The clitoris used to be represented and thought of as a small ‘pea’ like structure, sitting above the urethra (Enright, 2019). It wasn’t until relatively recently when Professor Helen O’Connell fully investigated and modelled the full extent of the clitoris in 1998 (Fyfe, 2018). O’Connell is a Urologist (a type of doctor, who specialises in surgery in areas of the body including the bladder and urethra). She used cadavers to map fully map out the clitoris, demonstrating that it was a much bigger structure. Like this:
It includes structures that are hidden deep to other tissue, such as the corpus cavernosum and the bulbs of the clitoris. As you can see from the diagram the bulbs of the clitoris are very close to the vagina – even more so when a person is aroused, as they become swollen and more erect by blood being diverted to them, just as the penis does (Drake et al. 2010).
There is an excellent and short French cartoon about the structure, function and history of ‘Le Clitoris’- the only organ that is just for pleasure – here.
Drake, R. L., Vogl, A. W. & Mitchell, A. W. M. (2010) Gray’s Anatomy for Students. Second Edition. Canada: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.
Enright, L. (2019) Vagina a Re-Education. Croydon: Allen & Unwin.
Fyfe, M. (October 2018) Get Clitorate: how a Melbourne doctor is redefining sexuality. The Sunday Morning Herald. Accessed online on 21.03.2019 at [https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/get-cliterate-how-a-melbourne-doctor-is-redefining-female-sexuality-20181203-p50jvv.html}
Ever heard the term ‘designer vagina’? This generally refers to a certain type of cosmetic surgery, not to the vagina itself but to the ‘inner lips’ (or labia minora) of the vulva. Surgery here involves removing tissue from and reshaping the appearance of the labia minora- in other words to ‘trim’ it. Many people with vulvas have a labia minora that protrudes so that it appears visible – therefore however large this is it is likely to be ‘normal’. Additionally, in young people biological changes occur during puberty that can change the appearance of the inner labia. For this reason it is often recommended by the NHS that those under 18 do not get this type of surgery. However, there seem to cases of children having labiaplasties. According to one report over 200 people received labiaplasty procedures funded by the NHS in 2015-2016. We know that people with visible labia are more likely to think that their genitals look ‘abnormal’ than those without, even though both are equally common (Lykkebo et al, 2017). Some accounts have blamed this on the prevalence of seeing only vulva with neat and invisible labia minora. Whatever the cause, the desire to have this type of surgery seems increasingly common with a 45% rise seen in labiaplasty numbers worldwide between 2015 and 2016.
Pubic hair and body positivity can be a tricky issue. On the one hand, people absolutely have the right to cut, shape, dye, remove or in any other way sculpt their own personal body space! I get how it can be liberating and a way of taking control of your own body and quite literally shaping your intimate identity.
On the other hand, there seems to be a growing repulsion for body hair that isn’t manicured. A dislike for ‘natural’ hair, particularly (but not exclusively) when it comes to vulvas. Some people specifically find it ‘unhygienic‘. This despite the fact that pubic hair, like the hair on your head, has specifically protective functions.
So trim and go as bare as you dare around your nether regions if you want to. But maybe think about why your doing it!