Clitoris anatomy labeled-en.svg
The internal anatomy of the human vulva, with the clitoral hood and labia minora indicated as lines. The clitoris extends from the visible portion to a point below the pubic bone.
Gray's subject #270 1266
Artery Dorsal artery of clitoris, deep artery of clitoris
Vein Superficial dorsal veins of clitoris, deep dorsal vein of clitoris
Nerve Dorsal nerve of clitoris
Precursor Genital tubercle
MeSH Clitoris
Dorlands/Elsevier Clitoris

The clitoris (Listeni/ˈklɪtərɨs/, Listeni/klɨˈtɔərɨs/, or UK /ˈkltɒrɨs/) is a sexual organ that is present only in female mammals. In humans, the visible button-like portion is located near the anterior junction of the labia minora, above the opening of the urethra and vagina. Unlike the penis, which is homologous to the clitoris, the clitoris does not contain the distal portion of the urethra. The only known exception to this is in the Spotted Hyena. In this species, the urogenital system is unique in that the female urinates, mates and gives birth via an enlarged, erectile clitoris, known as a pseudo-penis.[1]

In humans, the clitoris is the most sensitive erogenous zone of the female, the stimulation of which may produce sexual excitement and clitoral erection; its continuing stimulation may produce sexual pleasure and orgasm, and is considered the key to females' sexual pleasure.[2][3]


Pronunciation and etymology

The plural forms are clitorises in English and clitorides in Latin. In slang, it is sometimes abbreviated as clit, which originated in the 1950s. The OED suggests that the pronunciation /ˈkltɒrɨs/ is also used in the United Kingdom, and gives the likely etymology as coming from the Greek κλειτορίς, kleitoris, perhaps derived from the verb κλείειν, kleiein, to shut. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that the etymology of this diminutive is uncertain. Possible etymological candidates are a Greek word meaning "key", "latch", "hook"; a Greek verb meaning "to touch or titillate lasciviously", "to tickle" (the clitoris is called in German slang der Kitzler, "the tickler"), although this verb is more likely derived from "clitoris"; and a Greek word meaning "side of a hill", from the same root as "climax".[4] Its Latin genitive is clitoridis, as in "glans clitoridis".


The head or glans of the clitoris is roughly the size and shape of a pea, although it can be significantly larger or smaller.

Human vulva
Vulva labeled no tags.jpg
Human vulva stretched to show externally-visible features of the clitoris in relation to other components: 1. Clitoral hood (prepuce); 2. Clitoral glans; 3. Urethral orifice; 4. Vulval vestibule; 5. Labia minora; 6. Vaginal opening; 7. Labia majora (hair removed); 8. Perineum
MeSH Vulva
Dorlands/Elsevier vulva

The clitoris is a complex structure, with both external and internal components. Projecting at the front of the labial commissure where the edges of the outer lips (labia majora) meet at the base of the pubic mound is the clitoral hood (prepuce), which in full or part covers the head (clitoral glans). Following from the head back and up along the shaft, it is found that this extends up to several centimeters before reversing direction and branching. The resulting branched shape forms an inverted "V", extending as a pair of "legs" known as the clitoral crura formed of the corpora cavernosa. The clitoral crura are concealed behind the labia minora, and terminate with attachment to the pubic arch (according to some),[5] or follow interior to the labia minora to meet at the fourchette (according to others).[2]

Associated are the urethral sponge, clitoral/vestibular bulbs, perineal sponge, a network of nerves and blood vessels, suspensory ligaments, muscles and pelvic diaphragm.[6]

There is considerable variation in 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. An article published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in July 1992 states that the average width of the clitoral glans lies within the range of 2.5 to 4.5 millimetres (0.098 to 0.18 in), indicating that the average size is smaller than a pencil-top eraser. Recent discoveries about the size of the clitoris show that clitoral tissue extends some considerable distance inside the body, around the vagina. It is now clear that clitoral tissue is far more widespread than the small visible part most people associate with the word.[3] There is no identified correlation between the size of a clitoris and a woman's age, height, weight, use of hormonal contraceptives, or being post-menopausal.

