The clitoris (/ˈklɪtərɪs/ ( listen) or
/klɪˈtɔːrɪs/ ( listen)) is a female sex organ present
in mammals, ostriches and a limited number of other animals. In
humans, the visible button-like portion is near the front junction of
the labia minora (inner lips), above the opening of the urethra.
Unlike the penis, the male homologue (equivalent) to the clitoris, it
usually does not contain the distal portion (or opening) of the
urethra and is therefore not used for urination. It is also usually
absent a reproductive function. While few animals urinate through the
clitoris or use it reproductively, the spotted hyena, which has an
especially large clitoris, urinates, mates and gives birth via the
organ. Some other mammals, such as lemurs and spider monkeys, also
have a large clitoris.
The clitoris is the human female's most sensitive erogenous zone and
generally the primary anatomical source of human female sexual
pleasure. In humans and other mammals, it develops from an
outgrowth in the embryo called the genital tubercle. Initially
undifferentiated, the tubercle develops into either a penis or a
clitoris, depending on the presence or absence of the protein tdf,
which is codified by a single gene on the Y chromosome. The clitoris
is a complex structure, and its size and sensitivity can vary. The
glans (head) of the human clitoris is roughly the size and shape of a
pea, and is estimated to have more than 8,000 sensory nerve
Sexological and medical debate have focused on the clitoris, and it
has also been the subject of sociological (including social
constructionist) analyses and studies. Such discussions range from
anatomical accuracy, gender inequality, orgasmic factors and their
physiological explanation for the G-spot. Although, in humans, the
only known purpose of the clitoris is to provide sexual pleasure,
whether the clitoris is vestigial, an adaptation, or serves a
reproductive function has been debated. Social perceptions of the
clitoris include the significance of its role in female sexual
pleasure, assumptions about its true size and depth, and varying
beliefs regarding genital modification such as clitoris enlargement,
clitoris piercing and clitoridectomy. Genital modification may be
for aesthetic, medical or cultural reasons.
Knowledge of the clitoris is significantly impacted by cultural
perceptions of the organ. Studies suggest that knowledge of its
existence and anatomy is scant in comparison with that of other sexual
organs, and that more education about it could help alleviate social
stigmas associated with the female body and female sexual pleasure;
for example, that the clitoris and vulva in general are visually
unappealing, that female masturbation is taboo, or that men should be
expected to master and control women's orgasms.
2.2 General structure and histological evaluation
2.3 Glans and body
2.4 Hood and bulbs
2.5 Clitoral and penile similarities and differences
3 Sexual stimulation, findings and debates
3.1 General stimulation, practices, and arousal
3.2 Clitoral and vaginal orgasmic factors
4 Clinical significance
4.2 Sexual disorders
Society and culture
5.1 Ancient Greek–16th century knowledge and vernacular
5.2 17th century–present day knowledge and vernacular
5.3 Contemporary art
5.4 Cosmetic or traditional reasons for clitoral modification
5.5 Vestigiality, adaptionist and reproductive views
6 Other animals
6.2 Spider monkeys and bonobos
6.3 Spotted hyenas
6.4 Cats, sheep and mice
7 See also
10 External links
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary states that the word clitoris likely has
its origin in the
Ancient Greek κλειτορίς, kleitoris, perhaps
derived from the verb κλείειν, kleiein, "to shut". Clitoris
is also Greek for the word key, "indicating that the ancient
anatomists considered it the key" to female sexuality. In
addition to key, the
Online Etymology Dictionary
Online Etymology Dictionary suggests other Greek
candidates for the word's etymology include a noun meaning "latch" or
"hook"; a verb meaning "to touch or titillate lasciviously", "to
tickle" (one German synonym for the clitoris is der Kitzler, "the
tickler"), although this verb is more likely derived from "clitoris";
and a word meaning "side of a hill", from the same root as
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary also states that the
shortened form "clit", the first occurrence of which was noted in the
United States, has been used in print since 1958: until then, the
common abbreviation was "clitty".
The plural forms are clitorises in English and clitorides in Latin.
The Latin genitive is clitoridis, as in "glans clitoridis". In medical
and sexological literature, the clitoris is sometimes referred to as
"the female penis" or pseudo-penis, and the term clitoris is
commonly used to refer to the glans alone; partially because of
this, there have been various terms for the organ that have
historically confused its anatomy (see below).
Stages in the development of the clitoris
In mammals, sexual differentiation is determined by the sperm that
carries either an X or a Y (male) chromosome. The Y chromosome
contains a sex-determining gene (SRY) that encodes a transcription
factor for the protein tdf (testis determining factor) and triggers
the creation of testosterone and
Anti-Müllerian hormone for the
embryo's development into a male. This differentiation begins
about eight or nine weeks after conception. Some sources state
that it continues until the twelfth week, while others state that
it is clearly evident by the thirteenth week and that the sex organs
are fully developed by the sixteenth week.
The clitoris develops from a phallic outgrowth in the embryo called
the genital tubercle. Initially undifferentiated, the tubercle
develops into either a clitoris or penis during development of the
reproductive system depending on exposure to androgens (primarily male
hormones). The clitoris forms from the same tissues that become the
glans and upper shaft of the penis, and this shared embryonic origin
makes these two organs homologous (different versions of the same
If exposed to testosterone, the genital tubercle elongates to form the
penis. By fusion of the urogenital folds – elongated
spindle-shaped structures that contribute to the formation of the
urethral groove on the belly aspect of the genital tubercle –
the urogenital sinus closes completely and forms the spongy urethra,
and the labioscrotal swellings unite to form the scrotum. In the
absence of testosterone, the genital tubercle allows for formation of
the clitoris; the initially rapid growth of the phallus gradually
slows and the clitoris is formed. The urogenital sinus persists as the
vestibule of the vagina, the two urogenital folds form the labia
minora, and the labioscrotal swellings enlarge to form the labia
majora, completing the female genitalia. A rare condition that can
develop from higher than average androgen exposure is
General structure and histological evaluation
Clitoris; deep dissection
The clitoris is a complex structure, containing external and internal
components. It consists of the glans (including the frenulum of
clitoris, which is a frenulum on the under-surface of the glans and is
created by the two medial parts of the labia minora), the clitoral
body (which is composed of two erectile bodies known as the corpora
cavernosa), two clitoral crura, the clitoral hood (formed by the labia
minora) and the vestibular or clitoral bulbs. The clitoral body is
commonly referred to as the shaft (or internal shaft), while the
length of the clitoris between the glans and the body may also be
referred to as the shaft (or external shaft) because, like the shaft
as a whole, it supports the glans, and its shape can be seen and felt
through the clitoral hood.
Research indicates that clitoral tissue extends into the vagina's
anterior wall. Şenaylı et al. said that the histological
evaluation of the clitoris, "especially of the corpora cavernosa, is
incomplete because for many years the clitoris was considered a
rudimentary and nonfunctional organ." They added that Baskin and
colleagues examined the clitoris's masculinization after dissection
and, using imaging software after Masson chrome staining, put the
serial dissected specimens together; this revealed that the nerves of
the clitoris surround the whole clitoral body (corpus).
The clitoris, vestibular bulbs, labia minora, and urethra involve two
histologically distinct types of vascular tissue (tissue related to
blood vessels), the first of which is trabeculated, erectile tissue
innervated by the cavernous nerves. The trabeculated tissue has a
spongy appearance; along with blood, it fills the large, dilated
vascular spaces of the clitoris and the bulbs. Beneath the epithelium
of the vascular areas is smooth muscle. As indicated by Yang et
al.'s research, it may also be that the urethral lumen (the inner open
space or cavity of the urethra), which is surrounded by spongy tissue,
has tissue that "is grossly distinct from the vascular tissue of the
clitoris and bulbs, and on macroscopic observation, is paler than the
dark tissue" of the clitoris and bulbs.
