Until 2009, the human clitoris was an absolute mystery

Humans have been studying one another sexually for thousands upon thousands of years. Yet for all that time spent diligently exploring one another's anatomies, there remain many features of the human form that, until very recently, have gone uncharted — chief among them being the clitoris.

How recently are we talking? Try 2009. Yeah. Get ready, everybody — it's time you were brought up to speed on some important features of the female anatomy.

Picture a clitoris in your mind. Got it? Now, what if I told you that what you're imagining is just the tip of a much larger, internal clitoral iceberg — that the clitoris is actually much, much larger than what this sensitive bundle of nerve endings would lead you to believe?

Here's a helpful sketch to help you paint a safe-for-work, anatomically correct picture of what I'm talking about, along with a brief description. Both are provided courtesy of Ms. M, who heads things up over on MoSex, official blog of the Museum of Sex:

Until 2009, the human clitoris was an absolute mystery

The scientific name for the external "little button" or "bulb" [of the clitoris] is glans. Not to be confused with glands, glans simply refers to a small circular mass. This little structure contains approximately 8,000 sensory nerve fibers; more than anywhere else in the human body and nearly twice the amount found on the head of a penis… The fact is, though, that most of the clitoris is subterranean, consisting of two corpora cavernosa (corpus cavernosum when referring to the structure as a whole), two crura (crus when referring to the structure as a whole), and the clitoral vestibules or bulbs.

The glans is connected to the body or shaft of the internal clitoris, which is made up of two corpora cavernosa. When erect, the corpora cavernosa encompass the vagina on either side, as if they were wrapping around it giving it a big hug!

The corpus cavernosum also extends further, bifurcating again to form the two crura. These two legs extend up to 9cm, pointing toward the thighs when at rest, and stretching back toward the spine when erect.

Surprised? So was I. Granted, I'm also a guy — so I would never pretend to be as familiar with a clitoris as someone who physically possesses one — but according to Ms. M, news that the vast majority of the clitoris is actually internal will still likely come as a surprise to many women.

The reasons for this lack of understanding surrounding clitoral anatomy are many, but according to a paper published by Urologist Helen O'Connell in 2005, there are at least two big ones:

1) Incomplete or inaccurate textbook descriptions. Many only go so far as to describe the relatively small, external portion of the clitoris, or depict the internal anatomy with a single, two-dimensional picture. This planar view, states O'Connell, provides insufficient information to truly understand its structure.

2) Nobody knew about the full anatomical scope of the excited clitoris until the late 1990s, when researchers finally got around to using MRI to study its internal structure "in the live state" (a tool researchers had used to examine male sexual anatomy as far back as the 1970s).

Until 2009, the human clitoris was an absolute mystery

In fact, according to Ms. M, it wasn't until 2009 that researchers Odile Buisson and Pierre Foldés produced the first complete three-dimensional sonography of the stimulated clitoris, similar to the one shown here, depicted in profile.

"They did this work for three years without any proper funding," writes Ms. M. "Thanks to them, we now understand how the erectile tissue of the clitoris engorges and surrounds the vagina – a complete breakthrough that explains how what we once considered to be a vaginal orgasm is actually an internal clitoral orgasm."

Read more about the mysteries of clitoral anatomy over on The Museum of Sex Blog.

Top image via Shutterstock; Anatomical images via MoSex