Women's Health In Women's Hands

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Our Anatomy


*Images taken from a New View of a Woman's Body, A Fully Illustrative Guide by the Federation of Feminists Women’s Health Centers...Drawings by Suzann Gage

Vulva
Vulva

If you look in a mirror, you can see your vulva, a fatty layer of skin covered by pubic hair. This woman’s vulva surrounds and protects the clitoris. In addition to the pubic mound, the vulva includes the outer lips and the anus, which are darker in color than the clitoris itself or the skin surrounding it. The visible parts of the clitoris in this illustration are the hood; the frenulum, where the skin of the inner lips meets at the glans; the clitoral opening to the vagina; the hymen; the fourchette; the perineum; and the urethra.

Muscles Underneath Clitoris

Clitoris

Beneath the pubic mound the pelvic bones flare out forming a triangular space, called the pelvic outlet, which is generally wider than in men. During its birth the baby passes through this outlet.

 

Two pairs of long slender muscles frame the pelvic outlet. One pair (the ischiocavernosus) runs alongside the pelvic bones, forming two sides of the triangle, with the glans of the clitoris at its apex. The other pair (the transverse perineal muscles) extends laterally from the perineum and connects these muscles, forming the base of the triangle. A third pair of muscles (the bulbocavernosus) also extend from the glans of the clitoris within the triangle downward under the outer lips, connecting at the perineum. You can locate these muscles by squeezing as if you wanted to stop the flow of urine or a bowel movement.

 

During orgasm, these muscles, which lie just beneath the top layer of skin and fat, all contract in unison, compressing the soft, engorged tissues of the clitoris between them. At the same time, they compress the more interior tissues between themselves and the underlying broad layers of muscles.

 

A small ligament divides the cartilage when the pubic bones meet. It is attached to the clitoral shaft and draws it and the glans up during sexual arousal. The round ligament of the uterus (or womb) runs along each side of the lips of the clitoris.

Erectile Tissue of the Clitoris

Clitoris

Through self-examination, you can locate many of the structures which lie beneath the surface of the skin.

 Under the top layer of muscles lies a layer of erectile tissue ad blood vessels. In the top layer of muscles lies a layer erectile tissue and blood vessels. In the clitoris, there are two types of erectile tissue: one is more firm and the other is more elastic. When filled with blood during sexual excitement, they both become firmer and support erection. The blood that fills these intricate, tightly packed compartments of tiny arteries and veins comes from larger arteries.

The shaft and legs of the clitoris are long, thin bands of firm tissue which flare outward from the shaft along the pubic bones. The bulb of the clitoris, which is underneath the outer lips and top layer of muscle, is made up of the more elastic tissue. Another spongy body, extends inward along the ceiling of the vagina. This pad of soft tissue can be easily located by inserting your finger into the vagina and pressing forward towards the pubic bone; it surround the urethra, undoubtedly protecting it from direct pressure during sexual activity. This structure was not named in textbooks so we called in the “urethral sponge”.

 There are two sets of glands within the clitoris which have ducts that open to the outside. One set are minute and their specific function, if any, is unknown. The other, the vulvovaginal glands, do secrete a few drops of fluid during sexual arousal. Usually, a woman becomes aware of the latter glands only if they become infected and enlarged.

Pelvic Muscles

Pelvic Muscles

Attached to either side of the flared pelvic bones and wrapped around both the rectum and vagina is the pelvic diaphragm, a voluntary muscle. All the structures of the clitoris rest on this large muscle which tightens the rectum and vagina when contracted. Dr. Arnold Kegal of Los Angeles has drawn attention to this muscle, the pubococcygeal, by advocating that it be strengthened to increase sexual pleasure. He recommends that, several times a day, you repeatedly contract this muscle as if to stop the flow of urine or the bowel movement. Childbirth educators also suggest this and similar exercises to make this muscle and the other muscles of the clitoris stronger and more elastic.