Sexual stimulation

Research shows most women achieve orgasm only through clitoral stimulation.[3][7][8][9][10] Masters and Johnson were the first to determine that the clitoral structures surround and extend along and within the labia. They observed that both clitoral and vaginal orgasms had the same stages of physical response, and argued that clitoral stimulation is the primary source of both kinds of orgasms.[7] Supporting these findings is a 2005 study which investigated the size of the clitoris; Australian urologist Dr. Helen O'Connell, while using MRI technology, noted a direct relationship between the legs or roots of the clitoris and the erectile tissue of the clitoral bulbs and corpora, and the distal urethra and vagina.[3] O'Connell asserts that this interconnected relationship is the physiological explanation for the conjectured G-Spot and experience of vaginal orgasm, taking into account the stimulation of the internal parts of the clitoris during vaginal penetration.[3] "The vaginal wall is, in fact, the clitoris," said O'Connell. "If you lift the skin off the vagina on the side walls, you get the bulbs of the clitoris – triangular, crescental masses of erectile tissue." The idea was that the clitoris is more than just its glans – the "little hill".[3]

Pulled-out clitoris

During sexual arousal and during orgasm, the clitoris and the whole of the genitalia engorge and change color as these erectile tissues fill with blood, and the individual experiences vaginal contractions. Masters and Johnson documented the sexual response cycle, which has four phases and is still the clinically accepted definition of the human orgasm. More recent research has determined that some can experience a sustained intense orgasm through stimulation of the clitoris and remain in the orgasmic phase for much longer than the original studies indicated, evidenced by genital engorgement, color changes, and vaginal contractions.[11]

Embryonic development

During the development of an embryo, at the time of development of the urinary and reproductive organs, the previously undifferentiated genital tubercle develops into either a clitoris or penis, along with all other major organ systems, making them homologous.[6] The clitoris is formed from the same tissues that would have become the glans and upper shaft of a penis if the embryo had been exposed to “male” hormones. Changes in appearance of male and female embryos begin roughly eight weeks after conception. By birth, the genital structures have developed into the female reproductive system.[12]

Embryo sex based on external genitalia is apparent to a doctor at the end of the 14th menstrual week, and the sex can usually be identified by an ultrasound after 16 to 18 menstrual weeks.[13] A condition that can develop from naturally occurring or deliberate exposure to higher than average levels of testosterone is clitoromegaly.

Recognition of existence

The clitoris has been thought of as "discovered" and "rediscovered" through empirical documentation by male scholars repeatedly over the centuries.[14] Over a period of more than 2,500 years, some have considered the clitoris and the penis equivalent in all respects except their arrangement.[2] 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[15] in which he described the "seat of woman's delight". In his role as researcher, 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."[16]

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 second century. Indeed, Hippocrates used the term columella (little pillar). Avicenna named the clitoris the albatra or virga (rod). Albucasis, an Arabic medical authority, named it tentigo (tension). It was also known to the Romans, who named it (vulgar slang) landica.[17]

This cycle of suppression and discovery continued, notably in the work of Regnier de Graaf (Tractatus de Virorum Organis Generationi Inservientibus, De Mulierum Organis Generationi Inservientibus Tractatus Novus) in the 17th century and Georg Ludwig Kobelt (Die männlichen und weiblichen Wollustorgane des Menschen und einiger Säugetiere) in the 19th. De Graaf criticised Columbo's claims for this. (Harvey, Laqueur).

The full extent of the clitoris was alluded to by Masters and Johnson in 1966, but in such a muddled fashion that the significance of their description became obscured. In 1981, the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Clinics (FFWHC) continued this process with anatomically precise illustrations.[2] Today, MRI complements these efforts, as it is both a live and multiplanar method of examination.[3]

Female genital mutilation

The clitoris may be partially or totally removed during female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as a clitoridectomy, or female circumcision. This is carried out in several countries in Africa, and to a lesser extent in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, on girls from a few days old to the age of 15.[18] Amnesty International estimates that over two million FGM procedures are performed every year.[19]

Female genital modification

In various cultures, the clitoris is sometimes pierced directly. In U.S. body modification culture, it is actually extremely rare for the clitoral shaft itself to be pierced, as of the already few people who desire the piercing, only a small percentage are anatomically suited for it; furthermore, most piercing artists are reluctant to attempt such a delicate procedure. Some styles, such as the Isabella, 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.

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 original genitalia, the enlarged clitoris analogous to a penis as part of the transition. However, the clitoris cannot reach the size of most cissexual men's penises through hormones. Surgery to add function to the clitoris, such as metoidioplasty or clitoral release, are alternatives to phalloplasty (construction of a penis) which permit retention of sexual sensation in the clitoris.

On the other hand, use of anabolic steroids by bodybuilders and other athletes can result in significant enlargement of the clitoris in concert with other masculinizing effects on their bodies. Temporary engorgement results from suction pumping, practiced to enhance sexual pleasure or for aesthetic purposes.

