There’s a good chance that the vast majority of people you know, yourself included, do not typically use the word “clitoris” in everyday conversation. In fact, it’s quite likely that you wouldn’t feel comfortable using it in any conversation at all. And why would you? In both the medical world and our personal lives, the clitoris has Iong been neglected, overlooked, and even altogether removed from our consciousness.
“That isn’t true”! I hear several angry men type at me once they read this . Of course, we all know that clitorises exist. We know that the clitoris is a female body part, vaguely located somewhere in a woman’s nether regions. But the clitoris as we know and love it today was only discovered in 1998.
The clitoris’ vanishing act first started in 1947 when Dr. Charles Mayo Goss erased it from anatomical diagrams in the 25th edition of the Gray’s Anatomy textbook of human anatomy (not to be confused with the also wildly inaccurate TV series). This was significant because the Gray’s Anatomy textbook was widely regarded as a go-to guide on anatomy in the medical world, and the disappearance of the clitoris meant that it was altogether erased from the knowledge of medical students and health professionals at the time. The clitoris was only re-introduced into the psyche of the medical world in 1998, when Dr. Helen O’Connell, a urologist, wrote her report “Anatomy of the Clitoris,” in which she detailed the clitoral anatomy, both internal and external, through her study and dissection of it. Through her work, O’Connell not only demonstrated that the clitoris was a sizeable organ that, when erect, could extend up to nine centimeters long, but also that it contained two to three more nerve endings than the penis.
So what gives? Why was the clitoris ever removed from the psyche of the medical world in the first place? One entirely plausible reason is that Dr. Goss saw no real anatomical use for it. After all, it has no “practical” purpose according to conventional standards. The penis is not only a sexual organ, but also a reproductive organ and is used to urinate. The clitoris, on the other hand, is the only organ which exists solely for sexual pleasure. There are no recorded reasons for why Goss had opted to exclude the clitoris from his work when he was given full editorial autonomy as the editor of his edition of Gray’s Anatomy, and at best we are left with educated guesswork.
It seems entirely plausible that the idea of female sexuality was reason enough for the clitoris to be removed from medical textbooks, especially during the first half of the 20th century when female sexual expression was still a taboo subject. Another theory is that Goss was influenced by our dear friend Sigmund Freud, who also held plenty of misconceptions about the clitoris. These included him thinking that women urinate through their clitoris, that young girls could experience sexual pleasure due to intestinal worms, and the belief that the “elimination of clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity” because the clitoris was fundamentally “immature” (that is, underdeveloped) in nature.
Despite the reasons why, the fact remains that in the modern day, many of us still suffer from a form of sexual illiteracy, which manifests itself in incredibly harmful ways with regard to how we view and treat women and their sexual autonomy. So how can we explore and alter our deeply-rooted and highly misinformed beliefs about female sexuality and autonomy? That, my dear reader, is a new blog entry altogether. (Part 1)
Image Courtesy: https://gph.is/2H87kqW from Janelle Monae/ YouTube