The second type of vascular tissue is non-erectile. Although the
clitoral body becomes engorged with blood upon sexual arousal,
erecting the clitoral glans, some sources describe the clitoral glans
and labia minora as composed of non-erectile tissue; this is
especially the case for the glans. They state that the
clitoral glans and labia minora have blood vessels that are dispersed
within a fibrous matrix and have only a minimal amount of smooth
muscle, or that the clitoral glans is "a midline, densely neural,
non-erectile structure". Other sources state that the glans is
composed of erectile tissue and that erectile tissue is present within
the labia minora; adipose tissue is absent in the labia minora, but
the organ may be described as being made up of dense connective
tissue, erectile tissue and elastic fibers.
Yang et al. are among the researchers who challenge the notion that
the glans is not formed of erectile tissue, stating that their
dissections clearly show glanular vascular spaces, although not as
prominent as those in the clitoral body. "The erectile tissue of the
glans is slightly different from that of the body and crura. The
vascular spaces are separated more by smooth muscle than in the body
and crura," they concluded. They stated that there is a thick layer of
tissue that supports the tissue between the epithelium and vascular
spaces and that "there is a dense distribution of nerves and sensory
receptors" in the epithelium and supporting tissue.
Glans and body
An exposed clitoral glans
Highly innervated, the glans exists at the tip of the clitoral body as
a fibro-vascular cap, and is usually the size and shape of a pea,
although it is sometimes much larger or smaller. While whether or not
the glans is composed of erectile or non-erectile tissue is subject to
debate (see above), it, or the entire clitoris, is estimated to have
8,000 or more sensory nerve endings.
Structures of the vulva, including external and internal parts of the
The clitoral body forms a wishbone-shaped structure containing the
corpora cavernosa – a pair of sponge-like regions of erectile
tissue which contain most of the blood in the clitoris during clitoral
erection. The two corpora forming the clitoral body are surrounded by
thick fibro-elastic tunica albuginea, literally meaning "white
covering", connective tissue. These corpora are separated incompletely
from each other in the midline by a fibrous pectiniform
septum – a comblike band of connective tissue extending between
the corpora cavernosa.
The clitoral body extends up to several centimeters before reversing
direction and branching, resulting in an inverted "V" shape that
extends as a pair of crura ("legs"). The crura are the proximal
portions of the arms of the wishbone. Ending at the glans of the
clitoris, the tip of the body bends anteriorly away from the
pubis. Each crus (singular form of crura) is attached to the
corresponding ischial ramus – extensions of the copora beneath
the descending pubic rami. Concealed behind the labia minora,
the crura end with attachment at or just below the middle of the pubic
arch.[N 1] Associated are the urethral sponge, perineal sponge, a
network of nerves and blood vessels, the suspensory ligament of the
clitoris, muscles and the pelvic floor.
There is no identified correlation between the size of the clitoral
glans, or clitoris as a whole, and a woman's age, height, weight, use
of hormonal contraception, or being post-menopausal, although women
who have given birth may have significantly larger clitoral
Centimeter (cm) and millimeter (mm) measurements of
the clitoris show variations in its size. The adult clitoral glans
usually has a width less than 1 cm, with an average length of 1.5
to 2 cm. A 1992 study gives clitoral glans widths of 2.5 to
4.5 mm (0.098 to 0.177 in), with the average size smaller
than a pencil-top eraser. The study concluded that the total clitoral
length, including glans and body, is 16.0 ± 4.3 mm
(0.63 ± 0.17 in).
Concerning other studies, researchers from the Elizabeth Garrett
Anderson and Obstetric Hospital in London measured the labia and other
genital structures of 50 women from the age of 18 to 50, with a mean
age of 35.6., from 2003 to 2004, and the results given for the
clitoral glans were 3–10 mm for the range and 5.5 [1.7] mm for
the mean. Other research indicates that the clitoral body can
measure 5–7 centimetres (2.0–2.8 in) in length, while the
clitoral body and crura together can be 10 centimetres (3.9 in)
or more in length.
Hood and bulbs
The clitoral hood projects at the front of the labia commissure, where
the edges of the labia majora (outer lips) meet at the base of the
pubic mound; it forms as part of the external folds of the labia
minora (inner lips) and covers the glans and external shaft. There
is considerable variation in how much of the glans protrudes from the
hood and how much is covered by it, ranging from completely covered to
fully exposed, and tissue of the labia minora also encircles the
base of the glans.
The vestibular bulbs are more closely related to the clitoris than the
vestibule because of the similarity of the trabecular and erectile
tissue within the clitoris and bulbs, and the absence of trabecular
tissue in other genital organs, with the erectile tissue's trabecular
nature allowing engorgement and expansion during sexual
arousal. The vestibular bulbs are typically described as lying
close to the crura on either side of the vaginal opening; internally,
they are beneath the labia majora. When engorged with blood, they cuff
the vaginal opening and cause the vulva to expand outward.
Although a number of texts state that they surround the vaginal
opening, Ginger et al. state that this does not appear to be the case
and tunica albuginea does not envelop the erectile tissue of the
bulbs. In Yang et al.'s assessment of the bulbs' anatomy, they
conclude that the bulbs "arch over the distal urethra, outlining what
might be appropriately called the 'bulbar urethra' in women."
Clitoral and penile similarities and differences
The clitoris and penis are generally the same anatomical structure,
although the distal portion (or opening) of the urethra is absent in
the clitoris of humans and most other animals. The idea that males
have clitorises was suggested in 1987 by researcher Josephine Lowndes
Sevely, who theorized that the male corpora cavernosa (a pair of
sponge-like regions of erectile tissue which contain most of the blood
in the penis during penile erection) are the true counterpart of the
clitoris. She argued that "the male clitoris" is directly beneath the
rim of the glans penis, where the frenulum of prepuce of the penis (a
fold of the prepuce) is located, and proposed that this area be called
the "Lownde's crown." Her theory and proposal, though acknowledged in
anatomical literature, did not materialize in anatomy books.
Modern anatomical texts show that the clitoris displays a hood that is
the equivalent of the penis's foreskin, which covers the glans. It
also has a shaft that is attached to the glans. The male corpora
cavernosa are homologous to the corpus cavernosum clitoridis (the
female cavernosa), the corpus spongiosum is homologous to the
vestibular bulbs beneath the labia minora, and the scrotum is
homologous to the labia minora and labia majora.
Upon anatomical study, the penis can be described as a clitoris that
has been mostly pulled out of the body and grafted on top of a
significantly smaller piece of spongiosum containing the urethra.
With regard to nerve endings, the human clitoris's estimated 8,000 or
more (for its glans or clitoral body as a whole) is commonly cited as
being twice as many as the nerve endings found in the human penis (for
its glans or body as a whole), and as more than any other part of the
human body. These reports sometimes conflict with other sources on
clitoral anatomy or those concerning the nerve endings in the human
penis. For example, while some sources estimate that the human penis
has 4,000 nerve endings, other sources state that the glans or the
entire penile structure have the same amount of nerve endings as the
clitoral glans, or discuss whether the uncircumcised penis has
thousands more than the circumcised penis or is generally more
Some sources state that in contrast to the glans penis, the clitoral
glans lacks smooth muscle within its fibrovascular cap and is thus
differentiated from the erectile tissues of the clitoris and bulbs;
additionally, bulb size varies and may be dependent on age and
estrogenization. Though the bulbs are considered the equivalent of
the male spongiosum, they do not completely encircle the urethra.
The thin corpus spongiosum of the penis runs along the underside of
the penile shaft, enveloping the urethra, and expands at the end to
form the glans. It partially contributes to erection, which are
primarily caused by the two corpora cavernosa that comprise the bulk
of the shaft; like the female cavernosa, the male cavernosa soak up
blood and become erect when sexually excited. The male corpora
cavernosa taper off internally on reaching the spongiosum head.
