Purpose: We present a comprehensive account of clitoral anatomy, including its component structures, neurovascular supply, relationship to adjacent structures (the urethra, vagina and vestibular glands, and connective tissue supports), histology and immunohistochemistry. We related recent anatomical findings to the historical literature to determine when data on accurate anatomy became available.
Materials and methods: An extensive review of the current and historical literature was done. The studies reviewed included dissection and microdissection, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), 3-dimensional sectional anatomy reconstruction, histology and immunohistochemical studies.
Results: The clitoris is a multiplanar structure with a broad attachment to the pubic arch and via extensive supporting tissue to the mons pubis and labia. Centrally it is attached to the urethra and vagina. Its components include the erectile bodies (paired bulbs and paired corpora, which are continuous with the crura) and the glans clitoris. The glans is a midline, densely neural, non-erectile structure that is the only external manifestation of the clitoris. All other components are composed of erectile tissue with the composition of the bulbar erectile tissue differing from that of the corpora. The clitoral and perineal neurovascular bundles are large, paired terminations of the pudendal neurovascular bundles. The clitoral neurovascular bundles ascend along the ischiopubic rami to meet each other and pass along the superior surface of the clitoral body supplying the clitoris. The neural trunks pass largely intact into the glans. These nerves are at least 2 mm in diameter even in infancy. The cavernous or autonomic neural anatomy is microscopic and difficult to define consistently. MRI complements dissection studies and clarifies the anatomy. Clitoral pharmacology and histology appears to parallel those of penile tissue, although the clinical impact is vastly different.
Conclusions: Typical textbook descriptions of the clitoris lack detail and include inaccuracies. It is impossible to convey clitoral anatomy in a single diagram showing only 1 plane, as is typically provided in textbooks, which reveal it as a flat structure. MRI provides a multiplanar representation of clitoral anatomy in the live state, which is a major advantage, and complements dissection materials. The work of Kobelt in the early 19th century provides a most comprehensive and accurate description of clitoral anatomy, and modern study provides objective images and few novel findings. The bulbs appear to be part of the clitoris. They are spongy in character and in continuity with the other parts of the clitoris. The distal urethra and vagina are intimately related structures, although they are not erectile in character. They form a tissue cluster with the clitoris. This cluster appears to be the locus of female sexual function and orgasm.