Did you know the clitoris is a large and complex organ? If not, it’s probably not your fault: in anatomical textbooks, few words and diagrams are devoted to understanding the clitoris. Most label the very small portion of the organ visible on diagrams of the vulva, when in fact it’s almost entirely under the skin.
Studies of historical anatomical textbooks have shown that depictions of the clitoris were significantly limited and often omitted completely from the mid-19th into the 20th century.
During these times there were ideologies and subsequent theories relating to women’s bodies that likely encouraged and sustained censorship of the clitoris. For instance, there was Freud’s now defunct theory that clitoral stimulation was a sign of sexual immaturity and neurosis. Women were also taught not to enjoy sex; women had sex for reproductive purposes, while men had sex for pleasure.
These fallacies led to the neglect of the clitoris in research, literature and the public domain.
Although more recent research and feminist lobbying have improved the quality of information on the clitoris in current textbooks, most texts are still brief. These include minimal information, or information only on the external portion of the clitoris (the glans). This brevity has impacts on health care for women with clitoral and related pain.
What is the clitoris?
The clitoris lies at the junction of the labia minora (the inner lips of the vulva), just above the urethra. It is made up of four main parts: the glans, body, two crura and two bulbs. The glans is the only external part of the clitoris and is covered by a hood of skin.
The body, corpora, crura and bulbs of the clitoris are all made up of erectile tissue and converge below the glans. The body of the clitoris is generally 1-2cm wide and 2-4cm long.
The crura extend laterally from the body of the clitoris and are on average around 5-9cm long. The bulbs of the clitoris are generally 3-7cm long and lie between the body, crura and the urethra.
The clitoris is highly innervated, with twice as many nerve endings as the penis, and receives a rich blood supply. This rich blood supply allows the erectile components to swell up, with the body and glans of the clitoris becoming up to three times larger during arousal – and you thought a penile erection was impressive!