Female anatomy

Courbet painting

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) The Origin of the World, 1866
Oil on canvas 46 x 55 cm. Paris, Musée d'Orsay
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Jump to Female Circumcision

Glossary with links

This page lists and briefly explains abbreviations, acronyms, medical terms and suffixes relating to female sexual anatomy and female circumcision. Links within this page connect to more detailed explanations, drawings and photographs. To request or submit additions or amendments to this glossary, click here.
Adhesion The uniting of two skin surfaces (usually implying "unwanted adhesion").
Anterior Towards the front. The opposite of Anterior is Posterior.
Cervical Pertaining to the cervix. Example: Cervical cancer.
Cervix The opening of the uterus (womb) into the vagina.
Circumcise To perform circumcision - in a female, to remove the clitoral hood. See the Female Circumcision page
Circumcised The state of having undergone circumcision and no longer having a prepuce (in men) or clitoral hood (in women).
Circumcision clamp A metal or plastic device used to hold the tissue to be excised in the required position during the circumcision procedure whilst protecting the retained tissue from damage. Many such devices exist for circumcising boys and men, but only one has been used for women and has never become popular.
Circumcision (female) The surgical removal of the clitoral prepuce. Not to be confused with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a set of more radical procedures illegal in many countries. See the Female Circumcision page
Clitoral circumcision The surgical procedure in which the hood of the female’s clitoris (called the clitoral prepuce) is removed. The term is often confused in modern day writings with more drastic ritual procedures properly termed Female Genital Mutilation or FGM. Throughout the CIRCLIST website, female circumcision means only the removal of the hood of the clitoris. See the Female Circumcision page
Clitoridectomy A form of Female Genital Mutilation, involving the removal of all or part of the clitoris. See the Female Circumcision page
Clitoris The female homologue of the male penis. It comprises erogenous erectile tissue, most of which is concealed within the abdomen. The exposed part lies above the urethra and is the major source of sexual pleasure for a woman. See the illustrations page
Congenital defect A birth defect - a foetal malformation - that may or may not be genetic in origin.
Distal An anatomical term meaning "relatively further away from [whatever]". The opposite of Distal is Proximal.
Dorsal An anatomical term meaning 'on the upper surface'. (Think of a Dorsal Fin on a fish.) The opposite of Dorsal is Ventral.>
Elective surgery Surgery done as a matter of choice rather than of necessity. Circumcision and labioplasty fall into this category if there is no medical imperative.
Endometriosis A defect in the lining of the uterus causing heavy and sometimes irregular periods. The condition inhibits conception and therefore can be a primary cause of infertility.
Episiotomy A surgical incision through the perineum made to enlarge the vaginal opening and assist childbirth.
Erogenous (as, for example, in Erogenous zone) Particularly sensitive to physical sexual stimulation.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Surgical or ritual alteration of the female genitalia to an extent more radical than clitoral circumcision. Widely criticised and illegal in many countries. See the Female Circumcision page
Forceps A surgical instrument designed to hold and grip tissue. A wide range of sizes from something to grab a baby's head in a difficult delivery ro a delicate instrument in microsurgery.
Frenum, Frenulum An elastic web of mucous tissue under the glans clitoris. More generally a narrow web or fold of mucous membrane passing from a fixed to a more movable part, serving to check undue movement of the movable part. Frenulum is the diminutive, referring to a small structure.
Genetic defect A physical defect or medical condition that is inherited, e.g. Haemophilia.
Glans Clitoris The tip of the clitoris, made up of highly sensitive tissue. See the illustrations page
Hoodectomy Removal of the clitoral prepuce, to expose the clitoral glans. See the Female Circumcision page
HPV - Human Papilloma Virus The genital wart virus which is now known to have some strains responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.
Hymen A thin membrane of tissue that partly closes the vagina in virgins. Inevitably broken by sexual intercourse, it can also be destroyed by medical examinations, tampon use, masturbation, vigorous exercise, horse riding and suchlike. Its absence is not a reliable indication of past sexual activity, but its presence generally implies virginity. See the illustrations page
