Art depicts the true shape of the clitoris

The clitoris looks a bit like a penguin. But most people don’t know that.

Outside of the body, the clitoris is just a small nub with a hood. Internally, it turns out, it has two wishbone-like arms and a pair of extended bulbs. Until recently, those bulbs were thought to belong to the vagina. The clitoris also has ten times more erectile tissue than we thought.

Seattle artist Lynn Schirmer wants to get the word out about all this. She’s the creator of The After Dinner Party, an art exhibition which includes contributions from over 20 artists from around the world. Art pieces include a huge inflatable clitoris, a neon sign in the shape of a clitoris, and an entrancing M.C. Escher-like sculpture of a penis perpetually entering a vagina.

Schirmer’s exhibition is, of course, not the first to examine female genitalia. In fact, its name is derived from Judy Chicago’s 1970s installation The Dinner Party, a triangular table with place settings for 39 historical women, many featuring sculptures reminiscent of vulvas. And Tee Corinne’s Cunt Coloring Book from 1975 was filled with detailed ink drawings of real vulvas.

But the clitoris in particular has quite a confusing medical history (more in-depth info about this can be found in Rebecca Chalker’s The Clitoral Truth, and there’s a concise version on Schirmer’s website). For most of human history, doctors and anatomists battled over its true shape. Somehow, those who believed in the internal arms and bulbs were silenced or ignored. In the 1990s, Australian urologist Helen O’Connell jump-started a re-examination of the clitoral structure, and finally, in 2003, the clitoris was fully mapped via MRI — revealing its extensive internal structure.

But many people — and textbooks — are still unaware of the actual shape of the clitoris, which is the driving force behind Schirmer’s exhibit and website.

[Schirmer’s] goal is simple: to expose what’s been hidden. I e-mailed a link to The After Dinner Party to Betty Tompkins, an artist who has been making huge, explicit paintings of sex acts and genitalia since 1969 — who’s been looking the clitoris in the face for 43 years — and she replied, “I would not have been able to identify the illustration as the clitoris.”

If you’d like to spread the word about the clitoris, the After Dinner Party website suggests flyers, T-shirts, flash mobs, and our favorite — chalk sidewalk drawings.