Additional images

See also


  1. ^ Baskina, Laurence S. et al. (January 2006). "A Neuroanatomical Comparison of Humans and Spotted Hyena, a Natural Animal Model for Common Urogenital Sinus: Clinical Reflections on Feminizing Genitoplasty". Journal of Urology 175 (1): 276–83. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(05)00014-5. PMID 16406926. 
  2. ^ a b c d Chalker, Rebecca (2000). The Clitoral Truth. Seven Seas Press. p. 1. ISBN 1-58322-473-4. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g O'Connell HE, Sanjeevan KV, Hutson JM (October 2005). "Anatomy of the clitoris". The Journal of Urology 174 (4 Pt 1): 1189–95. doi:10.1097/ PMID 16145367. Time for rethink on the clitoris: Lay summary – BBC News (11 June 2006). 
  4. ^ Harper, Douglas. "clitoris". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  5. ^ Vulva on MedicaLook Human Anatomy
  6. ^ a b Francoeur, Robert T. (2000). The Complete Dictionary of Sexology. The Continuum Publishing Company. p. 180. ISBN 0-82640-672-6. 
  7. ^ a b Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers (1991). A New View of a Woman’s Body. Feminist Heath Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-9629945-0-2. 
  8. ^ Frank JE, Mistretta P, Will J. Diagnosis and treatment of female sexual dysfunction. American Family Physician. (2008);77:635. PMID: 18350761
  9. ^ "'I Want a Better Orgasm!'". WebMD. Archived from the original on 2009-01-13. Retrieved August 18, 2011. 
  10. ^ Shere Hite (April 30, 2006). "Shere Hite: On female sexuality in the 21st century". The Independent. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  11. ^ Bodansky, Vera & Steve (2002). The Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive Orgasm. Hunter House. ISBN 0897933621. 
  12. ^ Reinisch, Beasley, June and Ruth (1990). The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex. St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0312063865. 
  13. ^ Heffner, Linda (2001). Human Reproduction at a Glance. Blackwell Sciences, Ltd. ISBN 0632054611. 
  14. ^ (Harvey 2001, Laqueur 1989)
  15. ^ Realdi Columbi Cremonensis, De re anatomica, libri XV. Venetiis: Ex typographia Nicolai Beuilacquæ, 1559.
  16. ^ "Hos igitur processus, atque eorundem usum cum nemo hactenus animadverterit, si nomina rebus a me inventis imponere licet, amor Veneris, vel dulcedo appeletur." Realdo Colombo, De re anatomica, 1562. Old Latin version in Google Books.
  17. ^ J.N. Adams (1982). The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 97–98. 
  18. ^ Momoh, Comfort. "Female Genital Mutilation", Radcliffe Publishing, 2005, pp. 5–9.
  19. ^ <Please add first missing authors to populate metadata.> (30). "What is Female Genital Mutilation?". Amnesty International: 2. doi:ACT77/06/97. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • clitoris — [ klitɔris ] n. m. • 1611; gr. kleitoris ♦ Petit organe érectile de la vulve, situé à la jonction de l extrémité supérieure des petites lèvres. Ablation du clitoris. ⇒ excision. Abrév. fam. (1972) CLITO . ● clitoris nom masculin (grec kleitoris)… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • clitoris — CLÍTORIS s.n. Mic organ anatomic situat în vulvă, lângă canalul urinar. – Din fr. clitoris. Trimis de cata, 05.04.2007. Sursa: DEX 98  CLÍTORIS s. (anat.) (pop.) lindic. Trimis de siveco, 25.11.2008. Sursa: Sinonime  clítoris s. n …   Dicționar Român

  • clítoris — m. anat. Órgano pequeño, eréctil, alargado y muy sensible del aparato genital femenino; está situado en la región anterior y superior de la vulva, en la unión de los labios menores, formado por dos cuerpos cavernosos. Medical Dictionary. 2011 …   Diccionario médico

  • clitoris — 1610s, coined in Modern Latin, from Late Gk. kleitoris, a diminutive, but the exact sense is uncertain. Perhaps from Gk. kleiein to sheathe, also to shut, in reference to its being covered by the labia minora. The related Greek noun form kleis… …   Etymology dictionary

  • clitóris — s. m. 2 núm. [Anatomia] O mesmo que clítoris …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • clítoris — s. m. 2 núm. [Anatomia] Excrescência erétil na parte superior da vulva. = CLITÓRIDE, CLITÓRIS   ‣ Etimologia: grego kleitorís, ídos …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • clítoris — (plural clítoris) sustantivo masculino 1. Área: anatomía Órgano eréctil, pequeño y carnoso, que sobresale en la vulva …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • clítoris — (Del gr. κλειτορίς). m. Cuerpo pequeño, carnoso y eréctil, que sobresale en la parte más elevada de la vulva. ☛ V. prepucio del clítoris …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Clitoris — Cli to*ris (kl[imac] t[ o]*r[i^]s or kl[i^]t [ o]*r[i^]s), n. [NL., fr. Gr. kleitori s, fr. klei ein to shut up. It is concealed by the labia pudendi.] (Anat.) A small organ at the upper part of the vulva in females, homologous to the penis in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Clitŏris — (Anat.), der Kitzler, s. Klitoris …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Clitŏris — Clitŏris, der Kitzler, s. Klitoris …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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