Definition of Clitoris

An organ of the female genitalia, located at and partially beneath the junction of the upper folds of the labia. Made of erectile tissue and nerves, the clitoris arises from the same embryonic cells as the male penis and, though much smaller, contains parallel structures. Two fused corpora cavernosa (spongy, tubelike channels) form the body of the clitoris, which is about an inch long.

During sexual arousal the corpora cavernosa engorge with blood and cause the clitoris to enlarge and become erect. At the end of the clitoris is a small bulb of highly sensitive nerve tissue, the glans. A thin sheath, the prepuce (analgous to the male foreskin), covers the clitoral glans except during sexual stimulation when it retracts to expose the glans.

The only known purpose of the clitoris is sexual stimulation, which increases vaginal lubrication and other physiologic changes to facilitate penetration during sexual intercourse.

See also ERECTIONGENITAL TRAUMA; SEXUALITY.

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