The Clitoris - totally new discoveries

Thanks to Helen O'Connell, a urology surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Melbourne, we now know that the last several hundred years of "knowledge" about the clitoris was very, very wrong. It is far larger and more complex than had ever been realised. Most of it is buried beneath layers of fat and shielded by pelvic bone but it has always been there for anatomists to find, if only they had bothered to look.

So what? you may think, sure it feels nice but what need is there to know its extent and complexity? Well if you ever need to have pelvic surgery for some reason, you may have very good reason to thank Helen O'Connell for her ground-breaking work. Up till now any urinary tract or gynaecological surgery may well have cut important nerves or blood vessels that run to the clitoris. Heaven knows how many women have sustained permanent damage to their sexual pleasure (see below for the reference to the The Campaign against Hysterectomy). Amazingly, there have simply never been any realistic maps of the area. That this has been ignored till now is mind boggling!

There doesn't seem to be any good explanation as to why this hasn't come to light till now. Could it be a matter of prudery? Almost certainly. Lack of interest? Quite likely. It seems the medical profession is not as detached as they would like to believe. Adele Clarke, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Francisco, checked out the way anatomy text books have shown the clitoris in the recent past. She queried the internet database Medline and found 1,611 articles on the penis but only 78 on the clitoris. (I searched today and found 85 references to the clitoris and 1,422 on the penis -- I limited my search to humans.) In 1901 Gray's Anatomy (the anatomist's basic reference) labelled the clitoris clearly, but after 1948 the label had been deleted. When she looked at 8 other anatomy text books published between 1950 and 1971 she found that the clitoris was not labelled and sometimes was not even represented at all. Since 1981 the clitoris has been labelled again but only minimally. It almost seems that if something has to do with female pleasure, particularly sexual pleasure, it just wasn't deemed important... or am I being paranoid?

The glans of the clitoris, the part that most people know about, is just the external part of the much larger body underneath. The 1st of August issue of New Scientist magazine described it like this:

"The 'body' of the clitoris, which connects to the glans, is about as big as the first joint of your thumb. It has two arms up to 9 centimetres long that flare backwards into the body, lying just a few millimetres from the ends of the muscles that run up the inside of the thigh. Also extending from the body of the clitoris, and filling the space between its arms, are two bulbs, one on each side of the vaginal cavity."

These bulbs had previously been thought to be part of the vaginal structure but they are now clearly seen to be part of the erectile tissue of the clitoris. They seem to have a couple of uses. They transmit pressure from the mouth of the vagina to the nerve structure of the clitoris, and they help clamp the urethra shut during arousal. This last may help to prevent bacteria entering the urinary tract during sex.

Strange, isn't it, that we are just about to enter the 21st Century and are only just now starting to learn about the simple anatomy of an important part of the female anatomy. It makes you wonder doesn't it....

For more info see:

'The Truth About Women' by Susan Williamson in New Scientist, 1st August 1998, p.34 (This is an excellent, detailed article - very easy to read.)

'Anatomical relationship between urethra and clitoris' by Helen E. O'Connell and others in Journal of Urology, vol 159, p 1892 (1998) You can find a synopsis of her original article on Medline or

'Hidden Agenda' by Jerome Burne (4th August) (Largely about the sexual politics of how the clitoris came to be ignored in the first place.)

'Research on clitoris key to understanding women's sexual function, scientist says' by Glennda Chui (31st July) at

'Female sex organ 10 times bigger than thought' (29th July) at

'Research called faulty on female sexual organ' by Glennda Chui (29th July) (this article is particularly useful as it has a diagram) at

'New facts unfold about oft-ignored clitoris' by Glennda Chui (4th August) at

The Campaign against Hysterectomy, P.O. BOX 300, Woking, Surrey GU22 OYE, UK.

If anybody has problems getting to the internet sites I've listed here, or if you are unable to get a copy of the New Scientist article or find it at the library, please feel free to get in touch with me.

I had to take the simple email link out of here because of the flood of spam from the bastards who harvest email addresses off websites and are currently destroying the best communication system ever developed. I get more than 100 per day -- and those are just the ones that make it through my ISP's spam filters!

Please email me at
(removing the "dontSpam_" part of the address)
ensuring that the subject is "Miriam - website feedback:".
The subject needs to be there so that I can see it buried amongst all the spam. Sorry about the complication. Blame the spamming sociopaths and the spineless politicians who couldn't be bothered doing anything about it.