The clitoris—a body part that exists solely for pleasure—has long been overlooked by the medical profession as well as in pop culture depictions of sex. (Thanks, sexism!) As a result, we’ve been collectively in the dark about how it really looks and functions for quite some time. But ever since the anatomy of the clitoris was (finally) mapped in 2005 and the stigma around pleasure for vulva-havers has begun to lift, we’ve been slowly but surely uncovering this former part unknown. And with the work of gynecologist Amir Marashi, MD, founder of new sexual-wellness company Cerē, and sonographer Kimberly Lovie, MD, we’re taking another step toward understanding. The pair created the first ultrasound protocol for the clitoris, aka the “Clitogram”—and they’re using this clitoral ultrasound to make their brand’s sex toys specifically designed to stimulate that organ.
Dr. Marashi and Dr. Lovie’s focus on the clitoris, and the potential benefits of imaging it, sprang from what they both describe as a nerdy desire to learn more about the under-researched sexual organ. They initially connected after Dr. Lovie spotted Dr. Marashi’s book A Woman’s Right to Pleasure in a bookstore. Dr. Lovie tagged him on social media, praising him for the book. Dr. Marashi, a surgeon who specializes in vaginoplasty and surgery for victims of female genital mutilation, had been looking at the time for insights on how to best medically image the vulva. He was eager to use clitoral ultrasound to enhance his procedures, and Dr. Lovie seemed like the perfect specialist to help.
How a new protocol for clitoral ultrasound laid the foundation for Cerē sex toys
Dr. Marashi’s inquiry into imaging the clitoris revealed a gap in Dr. Lovie’s medical-school training. Despite being a sonographer—a specialist who uses sound waves to create images of the body for medical purposes—she had never learned about imaging the vulva (aka external female genitalia, including the labia, vaginal opening, and clitoral gland). “Coming from a radiology background, we image everything in the body,” says Dr. Lovie. “When things are going well, we take baseline images, we do mammograms, we image the liver, the kidneys, just to make sure things are okay. When there’s a problem with something, the first thing we do after a physical exam is take a picture of it, whether it’s through x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, etc. But when I first started working with Dr. Marashi, I was surprised to find that the same thing isn’t typically done for the vulva.”
To be sure, a gynecologist might choose to place the probe of an ultrasound machine on the vulva—and indeed, Dr. Marashi would often do this on his patients to get a clearer look ahead of gynecological surgery. “But there was no protocol for this,” says Dr. Lovie, referring to the standard set of pictures outlined in the practice of radiology for any given body part.
There’s no medical reason why a protocol of this sort wouldn’t exist for the vulva, especially considering that an estimated 43 percent of people with a vulva experience sexual dysfunction, an umbrella term to refer to problems with arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and the like. “If any other part of the body was affected this way, we’d take images to see what was going on there, what was happening with the blood flow, the basic size, whether there’s a tumor there, or a scar, or something else,” says Dr. Lovie.
“A stimulated clitoris gets engorged with blood just like an erect penis, so if you’re looking at it in ultrasound, you can see that.” —Amir Marashi, MD, gynecologist and founder of sexual-wellness company Cerē
The fact that the clitoris itself is largely internal (only the glans, which is part of the vulva, is visible; the rest extends several inches into the body around the vagina) and is responsible for the majority of female orgasms made an even more compelling case for clitoral ultrasound. “A stimulated clitoris gets engorged with blood just like an erect penis, so if you’re looking at it in ultrasound, you can see that,” says Dr. Marashi. But again, there was no existing protocol for doing so.
What Dr. Lovie did find were a few studies utilizing clitoral ultrasound in a research setting, which she used to determine the basic views she would need to create a protocol. Naturally, it was tough to find volunteers to put her emerging protocol to use—so, in the name of science, she tried it out on herself, placing the ultrasound probe on her own clitoris.
With images in hand, it was clear to both Dr. Lovie and Dr. Marashi that their new “Clitogram” could have a variety of different uses. “We opened the rabbit hole,” says Dr. Marashi. “The first use of the Clitogram was to make vulvar surgeries safer.” But imaging that could show clitoral blood flow certainly had implications for better understanding sexual pleasure, he says.
Earlier this year, Dr. Lovie and Dr. Marashi recruited two volunteers to have penetrative sex in five different positions, and after each position, performed an ultrasound of the female participant’s clitoris. By analyzing the differing levels of clitoral blood flow for each position, they were able to determine how each angle uniquely stimulated (or didn’t stimulate) the clitoris. Spoiler alert: In this (very small) study, missionary with the penis-having partner on top and the vulva-having partner on the bottom supported by a pillow offered the best angle for clitoral stimulation.
It was this kind of close anatomical analysis that shaped the duo’s creation of Cerē sex toys. Each one offers a different route toward clitoral stimulation: The Spellbound vibrator provides external suction while stimulating the G-Zone (aka an internal portion of the clitoris); the Reverie butt plug is designed to change the rectal angle in order to “steepen” the angle of the vaginal canal (so that penetration can better stimulate the clitoris); and the Wand is designed with a flexible head that adapts to the user’s vulvar anatomy.
Why Cerē’s forthcoming sex toy is in the actual *shape* of a clitoris
Cerē’s most innovative sex toy isn’t just designed to stimulate the clitoris; it actually emulates it. The Lalalena ($97, available for preorder now) is a toy shaped like an entire clitoris, internal part included.
“It makes sense that sex toys have long been made in the shape of a penis, given that the penis is often used in intercourse—but we just thought, ‘Why not have a toy that’s designed in the shape of the thing it’s meant to stimulate?’” says Dr. Lovie.
In this way, the Lalalena can also take clitoral stimulation to a level beyond that of existing clitoral vibrators, too. “These toys just vibrate on the external part of the clitoris, the clitoral glans, but if you place the Lalalena against the clitoris, the tip will vibrate on the glans and the legs will stimulate the branches of the clitoris from the outside.” (If you’re a visual learner, the tip of the toy would touch the clitoral glans while the legs would press against your labia on either side of the vaginal opening.) The power of stimulating the entire clitoris is not to be underestimated: A recent study found that the entire clitoris contains more than 10,000 nerve fibers (which is even more than the previously estimated 8,000).
“We thought it could be really empowering for a person to have this [clitoris-shaped toy] in their hands and be able to say, ‘This is my organ.’” —Kimberly Lovie, MD, sonographer at sexual-wellness company Cerē
Aside from its functionality, though, the Lalalena has its unique design to draw more attention to just what a clitoris looks like. “Along the way, we realized that people are finally having this conversation about clitoral anatomy and how it’s important to understand,” says Dr. Lovie. “We thought it could also be really empowering for a person to have this in their hands and be able to say, ‘This is my organ.’”
The point is to rev up more awareness among all people around the importance of pleasure for vulva-havers. “I want every [person with a penis] to hold a clitoris in their hand,” says Dr. Marashi, referencing how the Lalalena toy could be used during penetrative sex, with it placed over the clitoris. In a future iteration of the toy, he says we might expect an extension designed to go in the vagina, as well, but for now, he’s focused on popularizing the shape of this toy—and the clitoris—as is. Which is all to say, there may be more to come where that came from.