Why snakes have two clitoris and other mysteries of female genitalia

The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication about the latest research.

The sometimes amazing sex lives of animals are well known, particularly the wide variety of penile structures that have evolved to increase the number of offspring males produce. For example, ducks have a corkscrew-shaped penis, and echidnas (also known as stinging anteaters) have four-headed penises. But what about female genitals?

For centuries scientists assumed that most animals did not have a clitoris. But new discoveries show that female sex organs are just as interesting and diverse as male ones.

The female reproductive organs often mirror those of males—female ducks’ sex organs are also corkscrew-shaped—and co-develop to promote successful sperm transfer. But it turns out that scientists often overlook or miss the clitoris altogether.

Although the clitoris has been documented in some species of lizards, including geckos and monitor lizards, it had never been studied before in snakes, leading many scientists to assume it doesn’t exist.

However, a study published in December 2022 found that snakes have not one but two located under the tail. Mistaken for a scent gland for many years, the clitoris exists in snakes and consists of two interconnected parts.

After scientists searched for it, the clitoris (known as hemiclitors in snakes and lizards) was actually found in nine species of snakes from four different families, including the adder, the death adder, and the carpet python. It is made up of cavernous bodies and nerve bundles, suggesting that it is more than just an underdeveloped penis and likely has a reproductive function.

Why do we know so little about the clitoris?

Science used to be dominated by men who were less interested in female anatomy than in male anatomy. And a penis is more obvious than a clitoris, which makes it easier to study.

Until recently, it was not socially acceptable to even talk about the clitoris. Witch leaders from the Middle Ages referred to it as the “devil’s teat” and claimed that only witches had one.

The taboo is mostly because the clitoris is a sex organ known to give pleasure in humans. In fact, 17th-century French literature referred to the clitoris as “gaude mihi,” which roughly translates to “I like it.”

The clitoris is a region with thousands of nerve cell endings, making it very sensitive. It is made of the same tissue as the penis, so when aroused it swells and swells in size. When a penis or clitoris is stimulated, it causes muscle contractions. These can lead to ejaculation in men, but what about women?

There is evidence that orgasm is associated with higher fertility. For example, studies of artificial insemination in cattle have found that clitoral stimulation can help increase pregnancy. Because the stimulation causes contractions of the reproductive tract, sperm are likely to be drawn further into the uterus, increasing fertilization success.

Once you start looking

The clitoris is more prominent in several species than others, such as B. crocodiles and non-human primates such as capuchins, and tends to be positioned so that it is stimulated during copulation (again probably to increase reproductive success). In fact, in species like rabbits and camels, where ovulation must be induced by copulation, it’s possible that clitoral stimulation could trigger ovulation.

Several studies have found that female primates like macaques experience orgasms, both during copulation and through self-stimulation or homosexual encounters. This also applies to bonobos, who indulge in homosexual and straight encounters for pleasure, to maintain pair bonds or to resolve aggressive encounters.

In these species, as well as in dolphins, the clitoris is relatively large compared to other animals, which facilitates homosexual stimulation. In some species, including the spider monkey, the clitoris is so enlarged that it can resemble a penis.

The most notable clitoris, however, is that of the spotted hyena. The females urinate and give birth through their huge penis-like clitoris and even signal dominance with erections.

Most birds lack a penis or clitoris. Instead, they have a single opening called the cloaca, which is used for both defecation and reproduction in both males and females. However, some male bird species such as the ostrich have a penis. Interestingly, the female ostrich has a clitoris that complements the male penis.

So it’s likely that wherever there’s a penis, there’s also a clitoris.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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