History Says A Man Discovered The Clitoris

History Says A Man Discovered The Clitoris

By Margaret Van Every

Girolamo Fabrizi


Of course, it had to have been a man because there were no women anatomists. Discovering something in the mid-16th century meant that you were the first to announce your finding in print, something akin to “discovering” a new land already inhabited by others and having to plant your country’s flag on the beach to make it official. So the man who claimed credit for the discovery of the woman’s pleasure button, hitherto unnamed, unmentioned, and therefore nonexistent, was an anatomist at the University of Padua by the name of Mateo Renaldo Colombo.

Colombo was also the first to have discovered the circulation of blood but was delayed by the Church in getting that finding published, so the Englishman Harvey beat him to the punch and got the credit. Science was a risky profession back then and Colombo got himself into really big trouble with the Catholic Church for writing his illustrated treatise De re anatomica. In it he named his discovery amor veneris (Love of Venus), described its purpose and behavior, and painted beautiful illustrations of it. Like Galileo, he was tried and threatened with burning at the stake for heresy, perjury, blasphemy, witchcraft, and Satanism.

The outcome of the trial was censorship of De re anatomica and making Colombo swear a vow of silence concerning his dangerous finding. The Church fathers, those sham-celibate potentates, wanted to maintain the “phallusy” that the sexual universe revolved around the penis and that pleasure for the woman during the sex act was degrading and disgusting. The mother of God, after all, was a virgin at conception—totally pure, hymen intact, and without any corrupting pleasure in the act.

As I write this reflection on August 9, 2017, International Day of the Clitoris, an orgasmic hallelujah chorus reverberates around the world—with some large geographical exceptions. No shouts of joy in Muslim countries where millions of women are required to undergo genital mutilation in the name of religion. No shouts of ecstasy either in certain underdeveloped areas of the world that regard the clitoris as a trigger of evil that once awakened will spur even the purest woman to stray from home just like men do.


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