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When it comes to your clitoris, use it or lose it (seriously)

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Clitoral atrophy is a thing — here's how to make sure it doesn't happen to you

There I was, just minding my own business on the internet when all of a sudden I came across these two words: Clitoral atrophy, a condition that apparently describes what happens to your nubbin if it doesn't get consistent lovin'. What. Is the clitoris really a use it or lose it organ? I uncrossed my legs and called an expert for help.

"If the clitoris goes unused, it will retreat into the body and the hood will fuse closed, known as clitoral atrophy. Just like every other tissue in the body, the clitoris requires blood flow to stay happy and healthy," writes Shelly Persad, founder of Orgasmical Medicine and an orgasmicologist (which is apparently a thing).

Your clitoris can literally dry up and wither away from lack of use? (Please tell me I'm not the only girl who's never heard of this phenomenon!) It all sounded so extreme and sensational. After all, haven't we all gone through a few dry spells and emerged with our lady bits still fully intact? So I called Sherry Ross, M.D., an OB-GYN and a specialist in women's sexual health, and begged her to tell me this isn't true.

"Well there is some truth to this," she starts our conversation.

Mind. Blown.

"Just like any other organ, if it's not stimulated the clitoris can lose function," she says.

More: Why even adult women can benefit from sex education

Clitoral function is a product of two things: age and practice, Ross explains. Younger women are often fine with some extended periods of no sexual contact — in fact she says it's expected as we're still trying to find a good partner and figure our lives out. And when you're young, with plenty of hormones coursing through your body, your clit may not be at its fullest but it can wait it out.

But it's those hormones that are the key to a happy, vibrant, pink button, she adds. So when you hit peri-menopause (the stage just before menopause) and your estrogen levels start to drop, things down yonder can dry up quickly — literally and figuratively.

"Low estrogen can cause a vicious cycle of low libido which leads to less sex which then hurts the clitoris which makes sex less pleasurable and so on," she explains.

The antidote? You know the answer to this: Sex. And lots of it.

"Being sexually active trains your body so your clitoris responds in a healthy way, no matter what your age. Ninety-year-olds who are doing it twice a week are probably just fine down there," she says. But women who aren't getting pleasure on the regular can see their delicate vulva and clitoral tissues shrink, thin out and dry up. (And when it comes to good sex, we all know that dry is never a good thing.) In the worst case scenario, your clitoral hood can actually fuse shut.

More: How to create emotional intimacy without having sex

She adds, however, that there are some medical conditions, like Lichen sclerosus, that can cause similar skin issues regardless of your sexual health so if you are having problems down there, it's always good to get it checked out by a doctor no matter what you think the cause might be.

But rare diseases aside, this issue is something you can, ahem, take into your own hands, she says. "Part of taking good care of your female parts is your sexuality. If women can understand the sexual process it can be very empowering for them," she adds.

So you heard it here first: When it comes to your pleasure center, use it or (maybe) lose it.

P.S. You can uncross your legs now!

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