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How Lightly Should You Touch a Clit?

However soft you think you’re going, go 10 levels softer

Somewhere, deep in the annals of 31-year-old Katrine’s phone, there’s a contact entry for a man named “The Whacker.” His real name was Tom. His hands were as rugged as a construction worker’s. And his breath was accented with the stale scent of cheap beer.

But that’s not what the pseudonymous Vancouver-based copywriter remembers about him. What really sticks with her, she says, is what he did to her clitoris. “When we hooked up, he had this habit of whacking my clit like it was a nail in the wall,” she says. “Slap, slap, slap, you know? When I told him it wasn’t working for me and asked if we could try something else, he started rubbing my clit like the clock was about to strike midnight and he had to make a curfew. It was so aggressive and fast that I felt numb.”

She didn’t see him again.

Lots of cis men like The Whacker aren’t quite sure what to do with clits, and they tend to end up mashing them around like they were tiny penises — that is, hard, fast and like they’re trying to scrub a stain out of their pants.

This, says writer, podcaster and porn performer Sovereign Syre, is the result of both historical gender norms and what we see in porn. “For so long, the female body has been viewed as identical to the male body, save for the reproductive parts,” she says. “The male body has always been the ‘default,’ too — early midwife manuals used to describe the clit as a ‘little prick.’ So when guys are told that the clit is what makes sex feel good, they tend to treat it as roughly as they treat their dicks when they’re jerking off, or they eat pussy the way they like to get their dick sucked — with lots of stimulation.”

But clits don’t work that same way, she says. Also important: No two clits are the same.

Not that you’d know it from porn. “For the most part, porn is catering to a male gaze,” Syre continues. “Clits are largely ignored in porn, or they’re treated roughly. I see a lot of clit-slapping and have experienced it myself with male performers, usually in the energy of a high intensity scene. In lesbian scenes, of course, they’re treated more gently. It’s important to understand that porn is a visual depiction of a tactile experience, so we’re not depicting reality, but an exaggerated reality.”

In other words, you see what you do on screen because it’s visually dynamic and looks good on camera, she explains, not because it necessarily feels good.

As a result, people like Nahla, a 32-year-old coder from Toronto, keep running into men who think they “need to go harder and faster always.” “When I’ve tried to direct them, it takes too long, and I feel bad and tell them to stop,” she says. “Or they just fully don’t understand what I’m asking for and just go harder, so I cut it off. It’s too exhausting when that’s not what I’m looking for anyway.”

To get a better sense of what (most) clits are looking for, we have to start at the beginning. The clit, which scientists have spent years attempting to understand, isn’t all that different from a penis when it comes to the basics. It has erectile tissue, so it grows erect when stimulated. But it’s more than just the external glans (the part you can see and touch). Much of it is internal and extends along the vulva, with “bulbs” of erectile tissue on either side of the vaginal opening that give it a kind of wishbone shape. When someone gets aroused, those bulbs — and the clit itself — fill with blood, making stimulation much more pleasurable.

Photo: ClitAnatomy

Figures vary wildly, but according to one 2015 study, 36 percent of cis women need clitoral stimulation to cum. Another 36 percent say it’s not necessary, but it definitely enhances pleasure. Both of these figures make sense when you understand how extraordinarily sensitive the clit is — it contains roughly 8,000 nerve endings, which is twice as many as the average penis and more than any other organ in the human body.

Basically, the clit is really sensitive. So for most people, pulling a “Whacker” isn’t necessary, and anything hard and heavy usually feels like too much.

The question, then, is what counts as “too much.” Is there an ideal amount of pressure to use when you’re fingering, toying or going down on somebody, and if so, how do you know when you’re there?

Everyone with a clit will answer that question differently, but thankfully for you, I have some vivid guidelines to help you visualize what “too much” actually is.

First, imagine that you’re itching a mosquito bite. That’s too angry.

Now, picture yourself rubbing the red wine stain out of your white carpet. Heavens, no — that’s way too rough.

What about scratching your hundredth lottery ticket of the month? Nope — too sad.

Massaging your shoulder when it’s sore? Only if you never want to see her again!

Instead, take your hand and rub your eyes how you would when you’re tired. Feel how you don’t have to press very hard to get the desired effect? See how the skin of your eyelid kind of rolls across your eyeball and that’s where the sensation comes from? Great, because when it comes to clit pressure, that kind of touch is just right.

Bizarrely, we can credit this clit-friendly analogy to comedian Ron White (of Blue Collar Comedy Tour fame), who once sagely said at a stand-up gig that “the clitoris is as sensitive as an eyeball.”

By extension, don’t rub it if it’s dry or like you’re trying to start a fire in an emergency — nine times out of 10, it wants wet, relatively gentle pressure. “It’s a perfect analogy and I repeat it often,” says Syre, who often refers to White as the “clit whisperer.”

Still, knowing the exact amount of pressure to apply really depends on your partner. The key is starting softly and going from there, either by asking what feels good to her, or learning via body language. If she keeps angling her hips down or away from you — or if she seems to be scooting backwards — you might want to ease up or check in. Same goes if she’s grimacing, silent or completely still — those are all signs she might be uncomfortable.

As for how to avoid that, Toronto-based sex educator Luna Matatas has some advice. “A better approach appreciates that many clitorises benefit from touch that warms up the area,” she says, noting that orgasms often come from building sensations from soft to harder. “Try layering as a technique to bring more arousal to a partner. Start touching their clit through their underwear and experiment with pressure to see what feels good at this stage. Lube up your fingers and move to massaging the clit through the labia or the clitoral hood. Next, try splitting your fingers in a V shape and stroking the sides of the clit. Then go for direct pressure on the clitoris. Some people enjoy firmer pressure on the sides of the clitoris but lighter pressure directly on the clit.”

You can also try various movements, gentle at first: circular, back and forth, stroking. Add in tongue or toys if you want, too.

If you’re still unsure about pressure, or if your partner is having trouble giving you feedback, Matatas recommends asking them to put their hand on yours while it’s on their clit and show you the pressure and motion they like. “Ask your partner simple questions like, harder or softer? Faster or slower? Like this, or like that? Encourage them to tell you, and tell them how much it turns you on to hear what they like,” she says. “It also sometimes helps to have a conversation outside of sex. Just say, ‘Hey, I’m sometimes shy to tell you what things I like during sex, would it be okay to talk about it now?’ Men can also be proactive in inviting their partners to tell them what they like and how they like it.”

A third way to approach clit pressure? Invite your partner to masturbate in front of you, showing you rhythm and motions they enjoy. Then, join in when they’re ready for you to. Matatas also recommends using a number scale of intensity to demonstrate what is too much or too little pressure.

Syre signs off with a final piece of advice. “Unless she asks you to, please don’t hit the clit, pinch it, pull it or bite it,” she explains. “When we say, ‘Eat the pussy,’ we’re being figurative, not literal.”

Your Hardest Questions About Sex, Answered