A Timeline: Overlooking the Clitoris
In 1545, when we still believed the earth revolved around the sun, a French physician dissected the clitoris. Titling it “membre honteux,” or “the shameful member”, he deemed its single use urination. Prior to this ~groundbreaking~ discovery, a 1486 guide to finding witches declared that clitoral tissue on a woman was the indication of a witch. In the 16th century, Vesalius, “father of modern anatomy”, claimed the clitoris didn’t exist in healthy women and was only found among hermaphrodites.
Did you know that Gray’s Anatomy was initially a book? That’s right, it wasn’t always the juicy, drama-ridden soap-opera that we know and love. In 1858, Henry Gray published Gray’s Anatomy, an anatomy textbook for medical students. Yet there was an important omission: you guessed it, the clitoris.
Since we’ve acknowledged the clitoris, we’ve held it inseparable from male anatomy. For example, in 150BC, physician Claudius Galen professed that the clitoris was the female body’s failed attempt at a penis. Then, in 1671, author Jane Sharp designated the clitoris “the female penis”.
Studies of historical anatomical textbooks illustrate the clitoris’s frequent lack of or inaccurate representations. Additionally, scientists in the 19th and 20th centuries endorsed ideologies that encouraged expunging the clitoris or ideas that were utterly ludicrous. For instance, Freud’s theory regarded clitoral stimulation as an indicator of sexual immaturity. In addition, it contended that adult female sexuality was only reachable through vaginal climax. Just as preposterous, surgeon Isaac Baker Brown asserted that the clitoris was a result of hysteria. Furthermore, he deduced its removal to be the only solution.
Thus, is it a surprise that women feel uncomfortable taking about their sexuality, desires, and needs?
An Unparalleled Organ
In reality, the clitoris is much more than a nub atop the vagina. The clitoris can perform multiple orgasms, is the only organ existing solely for pleasure, and has double the number of sensitive nerve endings than a penis.
The Scales are Not Balanced, the Information is Counterproductive
For decades, the media has endorsed this dystopian reality surrounding sex, setting unrealistic expectations. That is, the media depicts sex in very particular ways which have influenced beliefs and expectations. In movies and shows, sex is typically penetrative with both partners finishing synchronously.
This sets us up for disaster. It is simply counterproductive and unrealistic. A 2016 study found that 95% of heterosexual men usually or always orgasmed from sex as compared to 65% of women. Furthermore, a 2015 internet survey found that among U.S. women, 36% found clitoral stimulation to be helpful during intercourse.
It’s become commonplace for women and girls to swallow their questions and thoughts about their sexuality, which unsurprisingly has consequences. One of these is inaccurate or limited understandings. Moreover, this ignorance is not temporary. In fact, around 1/3 of university-aged women in the U.K. are unable to find the clitoris in a diagram. Additionally, the unbalanced scales have translated not only to ignorance, but embarrassment. For instance, research has found that more than one in ten women find it difficult to discuss gynecological issues with their GP.
“The number-one reason for the orgasm gap…is our cultural ignorance of the clitoris,”Laurie Mintz, NBC
Since earliest findings, we’ve made progress in discussing female anatomy. We’re working to reclaim our autonomy and challenge harmful myths, aiming to cultivate open, genuine dialogue. For example, artist Sophia Wallace has put her energy into making art about the clitoris. She aims to debunk inaccurate depictions and cultivate a more inclusive sexual and anatomical discourse.
“It’s not that we don’t see the female body…It’s that we don’t know it.”Sophia Wallace, Huffington Post
It’s up to everyone-doctors, physicians, writers, educators-to equalize the scales. This requires recognizing and then conquering institutional oppressions, expectations, and biases.
Bottom line: we need to continue researching, studying, and discussing the clitoris.
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