Learn About Sexuality

The female sex organ and reproductive anatomy

Unlike a man, a woman has separate anatomy for urination (the urethra), reproduction (the vagina) and orgasm (the clitoris). These three functions are all combined for a man and provided by the penis.

The female reproductive organs include the ovaries (where the eggs are held until they mature when they are released one at a time during her monthly cycle), the vagina (which leads into the womb) and the uterus (or womb) where the foetus develops inside a woman’s abdomen before birth.

Both male and female embryos have a rudimentary phallus. But the development of the phallus is not a sex-dependent choice like the internal reproductive anatomy. Only the extent of the development of the phallus varies depending on hormones sent out by the testes (or not). In the male embryo there is considerably more development and complexity involved in the development of the penis compared with the clitoris.

A woman has the remains of a phallus, called a clitoris. The female phallus (clitoris) develops from the genital tubercle, just as the penis does in a male. The clitoris is larger than what we see on the outside. Both the penis and the clitoris extend back into the pelvis in between muscles in the pelvic area of the body (between the hips). Rather like an iceberg, what we see on the outside is only a small portion of the total organ. Even so, a penis is much bigger. The clitoris does not respond as the penis does so most women are unaware of its existence and of its function.

A woman’s sex organ (clitoris) is separate from her internal reproductive anatomy (ovaries, uterus and vagina). The clitoris is made up of the glans, the shaft and the internal organ. Women have not evolved the anatomy to make orgasm a priority and so women never need to orgasm with a lover.

The clitoral bud is highly sensitive to touch much as the glans of the penis is. So even when we talk about direct stimulation of the clitoris, this involves stimulating the clitoris through the skin around (the labia) and over (the hood of) the clitoris. A woman rubs downwards from her vulva above the clitoris and presses one or two fingers from each hand over the clitoris. The sensitive clitoris is pressured through the protective layer of skin immediately around it. During masturbation, a woman’s stimulation of the clitoris is not particularly vigorous or even direct. However, stimulation can be focused at crucial moments of arousal and is far more direct than the total lack of sensation that she experiences from intercourse.

The first sign of puberty for girls is the growth of pubic hair, which begins developing by 12.3 years of age on average. Breast development begins at 12.4 years on average. The age of first menstruation ranges from 9 to 25 years but the median girl starts her period at age 13. A girl’s growth is completed by 15.8 years old. But regular ovulation in each menstrual cycle does not begin on average until a girl is sixteen to eighteen years of age.

The hymen is a small flap of skin that may cover the vagina (not in all women). When the hymen is broken there may be a little blood and some discomfort. Before the days of tampons, women’s hymens were broken when they first had intercourse on their wedding night. This is evidence of the fact that women do not masturbate by inserting objects into the vagina. Men are used to thinking of women in terms of their role in intercourse. In the most basic sexual terms, a man views a woman as an orifice to be penetrated and a place to deposit semen. So it’s counterintuitive for men to think of women having anatomy that parallels their own. Unlike the penis, the clitoris has no other function apart from that of being a sex organ.

Generally, we think of genitals in connection with reproduction and the act that leads to it (intercourse). This explains why most heterosexuals refer to the penis and the vagina. The clitoris is often omitted from any list of a woman’s sexual anatomy. Even with proper hygiene, women commonly suffer from thrush (a fungal infection of the vagina) and cystitis (an infection of the bladder). Thrush causes an itchy feeling within the vagina.

Cystitis is a stinging feeling in the bladder and is often accompanied by a continuous sense of needing to urinate. Medication can alleviate and usually remove symptoms. Women often assume that these infections arise because they have done something improper. This is unlikely. The female anatomy is much more susceptible to infection than the male because of the proximity of the orifices: urethra, vagina and anus.

If women think about their genitalia at all, they often perceive the clitoris to be ‘unfeminine’. The clitoris, as a remnant of what becomes the penis in a man, has masculine connotations. There is an association between the clitoris and lesbians. Women assume that such an obvious parallel with the penis will be unattractive to men. This may explain the custom of the surgical removal of a young woman’s clitoris (grossly misnamed ‘female circumcision’) by older women in the tribe. This surgery to remove a girl’s clitoris also ensures that she is unlikely to discover masturbation.

There is, however, no evidence that the vagina is ever the sole source of arousal, or even the primary source of erotic arousal in any female. (Alfred Kinsey 1953)

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