Cross Section of the Clitoris

Cross Section of the Clitoris

In all of the anatomy and sex education books we studied, there were several cross sections of the penis, but no cross section of the clitoris. This cross section shows very clearly the organs and other muscles involved in sexual response. The clitoris is in a nonerect, nonexcited state.

Not shown are the clitoral muscles which are very much involved in orgasm.

Clitoris in Pelvis

Clitoris in Pelvis

This illustration shows how the clitoris is situated in the pelvis. The insert shows the pelvic bones.

Outer/Inner View of Non-Erect Clitoris

Outer/Inner View of Non-Erect Clitoris

Theses illustrations show the clitoris and its underlying tissue in a nonerect state. Here, the glans is nestled among the folds of the hood and is visible because the hood has been pulled back. The woman in this illustration is stimulating the clitoris manually. Her fingers are pressed on either side of the shaft and she is “rocking” her hands, pushing the flesh of the mound back and forth over the pubic bone. Self-help research has shown that many women’s clitoris do not look a great deal like the standard anatomy-book illustrations.

Outer/Inner View of Excitement-Plateau

Outer/Inner View of Excitement-Plateau

3-20, 3-21: Excitement. The clitoris becomes erect when the underlying spongy bodies fill with blood. This signifies the first, or excitement, stage of sexual response. At the same time, the vagina “sweats”, which provides lubrication, the vaginal blood vessels widen and fill with blood and the color of the vaginal walls deepens. At this time there is a noticeable increase in the pulse rate and blood pressure. In most women, the glans is not visible at this point because the shaft has been pulled back by the shortened ligament, causing it to retract from view. She is continuing to apply pressure in rhythmic strokes.

 

3-22, 3-23: Plateau. The bulbs and the urethral sponge become further filled with blood as sexual excitement increases. The valves in the arteries and veins close, trapping the blood in the organ. This is called vasocongestion. The hood enlarges as its supporting ligament shortens and pulls on the shaft, which is now quite hard, and the legs, which have become rigid also. The perineal sponge thickens as it fills with blood, further closing the entrance to the vagina. The uterus, tubes and ovaries swell. The broad ligament, which lies like a blanket over the bladder, swells and tightens, pulling up on the uterus and causing the vagina to enlarge. At this point, her movements have speed up.

Outer/Inner View of Orgasm

Outer/Inner View of Orgasm

3-24, 3-25: Orgasm. Powerful, rhythmic muscle contractions begin. The clitoris shortens dramatically and the inner lips tuck in, covering it. These events are accompanied by the loss of voluntary muscle control, faster breathing, tingling sensations and, sometimes, a rash or flush on the breasts and stomach. Some women experience sharp spasms in their hands and feet. Since one of her hands has become tired, she continues and intensifies the pressure with the other until orgasm.

Outer/Inner View of Resolution

Outer/Inner View of Resolution

3-28, 3-29: Resolution. The contractions of the clitoris prevent blood from flooding the tissues further. The tissues shrink as the pulse rate lowers, the valves in the arteries and veins open and the inner lips return to their original color. Within seconds, the orgasmic contractions grow faint and fade away. She is relaxed and covered with a fine film of perspiration.

Inner View of Aroused Clitoris

Inner View of Aroused Clitoris

During sexual arousal, the intricate chambers of these tissues fill with blood which is then trapped by valves, and the entire clitoris enlarges and changes dramatically. The glans and shaft become erect and maintain their positions until resolution. Underneath, the muscles are taut and contract in response to sexual stimulation.

Inner View of Clitoris at Resolution

Inner View of Clitoris at Resolution

The clitoris is in its nonerect state. The intricate maze, created by the blood vessels and capillaries in the tissues of the glans, shaft and legs, is called corpus cavernosum, which literally mean body of caverns. The urethral sponge, perineal sponge and bulbs differ from corpus cavernosum in that they are made up of tissue that is more elastic and does not become as hard during erection. This tissue is called corpus sponginosum. In the nonerect state, the valves of the clitoral arteries are closed and the valves of the veins are open.

 

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