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Sexual Anatomy



Karen is a twenty years old girl felt her breasts were too small. She wrote: I hate looking in a mirror or wearing a bathing suit because I see how flat I am. I would mortified to let a guy touch or see my breasts.


Brad is an athletic seventeen years old that quit his schools basketball teams because his breasts were large. He told us that his teammates kidded him mercilessly in the locker room and showers about when he was going to get a bra. He was afraid he might turn into woman.


A married couple in their mid-twenties who were sex therapy patients said they frequently used stimulation of the clitoris as part of making love. When asked to identify the clitoris during a physical exam, the husband pointed to a large freckle on the lower part of his wife’s labia major.


As these examples show, many of us have inaccurate information or negative feelings about our sexual anatomy. This should not be surprising for a variety of reasons:

  • we are taught to keep our sex organs covered by clothing;

  • we are scolded or punished for touching our ”private parts”;

  • we are not likely to be told the correct terminology to describe our sexual  anatomy;

  • we are discouraged from conversations or questions about sex; and

  • The sexual images we are exposed to in movies and magazines are likely to present almost unattainable standards to measure ourselves against.  

It is no wonder that our sexual anatomy can be a source of anxiety, shame, guilt, mystery and curiosity, as well as a source of pleasure.


The mixed feelings we have about our sexual parts are mirrored in the words we use to talk about them: some words are clean and proper, while others are dirty and impolite”. These differences are a result of how we interpret words, not an innate property of the words themselves. Consider, for example:


In Nigeria, the moral taboos of sex were taught by missionaries and administrators who used only clean words. These were the words that became taboo. The dirty words used as part of the vernacular of sailors, traders, and the like, became part of Nigerian vernacular English, with no taboo attached. In consequence today it is as forbidden to say sexual intercourse, penis and vagina on Nigerian television as it is to say fuck, cock, and cunt on the national networks in the United State. In Nigeria, the latter terms are considered normal and respectable.



 Female sexual anatomy


Females are encouraged to feel as if our bodies are not ours. Our “figure” is for a (potential) mate to admire. Our breasts are for “the man in our lives” to fondle during lovemaking, for our babies to suckle, for our doctors to examine. The same kind of “hands-off’ message is even stronger for our vaginas .


Anyone who has been around young children knows that baby girls play with their genitals just as they touch and explore all parts of their body. Although this activity seems pleasurable and interesting, most girls are quickly taught that it’s “not nice” or “dirty,” a prohibition that is probably reinforce during toilet training when the two-or three-year-old girl is urged to “wipe carefully’ and “be clean.” 


The sex-negative tone of these early childhood messages is consistently reinforced for most girls, as they grow up, commonly creating anxieties and inhibitions about sex in general and their sexual anatomy in particular. These difficulties are compounded by many people’s perception of the female sex organs as unattractive and unclean.



Menstruation is one source of such negative attitudes:

  • Menstrual periods are sometimes called “the curse”.

  • Menstrual flow is contained by” sanitary” napkins (which suggests an underlying condition of uncleanness),

  • Sex during menstruation is often avoided by men and women because it        may be messy, and

  • In some societies, there are strong taboos surrounding menstruating women that isolate them, so they will not contaminate food, plants, or people.

  • In our cosmetic-conscious society of perfumes, deodorants, and after-shave lotions, women have been told that their vaginal odors are unpleasant and should be hidden. As a result, “feminine hygiene deodorant sprays” were widely used until it became apparent that they frequently caused vaginal irritation and itching.


Many women have not taken a direct look at their own genitals or cannot accurately name and identify the parts of their sexual anatomy. (Sex organs in the pelvic region- in females, the outer sexual structures and the vagina, and in males, the penis, scrotum and testes-are customarily called the genitals.) While we cannot imagine a person unable to distinguish between eyes, nose, mouth, and chin, many men and women have no idea of the location of the female urethra, clitoris, or hymen.


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