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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Allow Us To Explain

We Discovered The Clitoris In 2009? Heyyy, Wait A Minute…

I’m going to do my best to stay serious and scientific here but well, this is a post about the clitoris so it may not last. This particular part of the female anatomy has been something the general public has given a lot of thought but as it turns out, science has mostly ignored. Turns out, we only really discovered the clitoris in 2009. Women the world over may disagree but we now know there’s a whole lot more than meets the eye when it comes to the clitoris and the results are rather stimulating. For your brain. Because you’re learning something new. Oh, forget it, just read on. (Following images are internal anatomical illustrations and should be safe for work.) 

According to the official blog of the Museum of Sex in New York City, there is an internal clitoris. Yes, you heard that right. Internal. As you may or may not know, the clitoris has only one purpose, that of pleasure. “It is not required for reproduction.  It doesn’t have a urethra running through it like the penis, and thus, does not urinate,” writes Ms. M on the blog. “Sadly, it is precisely because the clitoris has no function apart from female pleasure that science has neglected to study it as intricately as the penis.”

If you asked someone to point to this particular body part they’d (hopefully) point to a tiny spot at the top of the vulva just under the “hood.” But apparently, that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as it were. Highlighted in pink below is the actual size and location of a woman’s clitoris.

Well hello there! Nice to meet you, clitoris! And here I thought I knew you so well…

Here’s the exact breakdown of this image.

The scientific name for the external “little button” or “bulb” is glans. Not to be confused with glands, glans simply refers to a small circular mass. This little structure contains approximately 8,000 sensory nerve fibers; more than anywhere else in the human body and nearly twice the amount found on the head of a penis! From reading her work, it’s clear that Marie Bonaparte mistakenly thought that the clitoris was completely comprised of the glans; and because it is super sensitive and all anyone can see of the organ, her confusion is mirrored by most women today. The fact is, though, that most of the clitoris is subterranean, consisting of two corpora cavernosa (corpus cavernosum when referring to the structure as a whole), two crura (crus when referring to the structure as a whole), and the clitoral vestibules or bulbs.

The glans is connected to the body or shaft of the internal clitoris, which is made up of two corpora cavernosa. When erect, the corpora cavernosa encompass the vagina on either side, as if they were wrapping around it giving it a big hug!

The corpus cavernosum also extends further, bifurcating again to form the two crura. These two legs extend up to 9cm, pointing toward the thighs when at rest, and stretching back toward the spine when erect. To picture them at rest, imagine the crura as a wishbone, coming together at the body of the clitoris where they attach to the pubic symphysis.

Near each of the crura on either side of the vaginal opening are the clitoral vestibules. These are internally under the labia majora. When they become engorged with blood they actually cuff the vaginal opening causing the vulva to expand outward. Get these puppies excited, and you’ve got a hungrier, tighter-feeling vaginal opening in which to explore!

Words like “subterranean” and “cavernosa” just make me think the clitoris is destined for further exploration. By science. Hey, look! It’s an erect, internal clitoris!

So what does this mean for you, a person with a clitoris? And you, person who likes someone with a clitoris? Just because a good chunk of it is inside the body doesn’t mean it’s useless. “Many women can bring themselves to orgasm without ever inserting anything inside of themselves. They are causing their internal clitoris to become erect and likely stimulating their glans, bulbs, and crura by rubbing themselves on the outside,” writes Ms. M. “The corpus cavernousum is the additional erectile tissue encompassing the vagina, and greatly erogenous when stimulated internally.”

Why are many of us just learning about this for the first time? “The sad fact is it wasn’t until the 1990’s that researchers began using MRI to study the internal structure of the clitoris. By then, the intricate details of the penis were already well known,” according to Ms. M. “Urologist Helen O’Connell of the Royal Melbourne Hospital set out to better understand the microscopic nerve supply to the clitoris using MRI, something that had already been done for men with regard to their sexual function in the 70s. In 1998 she published her findings, informing the medical world of the true scope and size of the clitoris. Yet ironically that same year, men in America began popping Viagra to cure erectile dysfunction.” Sadly, many textbooks, medical guides and yes, the internet, still do not include this information or particular viewpoints of the female anatomy.