With regard to the Y-shape of the cavernosa – crown, body, and
legs – the body accounts for much more of the structure in men,
and the legs are stubbier; typically, the cavernosa are longer and
thicker in males than in females.
Sexual stimulation, findings and debates
General stimulation, practices, and arousal
The abundance of nerve endings in the clitoris, the majority of which
exist specifically for sexual enjoyment, make it the human female's
most sensitive erogenous zone and generally the primary anatomical
source of human female sexual pleasure.
Sexual stimulation of the
clitoris can produce female sexual arousal and orgasm, and may be
achieved by masturbation or with a sexual partner. The most
effective sexual stimulation of the organ is usually through manual or
oral stimulation (cunnilingus), often referred to as direct clitoral
stimulation; in cases involving sexual penetration, these activities
may also be referred to as additional or assisted clitoral
Direct clitoral stimulation involves physical stimulation to the
external anatomy of the clitoris – glans, hood and the external
shaft. Stimulation of the labia minora (inner lips), due to its
external connection with the glans and hood, may have the same effect
as direct clitoral stimulation. Though these areas may also
receive indirect physical stimulation during sexual activity, such as
when in friction with the labia majora (outer lips), indirect
clitoral stimulation is more commonly attributed to penile-vaginal
penetration. Penile-anal penetration may also indirectly
stimulate the clitoris by the shared sensory nerves (especially the
pudendal nerve, which gives off the inferior anal nerves and divides
into two terminal branches: the perineal nerve and the dorsal nerve of
Due to the glans's high sensitivity, direct stimulation to it is not
always pleasurable; instead, direct stimulation to the hood or the
areas near the glans are often more pleasurable, with the majority of
women preferring to use the hood to stimulate the glans, or to have
the glans rolled between the lips of the labia, for indirect
touch. It is also common for women to enjoy the shaft of the
clitoris being softly caressed in concert with occasional circling of
the clitoral glans. This might be with or without manual penetration
of the vagina, while other women enjoy having the entire area of the
vulva caressed. As opposed to use of dry fingers, stimulation from
fingers that have been well-lubricated, either by vaginal lubrication
or a personal lubricant, is usually more pleasurable for the external
anatomy of the clitoris.
As the clitoris's external location does not allow for direct
stimulation by sexual penetration, any external clitoral stimulation
while in the missionary position usually results from the pubic bone
area, the movement of the groins when in contact. As such, some
couples may engage in the woman-on-top position or the coital
alignment technique, a sex position combining the "riding high"
variation of the missionary position with pressure-counterpressure
movements performed by each partner in rhythm with sexual penetration,
to maximize clitoral stimulation.
Lesbian couples may engage
in tribadism for ample clitoral stimulation or for mutual clitoral
stimulation during whole-body contact.[N 2] Pressing the penis
in a gliding or circular motion against the clitoris (intercrural
sex), or stimulating it by movement against another body part, may
also be practiced. A vibrator (such as a clitoral vibrator),
dildo or other sex toy may be used. Other women stimulate the
clitoris by use of a pillow or other inanimate object, by a jet of
water from the faucet of a bathtub or shower, or by closing their legs
During sexual arousal, the clitoris and the whole of the genitalia
engorge and change color as the erectile tissues fill with blood
(vasocongestion), and the individual experiences vaginal
contractions. The ischiocavernosus and bulbocavernosus muscles,
which insert into the corpora cavernosa, contract and compress the
dorsal vein of the clitoris (the only vein that drains the blood from
the spaces in the corpora cavernosa) and the arterial blood continues
a steady flow and, having no way to drain out, fills the venous spaces
until they become turgid and engorged with blood. This is what leads
to clitoral erection.
The clitoral glans doubles in diameter upon arousal, and, upon further
stimulation, it becomes less visible as it is covered by the swelling
of tissues of the clitoral hood. The swelling protects the
glans from direct contact, as direct contact at this stage can be more
irritating than pleasurable.
triggers a muscular reflex, which expels the blood that was trapped in
surrounding tissues, and leads to an orgasm. A short time after
stimulation has stopped, especially if orgasm has been achieved, the
glans becomes visible again and returns to its normal state, with
a few seconds (usually 5–10) to return to its normal position and
5–10 minutes to return to its original size.[N 3] If orgasm
is not achieved, the clitoris may remain engorged for a few hours,
which women often find uncomfortable. Additionally, the clitoris
is very sensitive after orgasm, making further stimulation initially
painful for some women.
Clitoral and vaginal orgasmic factors
Orgasm § In females
Masters and Johnson documented the sexual response cycle, which has
four phases and is still the clinically accepted definition of the
human orgasm. Physical sexual stimulation of the clitoris is the
most common way for women to achieve orgasm; general statistics
indicate that 70–80 percent of women require direct clitoral
stimulation (consistent manual, oral or other concentrated friction
against the external parts of the clitoris) to reach orgasm,[N 4][N
5][N 6] though indirect clitoral stimulation (for example, via
vaginal penetration) may also be sufficient for female orgasm.[N
7] The area near the entrance of the vagina (the lower third)
contains nearly 90 percent of the vaginal nerve endings, and
there are areas in the anterior vaginal wall and between the top
junction of the labia minora and the urethra that are especially
sensitive, but intense sexual pleasure, including orgasm, solely from
vaginal stimulation is occasional or otherwise absent because the
vagina has significantly fewer nerve endings than the clitoris.
Prominent debate over the quantity of vaginal nerve endings began with
Alfred Kinsey; although Sigmund Freud's theory that clitoral orgasms
are a prepubertal or adolescent phenomenon and that vaginal (or
G-spot) orgasms are something that only physically mature females
experience had been criticized by few researchers before, Kinsey was
the first researcher to harshly criticize the theory. Through
his observations of female masturbation and interviews with thousands
of women, Kinsey found that most of the women he observed and
surveyed could not have vaginal orgasms, a finding that was also
supported by his knowledge of sex organ anatomy. Scholar Janice M.
Irvine stated that he "criticized Freud and other theorists for
projecting male constructs of sexuality onto women" and "viewed the
clitoris as the main center of sexual response". He considered the
vagina to be "relatively unimportant" for sexual satisfaction,
relaying that "few women inserted fingers or objects into their
vaginas when they masturbated". Believing that vaginal orgasms are "a
physiological impossibility" because the vagina has insufficient nerve
endings for sexual pleasure or climax, he "concluded that satisfaction
from penile penetration [is] mainly psychological or perhaps the
result of referred sensation".
Masters and Johnson's research, as well as Shere Hite's, generally
supported Kinsey's findings about the female orgasm. Masters and
Johnson were the first researchers to determine that the clitoral
structures surround and extend along and within the labia. They
observed that both clitoral and vaginal orgasms have the same stages
of physical response, and found that the majority of their subjects
could only achieve clitoral orgasms, while a minority achieved vaginal
orgasms. On that basis, they argued that clitoral stimulation is the
source of both kinds of orgasms, reasoning that the clitoris is
stimulated during penetration by friction against its hood. The
research came at the time of the second-wave feminist movement, which
inspired feminists to reject the distinction made between clitoral and
vaginal orgasms. Feminist
Anne Koedt argued that because men
"have orgasms essentially by friction with the vagina" and not the
clitoral area, this is why women's biology had not been properly
analyzed. "Today, with extensive knowledge of anatomy, with [C.
Lombard Kelly], Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson, to mention just a few
sources, there is no ignorance on the subject [of the female orgasm],"
she stated in her 1970 article The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm. She
added, "There are, however, social reasons why this knowledge has not
been popularized. We are living in a male society which has not sought
change in women's role."
