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Women’s Anatomy of Arousal 

This month we welcome you to the world of female sexuality with selected excerpts from a few of the chapters in the new book, Women’s Anatomy of Arousal (Mango Garden Press, 2009), by Sheri Winston. The book is replete with descriptions, illustrations, quotations, learning tools, tips for guys, and humor, and it covers not just a woman’s remarkable body but also the multiple facets of what Winston calls wholistic sexuality, for both men and women. Winston is a sex teacher, certified nurse-midwife, gynecology practitioner, registered nurse, holistic healer, childbirth educator, massage therapist, and student of the esoteric erotic arts. She is executive director of the Center for the Intimate Arts in Kingston.—Lorrie Klosterman

Believe it or not, the majority of contemporary books and illustrations of female genital anatomy leave out most of the equipment responsible for arousal and orgasm. When these specialized sexual structures are omitted from the images and text, they’re also absent from our mental model. This limits your ability to access your full sexual potential—it’s kind of like a psychological chastity belt.

There is much more to women’s pleasure than the clitoris, and there’s more to the clitoris than meets the eye. This ultra-sensitive sweet button is only the tip of the female volcano, just one component of a whole network of erogenous structures. Women have an interlocking set of sexual pleasure parts, most of which are unknown or misunderstood.

In fact, women have just as much erotic equipment in their bodies as men do. That’s right. The female apparatus is equivalent in size to that of the male—it’s just not as obvious. Pound for pound, inch for inch, women have the same amount of the good stuff as guys.

Since we don’t know about all of these yummy parts, we’re operating with a limited mental model. It’s as if we’ve been trying to play the piano and make beautiful music but are only aware of a quarter of the keys. With most of the keyboard missing, we can still make lovely music, but the range is restricted.

When we discover the complete network of structures and understand how the connected system works together, it’s as if we now know where all the keys are (plus the foot pedals!). Then we can learn how to fully play our instrument and make a much wider, more expansive range of music. Some songs that seemed well outside our ability now become possible. We may not be able to play a Mozart sonata or have 15-minute orgasms right away, but we can see that it’s possible to get there.

An Erector Set of Her Own

To discover what’s really there, let’s imagine that we’re going under the skin, fatty tissue, and top layer of muscles of the female genitals to reveal what’s hiding underneath—an exquisite treasure awaiting discovery. There is a rich variety of structures and systems there, including what I call the female erectile network.

Erectile tissue is a unique type of tissue, mostly consisting of a compacted mass of specialized capillaries. Capillaries are the tiniest blood vessels in the body, characterized by a wall that’s only one cell thick. You have regular capillaries all over your body, supplying each and every tiny cell. The thin wall allows for exchange to take place, enabling our bodies to absorb things like oxygen and nutrients, and to get rid of things like waste products.

Erectile tissue, however, boasts some very unusual and talented capillaries with an extra-special ability. They contain a multitude of miniscule one-way valves that stay open when you’re not aroused, allowing blood to flow just like regular circulation. When you get turned on, the valves close, causing the tissue to fill up with blood. It’s as if you’d stopped the drain at the bottom of your bathtub, but still have the faucet on. Blood continues to flow into the one-way passage, but it can’t get out. In addition, some of your erectile tissue has balloon-like extra spaces where you can pack even more red-hot blood, increasing that extra-stiff feeling.

When the erectile capillaries fill, the tissue becomes enlarged, firm, and wonderfully sensitive, producing the delightful state called engorgement. Women have a network of structures that are composed of this wondrous expandable erectile tissue. When a penis gets hard, a guy gets an erection. When a woman gets her erectile network fired up, she gets a “herection.”

The female erectile network is made up of the interconnected but separate structures of the clitoris, the vestibular bulbs, and the urethral and perineal sponges. The clitoris is composed of three parts, the head, the shaft, and the legs. The paired vestibular bulbs form fat parentheses around the vaginal opening, lying under the lips (labia). There’s a tubular sponge of erectile tissue surrounding the urethra that lies above the roof of the vagina. Another spongy erectile pad lies under the vaginal floor, in the wall between the vaginal and anal canals.

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