“Alas it wasn’t until as recent as 2009, French researchers Dr. Odile Buisson and Dr. Pierre Foldès gave the medical world it’s first complete 3-D sonography of the stimulated clitoris,” she said. “They did this work for three years without any proper funding. Thanks to them, we now understand how the erectile tissue of the clitoris engorges and surrounds the vagina – a complete breakthrough that explains how what we once considered to be a vaginal orgasm is actually an internal clitoral orgasm.”

Also, an important fact to point out, “Dr. Foldès has been performing surgery on women who have suffered from clitoral mutilation, restoring pleasure to over 3,000 circumcised patients,” and is dedicated to studying the clitoris for many reasons. “When I returned to France to treat genital mutilation, I was amazed that they were never tried. The medical literature tells us the truth about our contempt for women,” he said. ”For three centuries, there are thousands of references to penile surgery, nothing on the clitoris, except for some cancers or dermatology -and nothing to restore its sensitivity. The very existence of an organ of pleasure is denied, medically. Today, if you look at the anatomy books that all surgeons have, you will find two pages above. There is a real intellectual excision.

You can read more about the internal clitoris and watch a video of artist Betty Dodson drawing it at the Museum of Sex.

I, for one, am amazed by this news. Anyone else think it’s kind of sweet that the clitoris has octopus arms it uses to hug our vaginas? We make a great team.

(via io9)

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  • Anonymous

    OK, just post the line number at which you started snickering

    I tapped out at “Marie Bonepart “

  • Anonymous

    “octopus arms it uses to hug our vaginas” – I ALMOST made it all the way through.

    But seriously, this is fascinating to learn about. 

  • Foo

    I did not laugh.  I am too busy filing this away for later use.

  • Mike Perry

    I hope this isn’t inappropriate but I’m waiting for the “bigger on the inside” joke…

  • ZenPoseur

    Ah, the day we discovered the clitoris.  That was a good, good day.

  • Simon Chui

    I find the attitude that a better scientific understanding the clitoris was not necessary because reproduction is possible without female pleasure more than a little disturbing, given that it still appears to be the majority opinion in the scientific establishment today.  It reflects a tacit approval for the attitude that it’s perfectly ok for a woman to be subjected to something she doesn’t enjoy while the man scratches his itch.  

  • Jason Kerouac

    Simon, I don’t totally disagree, but I DO think you’re over-exaggerating. To me, it’s more that we studied how men and women reproduce, and because it was automatically obvious how that tied into male pleasure, we studied that as well. We apparently THOUGHT we knew what gave females pleasure, and as it was seemingly independent of reproduction, we didn’t study further.

    It’s not that we ONLY cared about men getting their rocks off, just that it seemed to be more scientifically relevant to what was already being studied.

  • ZenPoseur

    So they’re blameless because they believed women were just a passive vessel for males to shoot their genetic material into.

    Got it.

  • Anonymous

    “Many women can bring themselves to orgasm without ever inserting anything inside of themselves.”

    Seriously, men. Take note.

  • Emma Jones

    I thought that there were some (fairly) recent studies on a potential reproductive reason for female orgasm. I can’t find the link right now, but I saw a video, which show the cervix spazzing out during orgasm (something that I at least noticed during orgasm; my fiance says it’s like my vagina is set on vibrate, haha), and, potentially, if the male has ejaculated already, this can help pull the semen into the uterus.

    All in all, though, my general thinking is that, because we all start off with female anatomy in the womb, the clitoris turns into the penis when the offspring is male, and because the nerve endings are already there (and need to be spread out when enlarged into a penis), the clitoris just remains a very concentrated penis. This would explain the G-spot somewhat, which parallels the prostate to an extent.