Supporting an anatomical relationship between the clitoris and vagina
is a study published in 2005, which investigated the size of the
clitoris; Australian urologist Helen O'Connell, described as having
initiated discourse among mainstream medical professionals to refocus
on and redefine the clitoris, noted a direct relationship between the
legs or roots of the clitoris and the erectile tissue of the clitoral
bulbs and corpora, and the distal urethra and vagina while using
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. While some
studies, using ultrasound, have found physiological evidence of the
G-spot in women who report having orgasms during vaginal
intercourse, O'Connell argues that this interconnected
relationship is the physiological explanation for the conjectured
G-Spot and experience of vaginal orgasms, taking into account the
stimulation of the internal parts of the clitoris during vaginal
penetration. "The vaginal wall is, in fact, the clitoris," she said.
"If you lift the skin off the vagina on the side walls, you get the
bulbs of the clitoris – triangular, crescental masses of
erectile tissue." O'Connell et al., having performed dissections
on the female genitals of cadavers and used photography to map the
structure of nerves in the clitoris, made the assertion in 1998 that
there is more erectile tissue associated with the clitoris than is
generally described in anatomical textbooks, and were thus already
aware that the clitoris is more than just its glans. They
concluded that some females have more extensive clitoral tissues and
nerves than others, especially having observed this in young cadavers
compared to elderly ones, and therefore whereas the majority of
females can only achieve orgasm by direct stimulation of the external
parts of the clitoris, the stimulation of the more generalized tissues
of the clitoris via vaginal intercourse may be sufficient for
French researchers Odile Buisson and Pierre Foldès reported similar
findings to that of O'Connell's. In 2008, they published the first
complete 3D sonography of the stimulated clitoris, and republished it
in 2009 with new research, demonstrating the ways in which erectile
tissue of the clitoris engorges and surrounds the vagina. On the basis
of their findings, they argued that women may be able to achieve
vaginal orgasm via stimulation of the G-spot, because the highly
innervated clitoris is pulled closely to the anterior wall of the
vagina when the woman is sexually aroused and during vaginal
penetration. They assert that since the front wall of the vagina is
inextricably linked with the internal parts of the clitoris,
stimulating the vagina without activating the clitoris may be next to
impossible. In their 2009 published study, the "coronal planes during
perineal contraction and finger penetration demonstrated a close
relationship between the root of the clitoris and the anterior vaginal
wall". Buisson and Foldès suggested "that the special sensitivity of
the lower anterior vaginal wall could be explained by pressure and
movement of clitoris's root during a vaginal penetration and
subsequent perineal contraction".
Researcher Vincenzo Puppo, who, while agreeing that the clitoris is
the center of female sexual pleasure and believing that there is no
anatomical evidence of the vaginal orgasm, disagrees with O'Connell
and other researchers' terminological and anatomical descriptions of
the clitoris (such as referring to the vestibular bulbs as the
"clitoral bulbs") and states that "the inner clitoris" does not exist
because the penis cannot come in contact with the congregation of
multiple nerves/veins situated until the angle of the clitoris,
detailed by Kobelt, or with the roots of the clitoris, which do not
have sensory receptors or erogenous sensitivity, during vaginal
intercourse. Puppo's belief contrasts the general belief among
researchers that vaginal orgasms are the result of clitoral
stimulation; they reaffirm that clitoral tissue extends, or is at
least stimulated by its bulbs, even in the area most commonly reported
to be the G-spot.
G-spot being analogous to the base of the male penis has
additionally been theorized, with sentiment from researcher Amichai
Kilchevsky that because female fetal development is the "default"
state in the absence of substantial exposure to male hormones and
therefore the penis is essentially a clitoris enlarged by such
hormones, there is no evolutionary reason why females would have an
entity in addition to the clitoris that can produce orgasms. The
general difficulty of achieving orgasms vaginally, which is a
predicament that is likely due to nature easing the process of child
bearing by drastically reducing the number of vaginal nerve
endings, challenge arguments that vaginal orgasms help encourage
sexual intercourse in order to facilitate reproduction.
Supporting a distinct G-spot, however, is a study by Rutgers
University, published in 2011, which was the first to map the female
genitals onto the sensory portion of the brain; the scans indicated
that the brain registered distinct feelings between stimulating the
clitoris, the cervix and the vaginal wall – where the
reported to be – when several women stimulated themselves in a
functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) machine. Barry
Komisaruk, head of the research findings, stated that he feels that
"the bulk of the evidence shows that the
G-spot is not a particular
thing" and that it is "a region, it's a convergence of many different
Main articles: Genital modification and mutilation, Female genital
mutilation, and Clitoromegaly
An enlarged clitoris due to clitoromegaly
There are intentional and unintentional clitoral modifications,
including female genital mutilation (FGM), sex reassignment surgery,
clitoris enlargement and genital piercings. Use of
anabolic steroids by bodybuilders and other athletes can result in
significant enlargement of the clitoris in concert with other
masculinizing effects on their bodies. Abnormal enlargement
of the clitoris may also be referred to as clitoromegaly, but
clitoromegaly is more commonly seen as a congenital anomaly of the
In clitoridectomy, the clitoris may be removed as part of a radical
vulvectomy to treat cancer such as vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia;
however, modern treatments favor more conservative approaches, as
invasive surgery can have psychosexual consequences.
Clitoridectomy more often involves parts of the clitoris being
partially or completely removed during FGM, which may be additionally
known as female circumcision or female genital cutting
(FGC). Removing the glans of the clitoris does not mean that
the whole structure is lost, since the clitoris reaches deep into the
In reduction clitoroplasty, a common intersex operation, the glans is
preserved and parts of the erectile bodies are excised. Problems
with this technique include loss of sensation, sexual function, and
sloughing of the glans. One way to preserve the clitoris with its
innervations and function is to imbricate and bury the clitoral glans;
however, Şenaylı et al. state that "pain during stimulus because of
trapped tissue under the scarring is nearly routine. In another
method, 50 percent of the ventral clitoris is removed through the
level base of the clitoral shaft, and it is reported that good
sensation and clitoral function are observed in follow up";
additionally, it has "been reported that the complications are from
the same as those in the older procedures for this method".
What is often referred to as "clit piercing" is actually the more
common (and significantly less complicated) clitoral hood piercing.
Since clitoral piercing is difficult and very painful, piercing of the
clitoral hood is more common than piercing the clitoral shaft, owing
to the small percentage of people who are anatomically suited for
Clitoral hood piercings are usually channeled in the form of
vertical piercings, and, to a lesser extent, horizontal piercings. The
triangle piercing is a very deep horizontal hood piercing, and is done
behind the clitoris as opposed to in front of it. For styles such as
the Isabella, which pass through the clitoral shaft but are placed
deep at the base, they provide unique stimulation and still require
the proper genital build; the Isabella starts between the clitoral
glans and the urethra, exiting at the top of the clitoral hood; this
piercing is highly risky with regard to damage that may occur because
of intersecting nerves.
Persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD) results in a spontaneous,
persistent, and uncontrollable genital arousal in women, unrelated to
any feelings of sexual desire. Clitoral priapism, also known as
clitorism, is a rare, potentially painful medical condition and is
sometimes described as an aspect of PGAD, in which the erect
clitoris does not return to its relaxed state for an unusually
extended period of time (ranging from minutes to days), despite the
absence of both physical and psychological stimulation; PGAD can also
be associated with morphometric and vascular modifications of the
Drugs may cause or affect clitoral priapism. The drug trazodone is
known to cause male priapism as a side effect, but there is only one
documented report that it may have caused clitoral priapism, in which
case discontinuing the medication may be a remedy. Additionally,
nefazodone is documented to have caused clitoral engorgement, as
distinct from clitoral priapism, in one case, and clitoral
priapism can sometimes start as a result of, or only after, the
discontinuation of antipsychotics or selective serotonin reuptake
Because PGAD is relatively rare and, as its own concept apart from
clitoral priapism, has only been researched since 2001, there is
little research into what may cure or remedy the disorder. In
some recorded cases, PGAD was caused by, or caused, a pelvic
arterial-venous malformation with arterial branches to the clitoris;
surgical treatment was effective in these cases.
