The clitoris is the genital structure of humans assigned by the woman at birth and plays a central role in stimulation and pleasure. Most of the clitoris is inside and not visible to the eye, but it has a small external bulge called the head of the clitoris, which is full of nerves and is very sensitive during arousal and stimulation. The inside of the clitoris contains a mass of erectile tissue that makes it an erectile organ.
The anatomy of the clitoris is often inadequately and inaccurately described in many textbooks. Historically, the deep structures of the organ have been overlooked. However, more attention has been paid to the anatomy of the clitoris as researchers have begun to study female sexual function more closely.
What is the clitoris?
The clitoris is an erectile structure homologous to the penis. This means that it develops from the same structures as the embryo and has many similar properties. Like the penis, the clitoris is an erectile organ, although the erectile parts of the clitoris are located on the inside. The clitoris has no other function than to serve as a place of erotic sensation.
Where is the clitoris?
The outer part of the clitoris is located between the legs, inside the labia, and above the openings to the urethra and vagina . It is covered with a hood for the clitoris, an extension of the labia minora.
The inner parts of the clitoris cover the urethra and extend to the bottom of the vagina (the upper part of the vagina).
The clitoris attaches to the pubic symphysis (fibrocartilaginous joint), the pubic bone (fatty tissue in the common symphysis), and the labia using supporting ligaments. These ligaments keep the clitoris curved. With the masculinization of the genitals, these ligaments are released, allowing the clitoris to straighten and increase in length.
The structure and anatomy of the clitoris.
The clitoris is a complex structure, of which only a small part is visible on the outside of the body.
The external clitoris and related structures include:
- Head of the clitoris: The only visible part of the clitoris, this small outer head of the clitoris is located at the top of the vulva. It is full of nerves and is very sensitive to stimulation. Unlike the rest of the clitoris, it does not contain erectile structures.
- Clitoral hood (foreskin): A fold of skin known as the clitoral hood covers the head of the clitoris. Technically, the clitoral hood is not part of the clitoris, but rather part of the labia minora. However, some scientists include it in the anatomy of the clitoris.
Internal structures of the clitoris:
- Body (s): The body of the clitoris is relatively short and consists of two paired bodies, which are cylinders of vascular erectile tissue.
- Arches: Each body branches into long peduncles, sometimes called clitoral pedicles, that extend approximately 5 to 9 centimeters (cm) into the pelvis. These structures are made of erectile tissue and the legs surround the urethra and vaginal canal.
- Bulbs: The clitoral bulbs are found between the legs and on the surface of the vaginal wall along the labia minora. They are also made of erectile tissue and can double during sexual arousal, from 3 to 4 cm when relaxed to about 7 cm when in an upright position.
- Root: All the nerves of each erectile body of the clitoris converge at the root. Near the surface of the body at the junction of the legs, this area is very sensitive to stimulation. The back of the root of the clitoris is next to the opening of the urethra.
Most of the erectile tissue of the clitoris is found in the body, legs, and bulbs.
The erectile function of erectile tissue is regulated by blood flow and the clitoris is well supplied with blood vessels. The body of the clitoris is covered by a white membrane, which is a connective tissue membrane.
Several nerves supply blood to the clitoris. These include the spinal nerve of the clitoris, parts of the pudendal nerve , and the cavernous nerves. Stimulating the clitoris can help with the physical arousal process, as these nerves also innervate vaginal structures.
Certain differences in sexual differentiation or intersex conditions are characterized in part by changes in the structure of the clitoris. In particular, conditions such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia can cause the clitoris to enlarge to the point that it resembles a penis. This may involve moving the opening of the urethra somewhere on the clitoris.
Historically, surgeons have "corrected" such ambiguous genitalia. However, in recent years, some intersex people and their families, as well as many doctors and researchers, have faced opposition.
Surgical alteration of the clitoris during childhood can have negative effects on sexual function throughout life. Therefore, many advocates recommend postponing such operations until such time as the person is old enough to decide for himself what he wants to do. The exception is when anatomical differences can make urination difficult or impossible. This is a problem that must be corrected with surgery.
The function of the clitoris is primarily to mediate sexual arousal. It serves as a place to receive pleasant sensations during sexual intercourse. Clitoral stimulation can also directly affect blood flow to the other genitalia, and thus the subjective and objective elements of arousal.
The role of the anatomy of the clitoris in sexual function and orgasm is hotly debated. Research shows that many, but not all, people assigned to women at birth use clitoral stimulation, at least in part, to achieve orgasm. However, the specific elements of how differences in the anatomy of the clitoris affect arousal and orgasm are not well understood. Some researchers have also linked vaginal pleasure and orgasm to stimulation of the internal clitoris through the vaginal wall.
Conditions that affect the clitoris
There are several conditions that can directly affect the structure or health of the clitoris. These conditions include:
- Clitoromegaly is an enlargement of the size of the clitoris. Clitoromegaly in childhood is often the result of an intersex condition and often does not require treatment. In children, early-onset clitoromegaly is usually the result of neurofibromatosis . This can be treated surgically if necessary.
- Metastatic cancer from elsewhere can damage the clitoris. The literature has reported metastases in the clitoris from breast cancer , cervical cancer and endometrial cancer . However, they are very unusual.
- Lichen sclerosus is an autoimmune skin disorder that, in rare cases, can cause significant scarring on the genitals. In severe cases, the clitoris can become covered with scar tissue, affecting its function.
- Clitoral adhesions can occur when the clitoral hood sticks to the head and can no longer fully retract. Adhesions can be mild to severe and can cause pain in the clitoris.
The causes of clitoral adhesions vary and are not fully understood, but risk factors appear to include genital trauma or trauma, yeast infections , urinary tract infections , lichen sclerosus, and hormonal imbalances. Minimally invasive surgical procedures are sometimes offered for adhesions.
Medical examinations of the clitoris are relatively rare. If there are changes in the size or shape of the clitoris, a biopsy may be needed to determine what is causing them. The images can also be used for people at risk for metastatic cancer.
The only exception is when babies are born with clitoromegaly. When a baby is born with an enlarged clitoris, doctors often try to determine the cause of the enlargement. This can include blood tests to check hormone levels and / or genetic testing to identify various potential intersex conditions . Understanding the cause of clitoromegaly can provide insight into the baby's possible gender identity and influence the way parents choose to parent their child.
Frequently asked questions
The parts of an organ located within the body that make up most of its size and contain all of its erectile tissue.
The head of the clitoris (external clitoris) lies above the opening of the urethra at the junction of the labia minora (inner labia) and is covered by a retractable clitoral hood. The rest is internal and connects to the glans of the penis.
The length from the tip of the head to the end of each leg is approximately 4 inches (10 cm). The outer head is 3/4 "to 1" in size and similar in diameter.
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Historically, the anatomical understanding of the clitoris has been poor and / or distorted, much remains to be learned about its erectile tissue and its interrelated role with other pelvic structures.
Additionally, each person has unique sensitivities and preferences for glans clitoral stimulation, so it's best to experiment with different pressure levels and techniques to find what works best for you.