Welcome. Did you know turtles can breathe through their butts?
Ok, ok. I know you did not click on this article to learn about the anatomy of a turtle. But the point is, this was one of my favourite facts of all time.
I never thought anything could top it.
That is until last week, in my internet travels, I stumbled upon a morsel of information that swiftly pinched the crown. Because not only is it one of those too-good-not-to-share factoids, but it also made me realise just how shamefully little I really know about my own body.
So I’m here to tell you: ladies, we have our very own version of morning wood. And it’s happening not just a little, but a lot.
The scientific term is ‘nocturnal clitoral tumescence’ (in men, it is called ‘nocturnal penile tumescence’) but the good people of Reddit came up with a far better nickname which I’ll use for simplicity’s sake: morning bean.
While the internet is awash with articles about the blokes’ morning glory, there is very, very little on the phenomenon in women. A search of ‘nocturnal clitoral tumescence’ on Google delivers 23,600 results, compared to 773,000 combined for ‘morning wood’ and ‘nocturnal penile tumescence’.
And yet it happens to the vagina-owners walking among us just as regularly. Spread the word: this gentlemen’s club is finito.
I spoke with Dr Sergio Diez Alvarez – Director of Medicine at Maitland and Kurri Kurri Hospitals, University of Newcastle – to shed a little more light on what exactly is happening down there.
First things first, the penis and the clitoris have the same embryonic origin, meaning they are different organs developed from the exact same structure. So, yes, the size difference is a dead giveaway, but they both have the same erectile tissue that responds to hormonal changes.
Let’s get scientific for a moment. When we sleep, we go through several cycles of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. This is the phase in which we dream. Diez Alvarez explains for that to take effect, there is a shift in our hormone balance because our brain has to quell our active functions for restful ones (e.g. our adrenaline levels, which suppresses erections, are reduced).
It’s this hormonal shuffle that leads to increased blood flow to your groin and – hey presto! – you have an erection. It works the same way for both the penis and the clitoris.
And nope, you don’t need to be awake. Diez Alvarez says people usually go through 4-5 REM stages per night – meaning you could be having as many as 4-5 spontaneous erections while you’re off in dreamland.