The clitoris (kli'to-ris, klit'O-ris) [G. kleitorls] is a sexual organ in the body of female mammals, located near the anterior junction of the labia minora. The visible knob-like portion is located above the opening of the vagina. Its particular function is inducing sexual pleasure and orgasms. The word clitoris can be pronounced (SAMPA: ["klI4@r@s], KLIHT uh rihs, listen; or [klI"tOr@s], klih TOHR ihs, British ["klaItQr@s] KLY tor ihs).
The female clitoris is homologous to the male penis. The organ is formed out of corpus cavernosum, which is a rich collection of capillary tissue with a substantial presence of nerve tissue, particularly well-suited for sexual stimulation. Embryologically, the clitoris comes from the same tissue that forms the male penis. Shaped like an inverted "V", the corpus cavernosum splits into two crura, which extend around and to the interior of the labia majora, and then along the inside of the pelvic bone.
It is not commonly known that most of the clitoris is hidden, and that external stimulation of the entire clitoris can result in a more profound sexual response. One explanation advanced for the now unfashionable idea of the vaginal orgasm is that it results from stimulation of the internal parts of the clitoris during vaginal penetration.
The visible portion of the clitoris is covered by a 'hood' of tissue (the prepuce) that is homologous to the foreskin in males. The trigger for forming a penis instead of a clitoris is the action of testosterone in utero.
Medical literature first recognised the existence of the clitoris in the 16th century. This is the subject of some dispute: Renaldo Columbus (also known as Matteo Renaldo Colombo) was a lecturer in surgery at the University of Padua, Italy, and in 1559 he published a book called De re anatomica in which he described the "seat of woman's delight." Columbus concluded, "Since no one has discerned these projections and their workings, if it is permissible to give names to things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of Venus."
Columbus' claim was disputed by his successor at Padua, Gabriele Falloppio (who discovered the fallopian tube), who claimed that he was the first to discover the clitoris. Caspar Bartholin, a 17th century Danish anatomist, dismissed both claims, arguing that the clitoris had been widely known to medical science since the 2nd century.
In the 1970s, the word clitoris was considered offensive in United States broadcasting, yet in recent years has moved off the "taboo" list. The first use of clitoris on American television is believed to have been by Dr. Rich O'Brien, a Harvard colleague of Garabedian's, on the Dr. Ruth Westheimer show.
Female circumcision, the removal of the clitoris (for cultural rather than medical reasons), is widely practiced today in some societies, mainly in Africa. It is regarded as highly immoral by most Western societies.