Society and culture
Ancient Greek–16th century knowledge and vernacular
With regard to historical and modern perceptions of the clitoris and
associated sexual stimulation, for more than 2,500 years there were
scholars who considered the clitoris and the penis equivalent in all
respects except their arrangement. The clitoris was, however,
subject to "discovery" and "rediscovery" through empirical
documentation by male scholars, due to it being frequently omitted
from, or misrepresented, in historical and contemporary anatomical
texts. The ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, and Greek and Roman
generations up to and throughout the Renaissance, were aware that male
and female sex organs are anatomically similar, but
prominent anatomists, notably
Galen (129 – c. 200 AD) and
Vesalius (1514–1564), regarded the vagina as the structural
equivalent of the penis, except for being inverted; Vesalius argued
against the existence of the clitoris in normal women, and his
anatomical model described how the penis corresponds with the vagina,
without a role for the clitoris.
Ancient Greek and Roman sexuality additionally designated penetration
as "male-defined" sexuality. The term tribas, or tribade, was used to
refer to a woman or intersex individual who actively penetrated
another person (male or female) through use of the clitoris or a
dildo. As any sexual act was believed to require that one of the
partners be "phallic" and that therefore sexual activity between women
was impossible without this feature, mythology popularly associated
lesbians with either having enlarged clitorises or as incapable of
enjoying sexual activity without the substitution of a
De re anatomica
Charles Estienne was the first writer to identify the
clitoris in a work based on dissection, but he concluded that it had a
urinary function. Following this study,
Realdo Colombo (also known
as Matteo Renaldo Colombo), a lecturer in surgery at the University of
Padua, Italy, published a book called De re anatomica in 1559, in
which he describes the "seat of woman's delight". In his role as
researcher, Colombo concluded, "Since no one has discerned these
projections and their workings, if it is permissible to give names to
things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of
Venus.", in reference to the mythological Venus, goddess of erotic
love. Colombo's claim was disputed by his successor at
Gabriele Falloppio (discoverer of the fallopian tube), who
claimed that he was the first to discover the clitoris. In 1561,
Falloppio stated, "Modern anatomists have entirely neglected
it ... and do not say a word about it ... and if others have
spoken of it, know that they have taken it from me or my students."
This caused an upset in the European medical community, and, having
read Colombo's and Falloppio's detailed descriptions of the clitoris,
Vesalius stated, "It is unreasonable to blame others for incompetence
on the basis of some sport of nature you have observed in some women
and you can hardly ascribe this new and useless part, as if it were an
organ, to healthy women." He concluded, "I think that such a structure
appears in hermaphrodites who otherwise have well formed genitals, as
Paul of Aegina
Paul of Aegina describes, but I have never once seen in any woman a
Avicenna called albaratha and the Greeks called an
enlarged nympha and classed as an illness) or even the rudiments of a
The average anatomist had difficulty challenging Galen's or Vesalius's
Galen was the most famous physician of the Greek era and his
works were considered the standard of medical understanding up to and
Renaissance (i.e. for almost two thousand
years), and various terms being used to describe the
clitoris seemed to have further confused the issue of its structure.
In addition to Avicenna's naming it the albaratha or virga ("rod") and
Colombo's calling it sweetness of Venus,
Hippocrates used the term
columella ("little pillar'"), and Albucasis, an Arabic medical
authority, named it tentigo ("tension"). The names indicated that each
description of the structures was about the body and glans of the
clitoris, but usually the glans. It was additionally known to the
Romans, who named it (vulgar slang) landica. However, Albertus
Magnus, one of the most prolific writers of the Middle Ages, felt that
it was important to highlight "homologies between male and female
structures and function" by adding "a psychology of sexual arousal"
Aristotle had not used to detail the clitoris. While in
Constantine's treatise Liber de coitu, the clitoris is referred to a
few times, Magnus gave an equal amount of attention to male and female
Like Avicenna, Magnus also used the word virga for the clitoris, but
employed it for the male and female genitals; despite his efforts to
give equal ground to the clitoris, the cycle of suppression and
rediscovery of the organ continued, and a 16th-century justification
for clitoridectomy appears to have been confused by hermaphroditism
and the imprecision created by the word nymphae substituted for the
word clitoris. Nymphotomia was a medical operation to excise an
unusually large clitoris, but what was considered "unusually large"
was often a matter of perception. The procedure was routinely
performed on Egyptian women, due to physicians such as
Jacques Daléchamps who believed that this version of the clitoris was
"an unusual feature that occurred in almost all Egyptian women [and]
some of ours, so that when they find themselves in the company of
other women, or their clothes rub them while they walk or their
husbands wish to approach them, it erects like a male penis and indeed
they use it to play with other women, as their husbands would
do ... Thus the parts are cut".
17th century–present day knowledge and vernacular
Georg Ludwig Kobelt
Georg Ludwig Kobelt illustration of the anatomy of the clitoris
Caspar Bartholin, a 17th-century Danish anatomist, dismissed Colombo's
and Falloppio's claims that they discovered the clitoris, arguing that
the clitoris had been widely known to medical science since the second
century. Although 17th-century midwives recommended to men and
women that women should aspire to achieve orgasms to help them get
pregnant for general health and well-being and to keep their
relationships healthy, debate about the importance of the
clitoris persisted, notably in the work of
Regnier de Graaf
Regnier de Graaf in the
17th century and
Georg Ludwig Kobelt
Georg Ludwig Kobelt in the 19th.
Like Falloppio and Bartholin, De Graaf criticized Colombo's claim of
having discovered the clitoris; his work appears to have provided the
first comprehensive account of clitoral anatomy. "We are
extremely surprised that some anatomists make no more mention of this
part than if it did not exist at all in the universe of nature," he
stated. "In every cadaver we have so far dissected we have found it
quite perceptible to sight and touch." De Graaf stressed the need to
distinguish nympha from clitoris, choosing to "always give [the
clitoris] the name clitoris" to avoid confusion; this resulted in
frequent use of the correct name for the organ among anatomists, but
considering that nympha was also varied in its use and eventually
became the term specific to the labia minora, more confusion
ensued. Debate about whether orgasm was even necessary for women
began in the Victorian era, and Freud's 1905 theory about the
immaturity of clitoral orgasms (see above) negatively affected women's
sexuality throughout most of the 20th century.
Towards the end of World War I, a maverick British MP named Noel
Pemberton Billing published an article entitled "The Cult of the
Clitoris", furthering his conspiracy theories and attacking the
Maud Allan and Margot Asquith, wife of the prime minister. The
accusations led to a sensational libel trial, which Billing eventually
Philip Hoare reports that Billing argued that "as a medical term,
'clitoris' would only be known to the 'initiated', and was incapable
of corrupting moral minds". Jodie Medd argues in regard to "The
Cult of the Clitoris" that "the female nonreproductive but desiring
body [...] simultaneously demands and refuses interpretative
attention, inciting scandal through its very resistance to
From the 18th – 20th century, especially during the 20th,
details of the clitoris from various genital diagrams presented in
earlier centuries were omitted from later texts. The full
extent of the clitoris was alluded to by
Masters and Johnson in 1966,
but in such a muddled fashion that the significance of their
description became obscured; in 1981, the Federation of Feminist
Women's Health Clinics (FFWHC) continued this process with
anatomically precise illustrations identifying 18 structures of the
clitoris. Despite the FFWHC's illustrations, Josephine
Lowndes Sevely, in 1987, described the vagina as more of the
counterpart of the penis.
