify the number of nerve fibers in the human clitoris.
Until now, sex researchers and educators have said the clitoris has an estimated 8,000 nerve fibers, but that well-cited number comes from a study on cows’ genitals, which is mentioned in “The Clitoris,” a book published in 1976.
But Peters found an average of 10,280 nerve fibers in seven human clitorises he studied under a microscope. He presented his findings at the annual meeting of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America in early November.
Peters performs phalloplasties, the surgical creation of a penis using flaps of skin from other areas on the patient’s body, at Oregon Health and Science University. In female-to-male transgender patients, the surgery typically involves clitoral burying, where the clitoris is moved to the base of the penis to increase pleasure sensations.
Peters’ phalloplasty patients made his research on the human clitoris possible, as they allowed him to study their clitoral tissue under a microscope to count the exact number of nerve fibers.
This research could inform future phalloplasties, as well as surgeries for cisgender people who have experienced genital nerve damage, Peters told Insider. He said that pinpointing these nerve fibers could maximize a person’s feelings of pleasure during sex, since the clitoris is a major source of feel-good sensations.
Studying the human clitoris could improve genital surgeries
Compared to other human organs, the clitoris is packed with nerve fibers. Peters’ research provides a closer look at where exactly on the clitoris those feel-good sensations can happen.
It’s four inches long on average and, according to Peters’ research, has between 9,852 to 11,086 nerve fibers. By comparison, the nerve that gives sensation to most of the human hand has an estimated 18,000 nerve fibers, yet it’s much larger.
Knowing this could be a game-changer for restoring pleasure sensations during gender-affirming and genital-mutilation surgeries, Peters said.
There’s no standard phalloplasty procedure, so one surgeon may connect certain nerves to create pleasure sensations, while another surgeon may use a different combination of nerve connections, Peters said. He wanted to see which combinations could maximize pleasure to give genital surgery patients the best outcomes, and this research was the first step in that years-long process.
Peters said he hasn’t used his findings in a surgical setting yet, and he’ll have to follow patients for years to figure out the best genital nerve combinations. For now, he’s happy to put out research that underscores the importance of a historically understudied yet powerful organ.
Peters said the seven transmasculine patients who provided their clitoral tissue for the research were “pumped” to participate. He couldn’t have completed this first-of-its-kind research without them, he said.
“I think that’s the whole point: As soon as we start limiting or oppressing care for one group, it really does have implications for everybody else. Everyone deserves equal access to care.”