That most elusive part of the female anatomy: the clitoris. What is it, where is it located, and what does it do? How did it develop, and why don’t we hear much about it? We answer all these questions and more in this Spotlight
The clitoris has long been misrepresented and misunderstood, and even now, it still holds some riddles that science is yet to solve.
All female mammals — and some female birds and reptiles — have a clitoris (or two, as is the case with snakes).
However, it is not clear if or how many of them also orgasm thanks to this organ.
In humans, the clitoris has been firmly tied to sexual pleasure, though whether it plays any other role is still a matter for debate.
Despite approximately half the world’s population being born with a clitoris, this sexual organ is not talked about very much, and, until very recently, even the information that we might have found about it in textbooks was incorrect or misleading.
- More than just a ‘little hill’
The nature of the clitoris can be found in the name itself; “clitoris” comes from the Ancient Greek word “kleitoris,” meaning “little hill,” and which itself may also be related to the word “kleis,” meaning “key.”
Although this organ may be the key that unlocks female sexual pleasure, it is not just a “little hill,” as it has long been believed.
In fact, the little hill (protected by a cloak of skin, or the “sex toys for couples
hood,” which is found over the urethral opening) is just the tip of the much larger organ that is the clitoris
- ‘Grand Central Station of erotic sensation’
Due to its high level of sensitivity, the clitoris is usually the main player when it comes to the female orgasm.
Popular culture and pornographic material often tend to depict the female orgasm as something usually achievable solely through penetration, but science tells a different story altogether.
Most women, researchers have found, will only achieve orgasm when the clitoris — or, more specifically, the glans clitoris — is also stimulated.
- A female penis?
The clitoris has also sometimes been seen as a female penis, largely due to a phenomenon that we may refer to as “biological homology,” which refers to the fact that all fetuses are born, as Emily Nagoski puts it, with “all the same part, organized in different ways
This is also why men — who, unlike women, will not need, or be able, to express milk and breast-feed babies — have nipples.
They still develop nipples, however, because they — like pretty much all body parts — are preprogrammed in the earliest stages of embryonic development
- Evolutionary relic or erotic bonus?
While the penis and the clitoris are homologous, however, the penis plays several roles — erotic, reproductive, and excretive — while the clitoris performs only one job: that of creating erotic sensation, which may lead to orgasm. Why might that be?
According to Nagoski, the female orgasm is a “byproduct” of biological homology, and so it should be celebrated as a fantastic bonus.
- Why is the clitoris so taboo?
But why has it taken so long for scientists to start taking more of an interest in the clitoris, and why is it that someone only took the initiative to scan the clitoris and produce an accurate representation of it in 2009?
In an article published in the journal Sex Roles in 2000, researchers Shirley Mattel Ogletree and Harvey J. Ginsburg write that the clitoris had been shrouded in secrecy.
Nobody liked to talk about it, and the problem, the investigators suggested, started in the home.