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A woman's clitoris extends from the visible portion to a point below the pubic bone.

The clitoris is a sexual organ in the body of female mammals. The visible knob-like portion is located near the anterior junction of the labia minora, above the opening of the vagina. Its particular function is inducing sexual pleasure and orgasms.

The word clitoris can be pronounced KLIHT uh rihs (['klɪɾəɹəs] in IPA notation (listen)) or klih TOHR ihs ([klɪ'tɔɹəs] (listen)). The OED suggests that KLY tor ihs [['klaɪtɒɹɪs]) is also used in the UK.

Table of contents

Development and formation

The female clitoris is homologous to the male penis, i.e., embryologically it comes from the same tissue that forms the penis. The trigger for forming a penis instead of a clitoris is the action of testosterone in utero.

The organ is formed out of corpus cavernosum, a rich collection of capillary tissue with a substantial presence of nerve tissue. It is particularly well-suited for sexual stimulation.

The outside portion of the clitoris, the clitoral glans, is entirely or partially covered by the clitoral hood or prepuce, tissue that is homologous to the foreskin in males. In humans, the clitoral body then extends several centimeters upwards and to the back, before splitting into two arms, the crura. Shaped like an inverted "V", these crura extend around and to the interior of the labia majora.

Most of the clitoris is hidden, and external stimulation of the entire clitoris can result in a more profound sexual response. One explanation advanced for the vaginal orgasm is that it results from stimulation of the internal parts of the clitoris during vaginal penetration.

During sexual arousal, the clitoris enlarges as its erectile tissue fills with blood. Shortly before orgasm, this erection often increases further, drawing the clitoris upwards, so that viewed from the outside it actually appears to shrink.

Recognition of existence

The external part of the clitoris amounts to a small, sensitive protrusion at the anterior end of the visible female reproductive anatomy. The clitoris is obscured by the folds of the labia minora in this photo.

Medical literature first recognised the existence of the clitoris in the 16th century. This is the subject of some dispute: Realdo Colombo (also known as Matteo Renaldo Colombo) was a lecturer in surgery at the University of Padua, Italy, and in 1559 he published a book called De re anatomica in which he described the "seat of woman's delight". Columbo 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."

Columbo's claim was disputed by his successor at Padua, Gabriele Falloppio (who discovered the fallopian tube), who claimed that he was the first to discover the clitoris. Caspar Bartholin, a 17th century Danish anatomist, dismissed both claims, arguing that the clitoris had been widely known to medical science since the 2nd century.

Noted researchers Masters and Johnson, Boston based researcher John Garabedian, and Dr. Matt Jaeger at the University of Kentucky all conducted extensive studies of the clitoris.

In the 1970s, the word clitoris was considered offensive in the spoken English language and is still seen as a taboo word by many people. The first use of clitoris on television in the United States is believed to have been by Dr. Rich O'Brien, a Harvard colleague of Garabedian's, on the Dr. Ruth Westheimer show.

Female circumcision

Main article: female circumcision

The external part of the clitoris may be partially or totally removed during female circumcision in voluntary or involuntary procedures. The topic is highly controversial with many countries condemning the traditions that give rise to involuntary procedures with some countries outlawing even voluntary procedures. Amnesty International estimates that over 2 million involuntary female circumcisions are being performed every year, mainly in African countries.

Altering the female genitalia

Main article: genital modification and mutilation

In various cultures, the clitoris is sometimes pierced. Piercings of the clitoris include a piercing of the clitoral hood, and the Isabella piercing, among many others. Some cultures at various times in history have practiced stretching, which can enlarge the clitoris, or can make it more visible.

See also

External links


Reproductive system
Female: Cervix – Clitoris – Fallopian tubes – Bartholin's glands – Hymen – Mammary glands – Ovaries – Skene's glands – Urethra – Uterus – Vagina – Vulva
Male: Bulbourethral glands – Cowper's glands – Ejaculatory duct – Epididymis – Penis – Prostate – Scrotum – Seminal vesicles – Spermatic cord – Testes – Urethra – Vas deferens

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