Imperforate hymen A hymen that completely seals the vagina, trapping menstrual blood within the body. It may require medical intervention. See the illustrations page
Infibulation Surgical closure of the vulva to prevent intercourse - one type of FGM.
Labia majora (outer lips) The fleshy folds of skin which enclose the female genitalia. See the illustrations page
Labia minora (inner lips) Thinner folds of skin inside the labia majora, and continuous with the clitoral prepuce. These may be completely concealed within the outer lips, or may be extensive enough to protrude beyond them. Both conditions are completely normal, but some women with protruding inner lips choose to have them reduced (labioplasty, below) either for aesthetic reasons or for improved comfort. See the illustrations page and the Female Circumcision page
Labioplasty Removal or reduction of the inner lips, often undertaken in conjunction with clitoral circumcision or hoodectomy. See the Female Circumcision page
Masturbation Physical stimulation of the clitoris, bringing about sexual arousal and climax, not involving intercourse. Can be done alone or mutually.
Meatus See urinary meatus.
Menarche The first menstrual period of a pubescent girl.
Menstruation The shedding of the lining of the womb that occurs after ovulation if conception hasn't occured. It happens approximately every 28 days. Often called a "Period", it takes the form of a modest discharge of blood from the vagina and lasts typically 5 days.
Menopause Cessation of menstruation at the age when ovulation ceases, usually in the late 40s or 50s.
Posterior Towards the rear. The opposite of Posterior is Anterior.
Prepuce (Female) The free fold of skin that covers, more or less completely, the glans clitoris of an uncircumcised female. Synonym: Clitoral Hood. During female circumcision, most or all of the prepuce is removed. See the illustrations page and the Female Circumcision page
Proximal An anatomical term meaning "relatively closer to [whatever]". The opposite of Proximal is Distal.
Smegma The secretion of a sebaceous gland, producing a cheesy substance that collects between the clitoral hood and the clitoris.>
Suffixes Many words used by the medical profession at first seem to be unnecessarily complicated and incomprehensible to the layman. In fact they are highly structured; a very precise meaning can be 'unpicked' by separating the root from the suffix. Here is an explanation of some of those suffixes:
-ectomy Cutting something out, as in hysterectomy - surgical removal of the uterus.
-metry Measuring something, as in psychometry - the measurement of mental state and intelligence.
-ography Writing about something, as in ethnography - writing about race & culture.
-ology Studying something, as in epidemiology - the study of epidemics.
-otomy Cutting through something, as in episiotomy - a surgical incision through the perineum made to enlarge the vagina and assist childbirth.
-pexy Repositioning something. (There are no well-known "-pexy" surgeries relating to the female anatomy, so let’s stick with the male example of orchidopexy - correction of an undescended testicle.)
-plasty Improvement of appearance or form of something, e.g. mammoplasty - a "boob job".

Sunna An Arabic word, literal meaning "tradition".
Sunna circumcision (of women) Removal of the clitoral hood. See the Female Circumcision page
Suture A surgical stitch. Suture material is designed to be very strong whilst being tolerated well by the body. There are two types of suture material: a self-dissolving ("soluble") one which lasts about a week and a non-soluble type, which has to be removed by the doctor and is used where the stitch needs to hold for longer periods.
Urethra The tube through which urine flows to the external meatus. (Do not confuse with the similar-sounding Ureter, the ducts connecting the kidneys to the bladder.)
Urinary meatus The opening of the urethra, the point where urine exits the body. See the illustrations page
Vagina The reproductive canal of the female, into which the male’s penis is inserted during sexual intercourse and through which the baby is born. The word is frequently mis-used to describe the whole vulval cleft.
Venereal Pertaining to love and sex; literally "of Venus" (the Roman Goddess of Love). Most commonly used to refer to 'venereal' or sexually transmitted diseases.
Ventral An anatomical term meaning 'on the lower surface' or under side of [whatever]. The opposite of Ventral is Dorsal.
Vulva The external opening of the female sexual anatomy, defined by the labia majora.

Copyright © 1992 - 2017,  All Rights Reserved CIRCLIST.