    Of course, this is just my trying to logic the mystery out of it. I’m no biologist.

  • Alison Sainsbury

    Interesting point to note – pre-Scientific Revolution and the beginning of scientific understanding of the body (so, we’re talking before the mid 1700′s), it was thought that in order to conceive, the woman had to enjoy sex. So, couples who were having trouble making babies were given advice on getting the girl off. Of course this was before anything like muscles or tissues was even remotely understood. At this stage in history, people still believed in the humours.

    What I want to know is this: who is the bitch that spilled the news? Who said “well actually I got knocked up and the sex was very ho-hum”??? I want a name.

  • Emma Jones

    I’m really glad to hear that they are finding ways to reverse FGM, bringing the pleasure of love-making to millions of unfortunate women.

  • Simon Chui

    Discrimination can be subtle.  For example you can have someone who is perfectly polite to people of all ethnicities, but never hire a black guy or a Latino.  That’s still racism.  It’s tacit approval for the attitude that minorities are unfit to work.  The key word here is ‘tacit’, because if you question them they’ll deny it, and they might even find the notion abhorrent, but nevertheless their actions are irrationally consistent with that attitude.  

    Scientists are supposed to be smart people, mindful of unsubstantiated assumptions and irrationality.  Lines like “just that it seemed to be more scientifically relevant” should immediately ring alarm bells, firstly because it fully admits to being an untested assumption, and secondly because it is clearly not true.  Gender discrimination, sexual violence, and ritual clitoral mutilation are all serious problems, and a lack of understanding of the clitoris is a clear knowledge gap that is impeding our ability to address those problems.  While scientists may find gender discrimination abhorrent, their actions in not funding and encouraging this research have nevertheless been consistent with discrimination.

  • Andrea_R

    Wait’ll you get older and start studing hysterectomy statistics: the whys, wherefores, how damn common they are, the symptoms and allllll the stuff the doctors don’t know but us poor women know are issues, post-hysto.

    (all in our heads tho, poor dears…)

    (but hey I’m not dying of cancer so there’s that.)

  • Null

    Still wondering how to externally stimulate this portion of it manually.

  • Life Lessons

    Awesome! And I am not surprised at all. :) 

  • Anonymous

    You can stimulate a man’s prostate by sticking something up his anus. Some guys like this, though it’s a matter of taste. It might be possible to do something like this to stimulate the internal clitoris, though probably not with anal entry.

  • Karen Blessing

    science may not have found it till then, but I know a lot of people who were already aware of that part of the anatomy. However the fact that it encircled the vagina was not known I am sure. this is very interesting. I hope it helps those who didn’t know.

  • Karen Blessing

    Exactly. I think it’s sometimes easier for dr’s to say that because they have no clue. they are much like auto machanics. They keep suggesting different things until they get it right. I think we should pay them less. lol

  • Anonymous

    #ThePunchlineIs “Help me find my motorcycle, and we can drive around and look for your watch”

  • Anonymous

    Exactamundo. It’s important to understand that the moment of deciding what questions to ask holds great ethical significance, I think even more than determining how to ask them, or what to do with the answers.

  • Anonymous

    I teach instructional sessions with med students, and most of them at this point in history do not have female cadavers with the uterus intact because of just this. It’s shocking really, the cavalier attitude that reigned in gynecology for so long. At least now most gynecologists will admit that there is a large range of normal that we don’t quite understand.

  • Anonymous

    Quote of the day:  ”The medical literature tells us the truth about our contempt for women”

  • Terence Ng

    I recall seeing that video too, and around 10 years ago. It showed that the during female orgasm, the cervix would spasm, dipping repeatedly into the reservoir where ejaculate would be, increasing the likelihood of insemination. This lead the researchers to theorize that female orgasm was indeed beneficial to reproduction.

