In my previous post, The Myth-Busting Sexual Anatomy Quiz, one of the answers in particular prompted comments and questions. I stated that the clitoris is not a mini-penis as it is often described but rather, biologically speaking, the penis, is an enlarged clitoris? But how can this be and does it really matter?
The Psychology of Gender looks at our biology, history and culture to consider the impact of gender roles and stereotypes, and addresses the ‘dilemmas’ we have regarding gender in a post-modern world (see UK / USA).
Of course, the statement was meant to be contentious and spark discussion. And, I discuss it fully in my book The Psychology of Gender (see UK / USA). When we talk about sex and gender we are storytelling. And, how we set the scene for our stories is key. So, by describing the clitoris as a ‘mini-penis’ we set up a chain of assumptions, By describing the clitoris ‘in terms of the penis’ we assume that the penis comes first (pause for sniggering). There’s also the not-so-subtle implication that the clitoris is an underdeveloped penis and therefore an inferior organ. These assumptions are biologically incorrect.
The part of the story often omitted is that male development requires hormones to suppress female development and further hormones to enhance male development. This makes female anatomy the platform for male development and so technically the penis is an enlarged clitoris. It sounds provocative because it goes against the ‘received wisdom’ or ‘gender spin’ – the story that gives primacy to the penis.
If we compare the female and male genitalia we can see how the embryonic tissue developed down the two routes:
ovaries = testes
labia majora (outer lips) =scrotum
labia minora (inner lips) = underside of the penis
glans (head of clitoris) = glans (head of penis)
shaft (erectile tissue) of clitoris = shaft (erectile tissue) of penis)
vagina = no comparable structure in male.
It’s notable that the word ‘vagina’ is used for female genitals where in fact this only applies to the birth canal. So in describing the female anatomy in everyday language, we put the emphasis on reproduction. The collective term for female genitalia is the vulva, which includes the clitoris, the only organ in the human body solely for sexual pleasure. The everyday use of ‘vagina’ for female genitalia is more gender spin as it keeps the emphasis on penetration and again ‘sidelines’ the clitoris. Again, it’s how we edit the story.
Then there’s the G-Spot to contend with. That’s it, let’s get the emphasis back up the vagina in a quest for the orgasmic grail. There is certainly not universal agreement that the G-Spot really exists. Supposedly located on the anterior wall of the vagina, no structure has been identified and evidence is largely anecdotal. Academic research suggests that:
the special sensitivity of the lower anterior vaginal wall could be explained by pressure and movement of clitoris’ root during a vaginal penetration and subsequent perineal contraction.
This research counters the story of the ‘clitoris as tiny penis’. In fact, its root extends deep into the body. So what some women experience as the G-Spot may be a by-product of the movement of the clitoris. More evidence, if any were needed, that the clitoris is not an inferior penis, and females are not ‘incomplete’ males.
For a fuller discussion of how to tell better (and more accurate) gender stories, see The Psychology of Gender (For US click, For UK click ).
Post updated: 29 May 2019
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