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Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Published Originally in Women's Health Movement Papers, May 1981

Our Anotomy web page for more detail

In 1976, a self-help group spent several months studying the sexual response and the structure of the female sexual organ. On the basis of these observations and reading of anatomy texts, we now define the clitoris, the female sex organ, as being much, much more than a miniature penis, or various assorted structures collectively referred to as "the vulva" and the vagina.

Superficially, the clitoral shaft and glans resembles a miniature penis, but it does not have the same structure as the penis. It does not, as the penis does, have two types of erectile tissue, several sets of muscles and two bulbs. The new definition of the clitoris does include these homologous structures. The tiny shaft and glans, defined as the clitoris by the male medical profession cannot produce an orgasm in the same way a penis can. The clitoris, as newly defined, work together as an organ to produce the sexual response cycle of excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution as described by William Masters and Virginia Johnson in their famous sex studies in the fifties and sixties.

Introducing the Clitoris

The clitoris is bounded by the vulva, which includes the pubic mound, the outer lips and the hairy area around the anus. The clitoris, covered with hairless skin which is dotted with sebaceous oil glands, consists of the inner lips, hood, glans and shaft, legs, muscles, urethral sponge, perineal sponge, suspensory ligament and the hymen.

Looking at the clitoris with your legs spread apart you will see the inner lips joining at the top of the frenulum which is attached to the hood. This area, right where the clitoris joins the pubic mound, is called the commissure. Many women placed the flat of their fingers over the commissure to apply pressure to the clitoral shaft to masturbate. The hood partially covers the small rod-shaped shaft topped by the glans, which varies in size but is about the size of a pea. The shaft lies in a groove on the underside of the pubic bones, and it thus protected from injury. During sexual arousal, the suspensory ligament which extends down on the pubic symphysis swells, becomes shortened, and pulls the erect shaft up over the symphysis. The effect of this pulling up of the shaft is often to make the clitoral glans seem to disappear under the hood.

The shaft divides at its base into two legs (crura) which extend down and are attached behind the ischium bones (these are the bones that flare out; the bones we site on. Over these bones lie two sets of muscles which form the sides of an equilateral triangle. Another set of muscles is stretched across to form the muscles contract rhythmically several times, squeezing out the blood of the congested tissues forcefully, causing the intensely pleasurable sensations of orgasm.

You can see the opening of the urethra (the meatus) just above the clitoral opening to the vagina. Behind this urethral opening is the urethral sponge which encases the urethra and runs along with ceiling of the vagina, protecting it from pressure, such as might result from fingers or a thrusting penis.

At the base of the clitoris, you can see the inner lips join, forming a loose curtain of skin, the fourchette, that in some women, stretches across the clitoral opening. In others, the skin is very loose or may even be stretched or torn from childbirth. Just below the clitoral opening to the vagina is the perineal sponge which is approximately one inch thick. The hymen may partially cover the clitoral opening to the vagina or it may be stretched or even torn. During self-examination with a speculum, you can see the toothy projection of the hymen about an inch or two within.

The anal sphincter muscle, the circular muscle which closes the anus, also tenses up during excitement and plateau phases and contracts during orgasm.

*Labels in bold face type are parts of Clitoris. Clitoris illustration researched by: Carol Downer, Suzann Gage, Sherry Schiffer, Francie Hornstein, Lorraine Rothman, Lynn Heidelberg and Kathleen Hodge.

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