Concerning other beliefs about the clitoris, Hite (1976 and 1981)
found that, during sexual intimacy with a partner, clitoral
stimulation was more often described by women as foreplay than as a
primary method of sexual activity, including orgasm. Further,
although the FFWHC's work created "fertile ground for feminist
reformation of anatomical texts" and "revolutionized existing
descriptions and renderings of the clitoris", it did not have a
general impact on anatomical texts; it took Helen O'Connell's
late 1990s research for the medical community to start changing the
way the clitoris is anatomically defined. O'Connell describes
typical textbook descriptions of the clitoris as lacking detail and
including inaccuracies, such as older and modern anatomical
descriptions of the female human urethral and genital anatomy having
been based on dissections performed on elderly cadavers whose erectile
(clitoral) tissue had shrunk. She instead credits the work of
Georg Ludwig Kobelt
Georg Ludwig Kobelt as the most comprehensive and accurate description
of clitoral anatomy. MRI measurements, which provide a live and
multi-planar method of examination, now complement the FFWHC's, as
well as O'Connell's, research efforts regarding the clitoris, showing
that the volume of clitoral erectile tissue is ten times that which is
shown in doctors' offices and in anatomy text books. Mark J.
Blechner analyzed sociological and psychological factors involved in
the repeated discovery and suppression of the full anatomy of the
In Bruce Bagemihl's survey of The Zoological Record
(1978–1997) – which contains over a million documents from
over 6,000 scientific journals – 539 articles focusing on the
penis were found, while 7 were found focusing on the clitoris. In
2000, researchers Shirley Ogletree and Harvey Ginsberg concluded that
there is a general neglect of the word clitoris in common vernacular.
They looked at the terms used to describe genitalia in the PsycINFO
database from 1887 to 2000 and found that penis was used in 1,482
sources, vagina in 409, while clitoris was only mentioned in 83. They
additionally analyzed 57 books listed in a computer database for sex
instruction. In the majority of the books, penis was the most commonly
discussed body part – mentioned more than clitoris, vagina, and
uterus put together. They last investigated terminology used by
college students, ranging from Euro-American (76%/76%), Hispanic
(18%/14%), and African American (4%/7%), regarding the students'
beliefs about sexuality and knowledge on the subject. The students
were overwhelmingly educated to believe that the vagina is the female
counterpart of the penis. The authors found that the students' belief
that the inner portion of the vagina is the most sexually sensitive
part of the female body correlated with negative attitudes toward
masturbation and strong support for sexual myths.
A 2005 study reported that, among a sample of undergraduate students,
the most frequently cited sources for knowledge about the clitoris
were school and friends, and that this was associated with the least
amount of tested knowledge. Knowledge of the clitoris by
self-exploration was the least cited, but "respondents correctly
answered, on average, three of the five clitoral knowledge measures".
The authors stated that "[k]nowledge correlated significantly with the
frequency of women's orgasm in masturbation but not partnered sex" and
that their "results are discussed in light of gender inequality and a
social construction of sexuality, endorsed by both men and women, that
privileges men's sexual pleasure over women's, such that orgasm for
women is pleasing, but ultimately incidental." They concluded that
part of the solution to remedying "this problem" requires that males
and females are taught more about the clitoris than is currently
In May 2013, humanitarian group
Clitoraid launched the first annual
Clitoris Awareness Week, from May 6 to May 12. Clitoraid
spokesperson Nadine Gary stated that the group's mission is to raise
public awareness about the clitoris because it has "been ignored,
vilified, made taboo, and considered sinful and shameful for
In 2016, Odile Fillod created a 3D printable, open source, full-size
model of the clitoris, for use in a set of sex education videos she
had been commissioned to produce. This model, first designed with
Sculpteo, was subsequently exhibited at the Cité des Sciences et
de l'Industrie, the largest science museum in Europe. Fillod was
interviewed by Stephanie Theobald, whose article in The Guardian
stated that the 3D model would be used in French primary and secondary
schools; this was never the case, but the story went viral across
the world, demonstrating, according to Fillod, the public's hunger for
information about the clitoris.
Vagina and vulva in art
Installation view of Άδάμας (Unconquerable), 2013, by Sophia
In 2012, New York artist
Sophia Wallace started work on a multimedia
project to challenge misconceptions about the clitoris. Based on
O'Connell's 1998 research, Wallace's work emphasizes the sheer scope
and size of the human clitoris. She says that ignorance of this still
seems to be pervasive in modern society. "It is a curious dilemma to
observe the paradox that on the one hand the female body is the
primary metaphor for sexuality, its use saturates advertising, art and
the mainstream erotic imaginary," she said. "Yet, the clitoris, the
true female sexual organ, is virtually invisible." The project is
called Cliteracy and it includes a "clit rodeo", which is an
interactive, climb-on model of a giant golden clitoris, including its
inner parts, produced with the help of sculptor Kenneth Thomas. "It's
been a showstopper wherever it's been shown. People are hungry to be
able to talk about this," Wallace said. "I love seeing men standing up
for the clit [...] Cliteracy is about not having one's body controlled
or legislated [...] Not having access to the pleasure that is your
birthright is a deeply political act."
In 2016, another project started in New York, street art that has
since spread to almost 100 cities: Clitorosity, a "community-driven
effort to celebrate the full structure of the clitoris", combining
chalk drawings and words to spark interaction and conversation with
passers-by, which the team documents on social media.
Other projects listed by the
BBC include Clito Clito, body positive
jewellery made in Berlin; Clitorissima, a documentary intended to
normalize mother-daughter conversations about the clitoris; and a
ClitArt festival in London, encompassing spoken word performances as
well as visual art. French art collective Les Infemmes (a pun on
"infamous" and "women") published a fanzine whose title can be
translated as "The Clit Cheatsheet".
Cosmetic or traditional reasons for clitoral modification
Religious views on female genital mutilation
Religious views on female genital mutilation and
Clitoral hood reduction
Motivations for clitoral modification and mutilation vary. Those
taking hormones or other medications as part of female-to-male
transition usually experience dramatic clitoral growth; individual
desires and the difficulties of phalloplasty (construction of a penis)
often result in the retention of the original genitalia with the
enlarged clitoris as a penis analogue (metoidioplasty).
However, the clitoris cannot reach the size of the penis through
hormones. A surgery to add function to the clitoris, such as
metoidioplasty, is an alternative to phalloplasty that permits
retention of sexual sensation in the clitoris.
Significant controversy surrounds female genital mutilation
(FGM), with the
World Health Organization
World Health Organization (WHO) being one of
many health organizations that have campaigned against the procedures
on behalf of human rights, stating that "FGM has no health benefits"
and that it is "a violation of the human rights of girls and women"
and "reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes". The
practice has existed at one point or another in almost all human
civilizations, most commonly to exert control over the sexual
behavior, including masturbation, of girls and women, but also to
change the clitoris's appearance. Custom and tradition
are the most frequently cited reasons for FGM, with some cultures
believing that not performing it has the possibility of disrupting the
cohesiveness of their social and political systems, such as FGM also
being a part of a girl's initiation into adulthood. Often, a girl is
not considered an adult in a FGM-practicing society unless she has
undergone FGM, and the "removal of the clitoris and
labia – viewed by some as the male parts of a woman's
body – is thought to enhance the girl's femininity, often
synonymous with docility and obedience".
Female genital mutilation
Female genital mutilation is carried out in several socities,
especially in Africa, with 85 percent of genital mutilations performed
Africa consisting of clitoridectomy or excision, and to a
lesser extent in other parts of the
Middle East and Southeast Asia, on
girls from a few days old to mid-adolescent, often to reduce sexual
desire in an effort to preserve vaginal virginity. The
practice of FGM has spread globally, as immigrants from Asia, Africa,
Middle East bring the custom with them. In the United
States, it is sometimes practiced on girls born with a clitoris that
is larger than usual. Comfort Momoh, who specializes in the topic
of FGM, states that FGM might have been "practiced in ancient Egypt as
a sign of distinction among the aristocracy"; there are reports that
traces of infibulation are on Egyptian mummies. FGM is still
routinely practiced in Egypt. Greenberg et al. report that
"one study found that 97% of married women in Egypt had had some form
of genital mutilation performed."
