clitoris {/klittəriss/}
  1. a small sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals at the front end of the vulva.




The clitori (Greek κλειτορις) is a sexual organ. In humans, the visible knob-like portion is located near the anterior junction of the labia minora, above the opening of the urethra and 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.



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.


understanding the clitoris historically

In ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe, mainstream society considered women as lesser or deformed men; contemporary understandings of female genitalia supported this conception. The ancient Greek physician Claudius Galen argued that women and men had differently located, but essentially equivalent genitalia. As the more perfect sex, men had sufficient body heat to allow genital protrusion, while weaker women's genitilia remained hidden from view. Galen's idea of equivalent anatomy persisted until the discovery of the clitoris in the seventieth century, when two Italian anatomists, Gabriel Fallopius and Renauldus Columbus, separately claimed to "discover" the organ. Apparently these men did not consider women's experiences of the clitoris sufficient; "discovery" meant men's scientific understanding. Eighteenth century Europe reconceived of gender as binary, and began to think of men and women as separate sexes as anatomists produced detailed depictions of women. These shifts in thought were not mobilized to empower women. Rather, they corresponded to an increasing social sentiment that women were weak, irrational and intellectually inferior. Even as society reconceived of gender and established the category of women, it still understood menstruation as an illness. Major Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacque Rousseau and Charles Montesquieu thought that women's hidden passion had the potential to disrupt social stability. Later, as most anatomists reconceived of the clitoris as part of women's reproductive or urinary systems, the concept of women's sexual pleasure faded.