  • Ms. M

    The original author on the Museum of Sex’s website spelled Bonaparte correctly.  I’m not sure why it was misquoted here. 

  • Anonymous

    The flip side of this is that if it was believed that women needed to enjoy sex in order to conceive, and most of them successfully conceive, then it follows that women must be enjoying sex…even if they aren’t.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    I just checked, actually no, it’s misspelled twice in the original article. I had copy and pasted that section which it why it was misspelled and overlooked by me. Fixed now, it’s “Bonaparte.”

  • Anonymous

    “Cavernosa.”  The diagram to be specific.

    It sounds like a play on words.

  • Anonymous

    No it doesn’t, it would follow that it is BELIEVED that most are enjoying it. 


  • Andrea_R

    Its just as shocking when you’re going through it. I had my tubes tied previously, so there was very much a “Well, you’re not using it anyway..”

    That was verbatim, not hyperbole.

    (I sure don’t miss those cramps tho. Since were sharing and all… ;) )

  • Victoria Eden

    That was talked about in the book Bonk by Mary Roach. I think that theory has fallen out of favor, but the female orgasm in relation to reproduction has in fact been studied.

  •é-Fuller/727075494 Anna-Lena Dubé Fuller

    One of my favourite books ever is a history of the vagina in medicine, mad and sad; The Story of V, Opening Pandora’s Box by Catherine Blackledge. Plus I cannot wait for the film coming this year on the invention of the vibrator, the one with Maggie Gyllenhaal??

  • Kalynn Osburn

    Of course if they had bothered to ask any lesbians we could have told them about this earlier.

  • Katharine Tapley

    Surprisingly, it was a college boyfriend who taught me this over a decade ago.

  • FoxyBrown

    You all might be interested in “The Clitoral Truth” by Rebecca Chalker. I read this back in 2003. The book is quite fascinating. Chalker explains and shows the inner workings of the clitoris (much like this study but with drawings instead of cool 3-D rendered images), the history of the female orgasm across the world, how to achieve orgasm with your partner (or by yourself), and about western medicine and the total lack of information about the female genitals. Fair warning, I do not think this book is safe for work though!

  • Yuyu Xie

    G-spot never exist.female orgasm is as same as males, they also have refractory period after every orgasm, so females can’t get multiple orgasm.
    Same sex reproduction, possible?

    God is not a girl

    Give my best wishes to Johnny Weir and Victor Voronov

    A country’s degree of civilization and democracy depends on women’s status.

    I am the child in the story of Emperor’s New Clothes

    Physical satisfaction and emotional satisfaction

    Low sex drive in women can be explained by Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning and Skinner’s Operant Conditioning

    A New Female Sexual Response Model

    Porn can not be banned forever, because the fantasies are really helped for everyone.

    Unlocking the mystery of female orgasm will be the last straw that broke the same-sex marriage illegal.

    Clitoral shaft is the key to get an orgasm for female.

    Men’ cheating is inevitable.

    Intersex need to be understood, and accepted, not surgery.

    Crossing-over partial occurrence between X chromosome and Y chromosome is the key of intersex.

    Did Albert Einstein get it wrong? But I am sure Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey and Grafenberg were totally wrong.

    Women also fall asleep after a real orgasm.

    Kidney also plays an important role in female ejaculation

    No orgasm may be the key of the Menopausal Syndrome; ejaculation is the best way to treat insomnia.

    Understand female orgasm from difference between Male & Female Circumcision

    No difference in brain scan between male and female orgasm

    Maybe there is some organ unknown in labia majora

    Every orgasm is the result of different kind masturbation.

    Women and men have the same ejaculation system and process.

    Why do women always like to fake orgasm?

    Ejaculation is a habit, don’t blame male

    If you just provide your vagina as the receptacle for the penis during sexual intercourse, you will never get an orgasm

    Distinguish between orgasm and urination-female incontinence is not orgasm at all

    I am challenging Barry R. Komisaruk and Beverly Whipple here

    Female also require time to switch back to urine mode after ejaculation mode

    The female body also has a system that keeps it from being able to ejaculate and urinate at the same time.