Amnesty International estimated
in 1997 that more than two million FGM procedures are performed every
With regard to females who have the condition congenital adrenal
hyperplasia, the largest group requiring surgical genital correction,
researcher Atilla Şenaylı stated, "The main expectations for the
operations are to create a normal female anatomy, with minimal
complications and improvement of life quality." Şenaylı added that
"[c]osmesis, structural integrity, and coital capacity of the vagina,
and absence of pain during sexual activity are the parameters to be
judged by the surgeon." (
Cosmesis usually refers to the surgical
correction of a disfiguring defect.) He stated that although
"expectations can be standardized within these few parameters,
operative techniques have not yet become homogeneous. Investigators
have preferred different operations for different ages of
Gender assessment and surgical treatment are the two main steps in
intersex operations. "The first treatments for clitoromegaly were
simply resection of the clitoris. Later, it was understood that the
clitoris glans and sensory input are important to facilitate orgasm,"
stated Atilla. The clitoral glans's epithelium "has high cutaneous
sensitivity, which is important in sexual responses" and it is because
of this that "recession clitoroplasty was later devised as an
alternative, but reduction clitoroplasty is the method currently
Vestigiality, adaptionist and reproductive views
Whether the clitoris is vestigial, an adaptation, or serves a
reproductive function has also been debated. Geoffrey Miller
stated that Helen Fisher,
Meredith Small and
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy "have
viewed the clitoral orgasm as a legitimate adaptation in its own
right, with major implications for female sexual behavior and sexual
Lynn Margulis and Natalie Angier, Miller
believes, "The human clitoris shows no apparent signs of having
evolved directly through male mate choice. It is not especially large,
brightly colored, specifically shaped or selectively displayed during
courtship." He contrasts this with other female species such as spider
monkeys and spotted hyenas that have clitorises as long as their male
counterparts. He said the human clitoris "could have evolved to be
much more conspicuous if males had preferred sexual partners with
larger brighter clitorises" and that "its inconspicuous design
combined with its exquisite sensitivity suggests that the clitoris is
important not as an object of male mate choice, but as a mechanism of
While Miller stated that male scientists such as
Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould and
Donald Symons "have viewed the female clitoral orgasm as an
evolutionary side-effect of the male capacity for penile orgasm" and
that they "suggested that clitoral orgasm cannot be an adaptation
because it is too hard to achieve", Gould acknowledged that "most
female orgasms emanate from a clitoral, rather than vaginal (or some
other), site" and that his nonadaptive belief "has been widely
misunderstood as a denial of either the adaptive value of female
orgasm in general, or even as a claim that female orgasms lack
significance in some broader sense". He said that although he accepts
that "clitoral orgasm plays a pleasurable and central role in female
sexuality and its joys," "[a]ll these favorable attributes, however,
emerge just as clearly and just as easily, whether the clitoral site
of orgasm arose as a spandrel or an adaptation". He added that the
"male biologists who fretted over [the adaptionist questions] simply
assumed that a deeply vaginal site, nearer the region of
fertilization, would offer greater selective benefit" due to their
Darwinian, summum bonum beliefs about enhanced reproductive
Similar to Gould's beliefs about adaptionist views and that "females
grow nipples as adaptations for suckling, and males grow smaller
unused nipples as a spandrel based upon the value of single
Elisabeth Lloyd suggested that there is
little evidence to support an adaptionist account of female
orgasm. Meredith L. Chivers stated that "Lloyd views female
orgasm as an ontogenetic leftover; women have orgasms because the
urogenital neurophysiology for orgasm is so strongly selected for in
males that this developmental blueprint gets expressed in females
without affecting fitness" and this is similar to "males hav[ing]
nipples that serve no fitness-related function."
At the 2002 conference for Canadian
Society of Women in Philosophy,
Nancy Tuana argued that the clitoris is unnecessary in reproduction;
she stated that it has been ignored because of "a fear of pleasure. It
is pleasure separated from reproduction. That's the fear." She
reasoned that this fear causes ignorance, which veils female
sexuality. O'Connell stated, "It boils down to rivalry between
the sexes: the idea that one sex is sexual and the other reproductive.
The truth is that both are sexual and both are reproductive." She
reiterated that the vestibular bulbs appear to be part of the clitoris
and that the distal urethra and vagina are intimately related
structures, although they are not erectile in character, forming a
tissue cluster with the clitoris that appears to be the location of
female sexual function and orgasm.
Although the clitoris exists in all mammal species, few detailed
studies of the anatomy of the clitoris in non-humans exist. The
clitoris is especially developed in fossas, apes, lemurs, and,
like the penis, often contains a small bone, the os clitoridis.
The clitoris exists in turtles, ostriches, crocodiles,
and in species of birds in which the male counterpart has a
penis. The clitoris erects in squirrel monkeys during dominance
displays, which indirectly influences the squirrel monkeys'
reproductive success. In female galagos (bush babies), the
clitoris is long and pendulous with a urethra extending through the
tip for urination. Some intersex female bears mate and give
birth through the tip of the clitoris; these species are grizzly
bears, brown bears, American black bears and polar bears. Although the
bears have been described as having "a birth canal that runs through
the clitoris rather than forming a separate vagina" (a feature that is
estimated to make up 10 to 20 percent of the bears' population),
scientists state that female spotted hyenas are the only
non-hermaphroditic female mammals devoid of an external vaginal
opening, and whose sexual anatomy is distinct from usual intersex
cases. There are also several mole species with a peniform
Spider monkeys and bonobos
In spider monkeys, the clitoris is especially developed and has an
interior passage, or urethra, that makes it almost identical to the
penis, and it retains and distributes urine droplets as the female
spider monkey moves around. Scholar Alan F. Dixson stated that this
urine "is voided at the bases of the clitoris, flows down the shallow
groove on its perineal surface, and is held by the skin folds on each
side of the groove". Because spider monkeys of South America have
pendulous and erectile clitorises long enough to be mistaken for a
penis, researchers and observers of the species look for a scrotum to
determine the animal's sex; a similar approach is to identify
scent-marking glands that may also be present on the clitoris.
The clitoris of bonobos is larger and more externalized than in most
Natalie Angier said that a young adolescent "female
bonobo is maybe half the weight of a human teenager, but her clitoris
is three times bigger than the human equivalent, and visible enough to
waggle unmistakably as she walks". Female bonobos often engage in
the practice of genital-genital (GG) rubbing, which is the non-human
form of tribadism that human females engage in. Ethologist Jonathan
Balcombe stated that female bonobos rub their clitorises together
rapidly for ten to twenty seconds, and this behavior, "which may be
repeated in rapid succession, is usually accompanied by grinding,
shrieking, and clitoral engorgement"; he added that, on average, they
engage in this practice "about once every two hours", and as bonobos
sometimes mate face-to-face, "evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk has
suggested that the position of the clitoris in bonobos and some other
primates has evolved to maximize stimulation during sexual
With a urogenital system in which the female urinates, mates and gives
birth via an enlarged, erectile clitoris, female spotted hyenas are
the only female mammalian species devoid of an external vaginal
While female spotted hyenas are sometimes referred to as
hermaphrodites or as intersex, and scientists of ancient and
later historical times believed that they were
hermaphrodites, modern scientists do not refer to them
as such. That designation is typically reserved for those
who simultaneously exhibit features of both sexes; the genetic
makeup of female spotted hyenas "are clearly distinct" from male
Female spotted hyenas have a clitoris 90 percent as long and the
same diameter as a male penis (171 millimeters long and 22 millimeters
in diameter), and this pseudo-penis's formation seems largely
androgen-independent because it appears in the female fetus before
differentiation of the fetal ovary and adrenal gland. The spotted
hyenas have a highly erectile clitoris, complete with a false scrotum;
author John C. Wingfield stated that "the resemblance to male
genitalia is so close that sex can be determined with confidence only
by palpation of the scrotum". The pseudo-penis can also be
distinguished from the males' genitalia by its greater thickness and
more rounded glans. The female possesses no external vagina, as
the labia are fused to form a pseudo-scrotum. In the females, this
scrotum consists of soft adipose tissue. Like male
spotted hyenas with regard to their penises, the female spotted hyenas
have small penile spines on the head of their clitorises, which
scholar Catherine Blackledge said makes "the clitoris tip feel like
soft sandpaper". She added that the clitoris "extends away from the
body in a sleek and slender arc, measuring, on average, over 17 cm
from root to tip. Just like a penis, [it] is fully erectile, raising
its head in hyena greeting ceremonies, social displays, games of rough
and tumble or when sniffing out peers".
