A clitoral erection is a natural response to increased blood flow to the vulva, the pelvic region containing the sexual organs of females. This increased blood flow can be caused by many factors, although sexual arousal is the most common cause. The clitoris is an organ located at the top of the human vulva and mostly concealed within the body. It plays a key role in female sexual response and arousal. The clitoral erection is similar to the penile erection in males, although there are important differences.
The clitoris is located above the entrance to the vagina at the upper edge of the external labia, the fleshy folds that form the border of the vulva. Its appearance varies from woman to woman and can also change in different circumstances. In general, the external part of the clitoris, the glans clitoris, is concealed beneath the clitoral hood, a layer of skin also located at the top of the labia. The clitoris’ internal structures, twin bodies called the crura, extend back into the pelvis roughly 3 inches (9 cm). During early studies of human sexuality, scientists believed the clitoris was a tiny analog of the penis, but this view has since been considered an oversimplification.
Like the penis, however, the clitoris and parts of the vulva are composed of erectile tissue. This means that stimulation, particularly sexual arousal, will cause blood flow to these organs to increase. In women, this has a variety of results, including vaginal lubrication and clitoral erection; this can cause the clitoral glans to partially or fully emerge from beneath the clitoral hood. As this part of the clitoris contains 8,000 nerve endings, this often results in a cascading effect of increased sexual arousal. The highly sensitive clitoris plays a central role in the female orgasm.
Although rare, other events than sexual arousal can result in a clitoral erection. Any prolonged motion or vibration involving the pelvic area, even walking or the use of some motorized vehicles, can accidentally create this effect. Like men, women are sometimes prone to nocturnal erections that can occur during sleep, with or without accompanying sexual dreams. Scientists believe this may be a way to provide regular oxygen flow to the pelvis and ensure genital health. A clitoral erection will generally subside after orgasm or in the absence of continued stimulation.
If a clitoral erection does not subside after a reasonable time or recurs often and causes pain or discomfort, this could be due to priapism, a physiological disorder. This is a sign of problems with blood flow to the pelvis and should be promptly treated by a medical professional. The opposite problem, erectile dysfunction of the clitoris, is also possible. The drug sildenafil, commonly known as the male erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra®, has sometimes been prescribed for female patients with arousal disorders as well. Other treatments and therapies are also available for sexual dysfunction; not all of them involve the administration of drugs.