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Fem isa 2
A woman's clitoris extends from the visible portion to a point below the pubic bone.
Latin '
Gray's subject #270 1266
MeSH A05.360.319.887.436

The clitoris (Greek κλειτορίς) is a female sexual organ. In humans, the visible knob-like portion is located near the anterior junction of the labia minora, above the opening of the vagina. Unlike the homologous male organ (the penis), the clitoris does not contain the distal portion of the urethra and functions solely to induce sexual pleasure. The only known exception to this is in the Spotted Hyena, where the urogenital system is modified so that the female urinates, mates and gives birth via an enlarged, erectile clitoris, known as a pseudo-penis.


The word is pronunced: KLIHT uh rihs (['klɪtəɹəs] in IPA notation (listen )) or klih TOHR ihs ([klɪ'tɔɹəs] (listen )). The plural forms are clitorises in English and clitorides in Latin. In slang, it is sometimes abbreviated as clit. The OED suggests that the pronunciation KLY tor ihs (['klaɪtɒɹɪs]) is also used in the UK, and gives the likely etymology as coming from the Greek κλειτορἰς, perhaps derived from the verb κλεἰ-ειν, to shut.

Development and formation

Clitoris inner anatomy

The internal anatomy of the human vulva, with the clitoral hood and labia minora indicated as lines.


A photograph of a human vulva, with the clitoris obscured by the clitoral hood and folds of the labia minora.

The female clitoris corresponds to homologous parts of 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 (see clitoromegaly).

The organ is formed out of corpus cavernosum, a rich collection of capillary tissue with a substantial presence of nerve tissue. It contains roughly the same number of nerve endings as the penis,[1] and it is particularly well-suited for sexual stimulation.

The visible portions of the clitoris extend from the front commissure-where the edges of the outer lips (labia majora) meet at the base of the pubic mound-to the fourchette, and include the glans, hood, and inner lips (labia minora).[2] The labia majora are not considered a part 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 clitoral crura. Shaped like an inverted "V", these crura extend around and to the interior of the labia majora. Including external and internal components, it is thought the clitoris is similar in size to the penis.

Most of the clitoris is hidden, and external stimulation of the entire clitoris can result in a more profound sexual response. There is considerable variation among women with regard to how much of the clitoris protrudes from the hood and how much is covered by it, ranging from complete, covered invisibility to full, protruding visibility. Additionally, the size of the external clitoral shaft varies greatly; it may be smaller than a pencil eraser, or larger than a grape. Recently, urologist Dr. Helen O'Connell discovered that erectile tissue lies beneath the external glans, splitting off into two 11 cm "legs", with more tissue branching down near the vaginal opening.[3] One explanation advanced for the vaginal orgasm is that it results from stimulation of the internal parts of the clitoris during vaginal penetration. Nevertheless, some women experience both clitoral and vaginal orgasms and distinguish between them in terms of both the physical and general sensations associated with each, and the structure of the G-spot, located inside the vagina, must also be taken into consideration.

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

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". 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."

Colombo'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. It was also known to the Romans, who named it landica. Noted researchers Masters and Johnson conducted extensive studies of the clitoris.

Body modification

Main article: genital modification and mutilation

The external part of the clitoris may be partially or totally removed during female genital cutting, also known as a clitoridectomy or female genital mutilation (FGM) in voluntary or involuntary procedures. The topic is highly controversial with many countries condemning the traditions that give rise to involuntary procedures, and 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.

In various cultures, the clitoris is sometimes pierced directly. In U.S. body modification culture, it's actually extremely rare for the clitoral shaft itself to be pierced, as of the already few females who desire the piercing, only a small percentage are anatomically suited for it; furthermore, most piercing artists are understandably reluctant to attempt such a delicate procedure. Some styles, such as the Isabella, the Nefertiti, and the triangle, do pass through the clitoris but are placed deep at the base, where they provide unique stimulation; they still require the proper genital build, but are more common than shaft piercings. Additionally, what is (erroneously) referred to as a "clit piercing" is almost always the much more common (and much less complicated) clitoral hood piercing.

Some cultures at various times in history have practiced stretching, which can enlarge the clitoris, or can make it more visible. Enlargement may be intentional or unintentional. Those taking hormones and/or other medications as part of female-to-male transition usually experience dramatic clitoral growth; individual desires (and the difficulties of surgical phalloplasty) often result in the retention of the female genitalia, the enlarged clitoris analogous to a penis as part of the newly male body. On the other hand, use of anabolic steroids by female bodybuilders and other athletes can result in significant enlargement of the clitoris in concert with other masculinizing effects on the female body. Temporary engorgement results from suction pumping, practiced to enhance sexual pleasure or for aesthetic purposes.

Additional images


  1. Gardos, Sandor, Nerve Endings in Penis & Clitoris, [1], last accessed 10 October 2006
  2. Chalker, Rebecca (2000). The Clitoral Truth, 36, Seven Seas Press. ISBN 1-58322-473-4.
  3. O'Connell, Helen, Anatomy of the Clitoris, J Urol. 2005 Oct;174(4 Pt 1):1189-95, PMID 16145367

External links

Human anatomical features
Human body features

HEAD: ForeheadEyeEarNoseMouthTongueTeethJawFaceCheekChin

NECK: ThroatAdam's apple

TORSO: ShouldersSpineChestBreastRibcageAbdomenBelly button

Sex organs (Penis/Scrotum/Testicle or Clitoris/Vagina/Ovary/Uterus) – HipAnusButtocks

LIMBS: ArmElbowForearmWristHandFinger (Thumb - Index finger - Middle finger - Ring finger - Little finger) – LegLapThighKneeCalfHeelAnkleFootToe (Hallux)

SKIN: Hair


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