The clitoris was only fully discovered in 1998


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The clitoris was only fully discovered in 1998


Since ancient history, female pleasure and the clitoris have been dismissed, ignored and often left out of the conversation. So much so that it wasn’t until 1998 when the clitoris was discovered in it’s full structure.

This was pointed out on BBC Women’s Hour by founder of the Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium, Ky Hoyle. In a discussion on female masturbation with Irma Kurtz, Emily Yates, Stephanie Theobaldand and Lauren Laverne, they criticise the neglect of the clitoris in research.”The shocking thing is that in anatomy, it’s been ignored forever,” Stephanie said, “It was ignored in anatomy books, it’s not even been fully explored in Gray’s Anatomy – the surgeon’s bible.”

Australian Urologist Helen O’Connell was the first to reveal the true size and scope of the clitoris, and her findings challenged nearly every belief about clitoral anatomy to date. Through an external and internal map (the first of its kind) she revealed its massive size and huge amount of nerve endings. Through this, we discovered that the clitoris has two to three times more nerve endings than the penis. Before her findings, nobody knew about the full anatomical scope of the stimulated clitoris.

In her paper, she writes about the lack of understanding surrounding the anatomy of the clitoris. Mainly, she says, textbook descriptions were incomplete or inaccurate, mainly referencing a small external part of the clitoris, or depicting the internal anatomy with a basic, 2D image. According to O’Connell, this is hardly enough information to fully understand it’s structure.

She told the Huffington Post: “As a surgical trainee, you have to study these anatomy texts over and over and over, so I knew that everything was detailed when it came to men and very little was when it came to women.” She continued her research, and in 2005 published another study revealing that the clitoris extends behind the vaginal wall. She said: “If you lift the skin off the vagina on the side walls, you get the bulbs of the clitoris.”

And as Ky pointed out, it wasn’t even until 2009 that the stimulated clitoris was sonically photographed. This was done for three years by French researches Dr. Odile Buisson and Dr. Pierre Foldès, without any funding. This research was revolutionary – explaining how what we once considered to be a vaginal orgasm is actually an internal clitoral orgasm.

Helen O’Connell’s research was revolutionary, it’s yet to work it’s way into sex education and popular culture in it’s entirety. The anatomical map has not been altered to include new discoveries.

This begs the question – is this lack of awareness and importance surrounding the clitoris partly responsible for the orgasm gap? Ky believes it even had an effect on early sex toys, which used to be mainly phallic objects focused on penetrative sex. She talks about her first trip to a sex shop as an “alienating, horrible experience”, adding “men don’t want to think that 80 per cent of women don’t orgasm through penetrative sex”.

You can listen to the full podcast here.