Male and female reproductive systems of the spotted hyena, from
Schmotzer & Zimmerman, Anatomischer Anzeiger (1922). Abb. 1 (Fig.
1.) Male reproductive anatomy. Abb. 2 (Fig. 2.) Female reproductive
anatomy. Principal abbreviations (from Schmotzer & Zimmerman)
are: T, testis; Vd, vas deferens; BU, urethral bulb; Ur, urethra; R,
rectum; P, penis; S, scrotum; O, ovary; FT, tuba Fallopii; RL,
ligament uteri; Ut, uterus; CC, Corpus clitoris. Remaining
abbreviations, in alphabetical order, are: AG, parotid analis; B,
vesica urinaria; CG, parotid Cowperi; CP, Corpus penis; CS, corpus
spongiosum; GC, glans; GP, glans penis; LA, levator ani muscle; Pr,
prepuce; RC, musculus retractor clitoris; RP, Musculus retractor
penis; UCG, Canalis urogenital.
Due to their higher levels of androgen exposure, the female hyenas
are significantly more muscular and aggressive than their male
counterparts; social-wise, they are of higher rank than the males,
being dominant or dominant and alpha, and the females who have been
exposed to higher levels of androgen than average become
higher-ranking than their female peers. Subordinate females lick the
clitorises of higher-ranked females as a sign of submission and
obedience, but females also lick each other's clitorises as a greeting
or to strengthen social bonds; in contrast, while all males lick the
clitorises of dominant females, the females will not lick the penises
of males because males are considered to be of lowest rank.
The urethra and vagina of the female spotted hyena exit through the
clitoris, allowing the females to urinate, copulate and give birth
through this organ. This trait makes mating more
laborious for the male than in other mammals, and also makes attempts
to sexually coerce (physically force sexual activity on) females
futile. Joan Roughgarden, an ecologist and evolutionary
biologist, said that because the hyena's clitoris is higher on the
belly than the vagina in most mammals, the male hyena "must slide his
rear under the female when mating so that his penis lines up with [her
clitoris]". In an action similar to pushing up a shirtsleeve, the
"female retracts the [pseudo-penis] on itself, and creates an opening
into which the male inserts his own penis". The male must
practice this act, which can take a couple of months to successfully
perform. Female spotted hyenas exposed to larger doses of
androgen have significantly damaged ovaries, making it difficult to
conceive. After giving birth, the pseudo-penis is stretched and
loses much of its original aspects; it becomes a slack-walled and
reduced prepuce with an enlarged orifice with split lips.
Approximately 15% of the females die during their first time giving
birth, and over 60% of their species' firstborn young die.
A 2006 Baskin et al. study concluded, "The basic anatomical structures
of the corporeal bodies in both sexes of humans and spotted hyenas
were similar. As in humans, the dorsal nerve distribution was unique
in being devoid of nerves at the 12 o'clock position in the penis and
clitoris of the spotted hyena" and that "[d]orsal nerves of the
penis/clitoris in humans and male spotted hyenas tracked along both
sides of the corporeal body to the corpus spongiosum at the 5 and 7
o'clock positions. The dorsal nerves penetrated the corporeal body and
distally the glans in the hyena" and, in female hyenas, "the dorsal
nerves fanned out laterally on the clitoral body. Glans morphology was
different in appearance in both sexes, being wide and blunt in the
female and tapered in the male".
Cats, sheep and mice
Researchers studying the peripheral and central afferent pathways from
the feline clitoris concluded that "Afferent neurons projecting to the
clitoris of the cat were identified by WGA-HRP tracing in the S1 and
S2 dorsal root ganglia. An average of 433 cells were identified on
each side of the animal. 85 percent and 15 percent of the
labeled cells were located in the S1 and S2 dorsal root ganglia,
respectively. The average cross sectional area of clitoral afferent
neuron profiles was 1.479±627 μm2." They also stated that light
"constant pressure on the clitoris produced an initial burst of single
unit firing (maximum frequencies 170–255 Hz) followed by rapid
adaptation and a sustained firing (maximum 40 Hz), which was
maintained during the stimulation. Tonic firing increased to an
average maximum of 145 Hz at 6–8 g/mm2 pressure" and "[t]hese
results indicate that the clitoris is innervated by mechano-sensitive
myelinated afferent fibers in the pudental nerve which project
centrally to the region of the dorsal commissure in the L7-S1 spinal
The external phenotype and reproductive behavior of 21 freemartin
sheep and two male pseudohermaphrodite sheep were recorded with the
aim of identifying any characteristics that could predict a failure to
breed. Among things recorded were the size and shape of the vulva and
clitoris, the length of the vagina, the size of the teats, the
presence or absence of inguinal gonads, and the ultrasonographic
characteristics of the inguinal gonads: "A subjective assessment of
the masculinity of each animal's body form was also made, and its
behavioural responses to a virile ram and to an oestrus ewe were
recorded. A number of physical and behavioural abnormalities were
detected but the only consistent finding in all 23 animals was a short
vagina which varied in length from 3.1 to 7.0 cm, compared with 10 to
14 cm in normal animals."
In a study documenting the clitoral structure of mice, it was found
that the mouse perineal urethra is surrounded by erectile tissue
forming the bulbs of the clitoris, similar to the anatomy of human
females: "In the mouse, as in human females, tissue organization
in the corpora cavernosa of the clitoris is essentially similar to
that of the penis except for the absence of a subalbugineal layer
interposed between the tunica albuginea and the erectile tissue."
The Evolution of Human Sexuality
^ "The long, narrow crura arise from the inferior surface of the
ischiopubic rami and fuse just below the middle of the pubic
^ "A common variation is 'tribadism,' where two women lie face to
face, one on top of the other. The genitals are pressed tightly
together while the partners move in a grinding motion. Some rub their
clitoris against their partner's pubic bone."
^ "Within a few seconds the clitoris returns to its normal position,
and after 5 to 10 minutes shrinks to its normal size."
^ "Most women report the inability to achieve orgasm with vaginal
intercourse and require direct clitoral stimulation ... About 20%
have coital climaxes ..."
^ "Women rated clitoral stimulation as at least somewhat more
important than vaginal stimulation in achieving orgasm; only about 20%
indicated that they did not require additional clitoral stimulation
^ "a. The amount of time of sexual arousal needed to reach orgasm is
variable – and usually much longer – in women than in
men; thus, only 20–30% of women attain a coital climax. b. Many
women (70–80%) require manual clitoral stimulation ..."
^ "In sum, it seems that approximately 25% of women always have orgasm
with intercourse, while a narrow majority of women have orgasm with
intercourse more than half the time ... According to the general
statistics, cited in Chapter 2, [women who can consistently and easily
have orgasms during unassisted intercourse] represent perhaps 20% of
the adult female population, and thus cannot be considered
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The dictionary definition of clitoris at Wiktionary
Media related to
Clitoris at Wikimedia Commons
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Bulb of vestibule
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