The pudendum and the perversion of anatomical terminology

Clin Anat. 2021 Jul;34(5):721-725. doi: 10.1002/ca.23706. Epub 2021 Jan 6.


The definition of pudendum is external genitalia. The term pudendum is used to describe external genitalia regardless of sex. The labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, penis, scrotum, testes, and so on are all parts of the human pudenda. The female pudendum is also called the vulva. Also, nonhuman species have pudenda. Pudendum is a term that has been part of the formal anatomical nomenclature for a millennium. Recently, the meaning of pudendum has been perverted and misinterpreted as synonymous with only the vulva and to come from an etymological root term with the narrowly defined meaning "to be ashamed." The misunderstanding of pudendum is twofold. First, pudendum describes the external genitalia indiscriminate of sex; however, terms such as pudendum muliebre/pudendum femininum and pudendum virile/pudendum masculinum have been used throughout history to identify pudenda with respect to sex. Second, the meaning of the root term pudere has been taken out of context. The meaning of the root term is inclusive of respect, modesty, honesty, honor, virtue, awe, veneration, and so on and has a positive connotation rather than a negative connotation, akin to sacrum, for example. Indeed, pudendum shares its etymological root with the names of goddesses and saints (e.g., Pudicitia, Saint Pudens, Saint Pudentiana). This manuscript provides details regarding anatomical etymology and both the historical and modern use of anatomical terminology related to pudendum. Furthermore, this manuscript remedies the perversion of pudendum and, in doing so, improves the anatomical lexicon.

Keywords: anatomical nomenclature; anatomical terminology; anatomy; gender; genitalia; medical terminology; sex; vulva.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy / history*
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female*
  • Genitalia, Male*
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Terminology as Topic*