    Women also can get orgasm during their menstrual period

    Orgasm together is never going to happen – whatever in straight couple or in gay couple

    Women also have refractory period after a real female orgasm

    Women have two balls as homologous to the male two testes?

    Female ejaculation—liquid from urethra?

    Premature ejaculation-A real disease or named by people?

    Female multiple orgasms -A beautiful lie

    I don’t love porn, but I need to see it

  • Chandri MacLeod

    I made it all the way to “bulbs” before I started snickering like a thirteen-year-old.

  • Jstn L Vn Lsbrg

    A reading of the literature, and recognition of this finding would allow us to recognize that women who have undergone FGM do not lose their ability to have sexual pleasure, nor do they view the process as unfortunate. In many of these regions in North Africa, you would be made fun of for not having had the process done, maybe to your surprise, having been told by many in our society from ethnocentric perspectives that it was all about male control over female reproductive pleasure.

  • Jstn L Vn Lsbrg

    The ‘upsuck effect’ hypothesis states that the contractions resulting from the orgasm drop the uterus down allowing for more ease among sperm in reaching the egg (I think this is what you are referring to).

  • Fixitt

    I would think that lightly stroking or drawing little circles along the outer lips/inside thighs with your fingers, then as she is getting more aroused, increase the pressure, making it more of a massage.. when there is lubrication, the inner lips can be teased to stimulate the vestibules that ring around the vagina, maybe while gently kissing the Mons and blowing on the glans.. about a half inch to an inch inside the vagina, stroke the sides, bottom, and top walls. Stroking along the top of the vagina inside should feel really good too, from these pictures. Another sensitive area looks to be just above the Mons on the softer part above the pubic bone… Start slow.. take your time… explore… tease… Avoid the most sensitive spots as long as possible to build anticipation.

    Most women I have known aren’t aroused until they are puffy and their vulva goes from being a vertical opening to a capital O…..

    My girl’s favorite starts with the missionary position, her hips on a pillow, then her legs are raised up over my shoulders, and I thrust up, not just in.

    I think its kind of interesting that the shape of the corpus cavernosum is in the shape of the symbol for female… although upside down.. How did they know???

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if the research I read is accurate but it indicated that of the women studied about 1/3 still had orgasms. Another third did not and the last third felt discomfort or pain, during sex. It is not just the tip of the clitoris that is removed. All the tissue surrounding the vaginal opening is also cut away leaving scar tissue. This scar tissue makes the opening small and pleasurable for men. After each childbirth the scar grows. In some cases, it is reported, the scar becomes so hard and tight that the husband has difficulty penetrating. To which I say hah hah.

  • Angie Goodnight

    I knew the glans as a ‘clit’ which was short for clitoris back in 1964 when I was only fourteen. This wasn’t from sex eduction but from Smut One! It is so sad that so many women, and men, go through their lives not understanding how our innards work. The latest buzz word is squirting, female ejaculation. Some scientists are still saying it doesn’t exist, well, guys, it does and feels incredible. My partner recently wrote on my blog that he had a girl who sprayed six feet. I’m sure porn often fakes the process, but I have had many small experiences of it and it often heralds the most beautiful orgasm. Aren’t our bodies wonderful. Angela

  • Angie Goodnight

    Yes, I’ve heard this and it does sound plausible. Because girls can be multi-orgasmic, it is a good excuse for us to cum several times after the man so let’s not knock it. LOL.

  • Angie Goodnight

    If you go to the Everyday Feminism site you will find a thread I started on FGM. Towards the end of the thread there is some mention of the operation and problems encountered with a certain government in Africa actually closing the reconstructive hospital and deporting the doctors. Very enlightened thinking!! The EF site is free but you do have to sign up.