Women and their Clitoris: Personal Discovery, Signification, and Use

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2007


Under continued, broad, and pervasive conditions of symbolic clitoridectomy—a bracketing of the clitoris by means of linguistic and discursive erasure—the carnal discovery of the clitoris poses circumstances where women often confront and negotiate symbolic purgatory, a situation in which most women discover “it” long before they fully acquire the symbolic knowledge that it, indeed, is a clitoris. Based on the written reports of fifteen women, we provide idiographic descriptions of women's reported recollections of the clitoris by investigating three related dynamics: (1) how women interpret the meanings of the clitoris in circumstances relatively absent of significant symbols; (2) how the clitoris becomes a significant symbol for women; and (3) how broader discourses inform how women make meaning of the clitoris. This study documents a clitoral somatic career that is marked by three important junctures of discovery, knowledge, and meaning making: discovering the sensations of the clitoris, putting the clitoris into discourse, and negotiating contested uses of pleasure. As we argue, the sensual embodiment of the clitoris is emergent in active and reflective practices in which women both sense and make sense.


Sociology and Corrections

Publication Title

Symbolic Interaction