The Strange History of the Clitoris

Sex for Women Network

The Clitoris - It's "Discovery" by Doctors Took 400 Years.

It seems almost ridiculous that it should take the late 20th century for medicine to document an important part of the anatomy.  A study of history, however, makes it perfectly clear that women's pudenda have been neglected, ignored, dismissed, not to mention mutilated, for many many years.

Aristotle started it, by claiming that women's genitals were merely an inferior inversion of the penis, and this perception coloured anatomical study up until very recently.  An enduring prudishness towards looking at the privy parts, combined with the biblical belief in the inferiority of women, helped to slow scientific progress.

In the 16th century Gabriel Fallopius boldly claimed to be the modern chronicler of the clitoris - "it is so hidden that I was the first to discover it, several years ago" - although Renaldus Columbus is also thought to be the anatomical equivalent of his namesake, boldly finding and exploring new lands.  (No-one seems to have asked the women about it.)  At the time Pietro d'Abano was the only one who understood the point of it.  "Women are driven to desire... by having the upper orifice near their pubis rubbed...  For the pleasure that can be obtained from this part of the body is comparable to that obtained from the tip of the penis."

Despite this apparent burst of understanding, medicine bumbled on for another four hundred years. In this time Agnes Sampson was put to death for alleviating labour pains, wombs were believed to "wander" around the body causing every ailment conceivable (at one point the cure was leeches, which sometimes got lost), and masturbation caused insanity in one century, and relieved it in another.  In the 19th century, clitoridectory was widely recommended in Britain as a cure for "nervous diseases" and unruly behaviour.  "I always prefer scissors," said Dr Isaac Baker Brown, who later conceded that the procedure needed to be accompanied by careful "moral retraining" in order for it to work.

In 1905 Freud further confused everybody by declaring that the clitoral orgasm was an immature method of pleasure, and the fully developed woman should receive stimulation only from the vagina.  Despite the fact that Kinsey debunked the myth of the vaginal orgasm in 1953, gynaecologists and sexologists alike perpetuated the theory right up until the 80's, further debasing the clitoris in the process. 

This is an extract from "Paradise Found", an article that appears on For The Girls
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