The Clitoris, the Penis, Political Correctness and Biological ‘Factness’

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?

Book Cover: The Psychology of Gender by Dr Gary Wood

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.

Pic: Social Psychologist Dr Gary Wood on TV discussing gender stereotypesThis 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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Myth Busting Human Sexual Anatomy Quiz

Pic: Dr Gary Wood - Author of Sex, Lies & StereoypesWe have many taken-for-granted assumptions about the biology of men and women. So, I offer this, provocative, human anatomy quiz. It’s aimed at unpacking the assumptions we make when telling stories around sex and gender.

The Questions:

  1. True or false? Women are biologically the weaker sex.
  2. True or false? Men have male hormones and women have female hormones.
  3. True or false? Women have testosterone.
  4. True or false? The anus has an erotic capacity for both men and women.
  5. True or false? The anus has an erotic capacity irrespective of sexual orientation.
  6. True or false? The correct name for the female genitals is the vagina.
  7. True or false? A clitoris is like a tiny penis.
  8. True or false? The clitoris is the only organ in the human body with the sole function of sexual pleasure.
  9. True or false? The ovaries and the testes are formed from the same embryonic tissue.
  10. True or false? Biologically, the ‘default’ value of humans is female.
  11. True or false? Women are incomplete men.
  12. True or false? Men and women are so different that they may as well be from different planets.

The Answers:

For a fuller discussion of sex and gender see my book The Psychology of Gender (For US click, For UK click ). In the meantime, here are the answers:

  1. False. Men are biologically the weaker sex  (on account of the Y chromosome which means it doesn’t protect the male so well from hereditary diseases)
  2. False. Men and women have the same hormones; it is only the relative levels that differ. Furthermore, men differ from other men and women differ from other women in terms of hormone levels.
  3. True. Women have testosterone. Men also have progesterone and oestrogens.
  4. True. The anus has an erotic capacity for both men and women. As the genitals and the anus share much of the same musculature and nerve endings, it is often difficult to tell where an impulse originates.
  5. True. The anus has an erotic capacity irrespective of sexual orientation (gay, straight, bi or indifferent).
  6. False. The vagina is the birth canal; the collective term for the female genitals is ‘vulva’.
  7. False. A penis is an enlarged clitoris. See also answer 8.
  8. True. The clitoris is the only organ in the human body with the sole function of sexual pleasure.
  9. True. The ovaries and the testes are formed from the same embryonic tissue.
  10. True. Biologically, the ‘default’ value of humans is female. That is why the penis is an enlarged clitoris and also why men have nipples.
  11. False. More accurately, men are women who made a bit of a detour (in the earlier stages of development)
  12. False. From biological evidence, the similarities between men and women are greater than the differences.
Book Cover: The Psychology of Gender by Dr Gary Wood

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. (For US click, For UK click ).

So where does this take us?

Well, in the direction of a twelve point personal research plan to check out the answers and then consider how these facts impact on our social interpretation of biological sex, that is our gender roles (and our attitudes to sexuality).

[Material adapted from Sex, Lies and Stereotypes, by Gary Wood]

Updated: 29 May 2019

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