top of page

The anatomy of the clitoris


      This is what the human clitoris looks like! Its representation is the result of a long scientific history. The clitoris is evoked in ancient Greece. Then in the 16th century, its almost complete anatomy was found by scientists. But it was not until 1996 (the year Viagra was commercialized!) and the work of Helen O'Conell (urologist) that the anatomy became a scientific truth. 2016 is the year of its 3D modeling by Odile Fillod (sociologist) and 2017, thanks to feminist activits, its integration into a french school textbook (Editions Magnard).
Today, scientists haven't yet discovered all the mysteries of this organ's functioning, but here, I propose some basis to help you to spot fake news (be careful, they are a lot, especially on social networks).
Let's start with the anatomy. The human clitoris is an organ of people with a vulva. Its embryonic origin is the same as the penis. It's made up of a glans ("face" of the figure above), pillars ("arms"), bulbs ("legs"), body ("neck") and plexus (" torso").Like an iceberg, most of the clitoris is submerged below the vulva. Only his glans ("face") is external and can be observed with the naked eye.
According to scientific studies, the human clitoris measures on average 7 to 13 cm , but you must  keep in mind that its an overall size and that the size of all each element of the clitoris (eg glans) can differ from one person to another. Like vulvas, remember the law of diversity !
For humans, the clitoris is positioned astride the urethra (channel used to pee represented here by a yellow dot) and the vagina (represented in darker green between the "legs " of the character). As you can see in the drawing, the clitoris doesn't completely sourround the vagina.

In humans, the clitoris plays a single function: pleasure*. Its position in the body and the nerve endings that compose it, make the clitoris the most sensitive pleasure zone of the body (there are others). 
Its mechanics are as follows: when it is well stimulated, the clitoris receives influxes of blood that make it swell and erect, and through its nerve endings, it sends messages that cause pleasure. When the pleasure is intense, it can lead people to orgasm (a moment often accompanied by spasms), or even to ejaculation (through the urethra). The clitoris reacts to two types of stimulation: external (glans, vulva) and/or internal (penetration). Here we are talking about the mechanical aspects, but it's important to keep in mind that other things are involved in the landscape of pleasure : the desire and the consent (pre-requisite!), the involvement of other pleasure zones of the body (which can be different from one person to another and presuppose a good knowledge of yourself and your partner), mental and emotional availability, confidence, imagination, etc.
When we say that the unique function of the clitoris is the pleasure, we must understand that biologically speaking, the clitoris plays no direct role in reproduction or gender determination. 
The clitoris does not contribute to procreation : it's possible to take pleasure during sexual intercourse without getting pregnant (when you masturbate, when there is no ejaculation or when you use contraception), and conversely, to become pregnant without sexual pleasure (eg artificial insemination, rape).
Regarding gender, it must be distinguished from the sexual attribute (male, female, intersex). The sex and the clitoris are biological (they result from the process of sexuation). Gender is social: it depends on how we perceive ourselves and others perceive us. In France and in many other countries, we think people born with a clitoris are women. However, this way of thinking is not shared everywhere and it has no biological grounds. This is why in the Clitionary, we talk about people with vulva and that the drawings of the clitoris can represent female, male and non-binary characters.

Taking all this into account, can we say that the clitoris is the equivalent of the penis? It has been seen that the clitoris has the same embryonic origin as the penis and that they both share many anatomical similarities, but it is not possible to state that the clitoris is the female equivalent of the penis or its internal equivalent (they both have an internal and an external part). It's also scientifically false to say that the "head" of the clitoris is the equivalent of the penis, and its bulbs ("legs") the equivalent of the testicles. Or that they are the same size: the penis is on average larger than the clitoris (sorry to say it...).

So now that you know all about the anatomy of the clitoris, in your opinion, which element of the description is wrong on the drawing?

For further

  • On the tips and tricks of the mechanics of pleasure, I recommend Jouissance Club by Jüne Pla

  • To better visualize the position of the clitoris in relation to its environment, I recommend this short video (Instagram) by Charline Vermont from Orgasme et moi.

  • To check the intox around the clitoris, I recommend going to Clit'info , Odile Fillod's blog (it's not easy to read, but the information is very reliable).

  • To revise your SVT lessons, you can watch Odile Fillod's videos here .


  * It is possible that the clitoris performs other functions (painkiller for example) but to date, no reliable scientific study has put it  in evidence. On social networks, research is often mentioned that proves its reproductive function (Roy Jerome Levin 2019). Nevertheless, this study should be taken with a grain of salt because the researcher confuses sexual arousal ("landscape of pleasure") with stimulation of the clitoris (an element among others of the landscape).  


Sources :

    Odile Fillod (science sociologist), Clitinfo' blog
  Marie Chevalley (doctor of medicine), 2021, State of knowledge of the anatomy and physiopathology of the clitoris among doctors in France, thesis in medicine at the University of Strasbourg.

     Roy Jerome Levin, 2019, The clitoris - An appraisal of its reproductive function during the fertile years: why was it, and still is, overlooked in accounts of female sexual arousal.

bottom of page