I was raised in sex-positive household. My mom bought me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves when I was like… Nine? So I really thought that I knew all there was to know about my genitals. I knew the proper name for everything from my labia majora to my mons and, of course, my clitoris. I also knew that my clit is the pleasure spot — the most important part of the genitalia when it came to sexual pleasure — and that it was the little nub just above my labia. Or, at least, I thought I knew. Turns out, the clitoris is more complicated than even the most sex-positive parent could have known in the mid-90s.
That’s because the full shape of the clitoris wasn’t “discovered” until 1998, when urologist Helen O’Connell drew a diagram of the full internal clitoris for a paper in the Journal of Urology. However, it turns out that Dr. O’Connell was only the first contemporary researcher to sketch out the shape of the clit: Edward Clint writes that an OB/GYN named R.L. Dickinson made a sketch of the internal clitoris in 1949 and someone named G.L Kobelt did the same in 1844.
So if your clit isn’t the Dictionary.com definition of “a part of the female genitalia consisting of a small elongated highly sensitive erectile organ at the front of the vulva,” then what does it look like? Well, kind of like a wishbone with double legs and a tiny penis head. Or maybe a really cool orchid. Actually, it’s pretty hard to describe with words, so here’s a diagram.
The top part is the part most of us are familiar with — the head of the clit, which is called the “glans.” This is the little “button” that people have believed to be the beginning and end of the clit for generations. Not to talk smack about it, though! That visible part of the clitoris has more than 8,000 nerves on it and it’s the only human body part that exists solely for pleasure. That little button packs a punch, without a doubt.
It’s the parts below that, though, that are fascinating. There are two legs on either side called “crura” that are as long as five inches on either side. When a person with a vagina is turned on, these crura fill with blood and become “erect,” similar to a penis. Because they’re bigger, they squeeze closer to the walls of the vaginal canal, bringing clitoral nerves and tissue close the vagina.
More and more research suggests that the old idea of a purely vaginal orgasm is untrue because clitoral tissue is both internal and external. One study, called The Clitoral Complex: A Dynamic Sonographic Study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2009, even suggests that the G-spot may be where the two crura meet. The researchers took sonograms of women doing Kegel exercises and at rest. They then asked the women to point to the spot on their bodies that felt the best — and the women identified the part of the vagina that’s just over the place where the crura meet.
But more fun than sonograms or diagrams, I think, is the awesome art that’s coming out of the knowledge that the clit is way bigger than we all thought. Gloria Steinem made waves in March of 2015 when she rocked an elegant clitoris ring. Artist Sophia Wallace made a giant gold clit and displayed it at the University of the South for her CLITERACY project around the same time. And, more recently, artist Alli Sebastian Wolf in Sydney, Australia, created a 100:1 model of the clit that she deemed “The Glitoris,” which includes nerves rendered in glitter and sequins. The pictures of her holding it up on long pole while rocking a blue wig and gold body suit are perhaps the most fun celebration of the clit that I’ve seen to date.
Artistic work like the clit ring and the pieces by Wallace and Sebastian, combined with the power of social media to spread messages faster than ever before hopefully mean that, this time, the true shape of the clitoris won’t fade back into obscurity. And the next generation of badass girls being raised by sex-positive parents will know way before becoming sexually active what their clitorises look like.