New paper in Integrative & Comparative Biology


Female Genital Variation Far Exceeds That of Male Genitalia: A Review of Comparative Anatomy of Clitoris and the Female Lower Reproductive Tract in Theria

Pavlicev M, Herdina AN & Wagner G
Integrative and Comparative Biology, 2022;, icac026, Published online 7 May 2022


A review of the literature on the anatomy of the lower female genital tract in therian mammals reveals, contrary to the general perception, a large amount of inter-specific variation. Variation in females is anatomically more radical than that in the male genitalia. It includes the absence of whole anatomical units, like the cervix in many Xenarthra, or the absence of the urogenital sinus (UGS), as well as the complete spatial separation of the external clitoral parts from the genital canal (either vagina or UGS). A preliminary phylogenetic analysis shows two patterns. Some morphs are unique to early branching clades, like the absence of the cervix, while others arose multiple times independently, like the flattening out or loss of the UGS, or the extreme elongation of the clitoris. Based on available information, the ancestral eutherian configuration of the external female genitalia included a cervix, a single vaginal segment, a tubular UGS, and an unperforated clitoris close to the entrance of the genital canal. The evidence for either bilobed or unitary glandes clitorides is ambivalent. Despite the wealth of information available, many gaps in knowledge remain and will require a community-wide effort to come to a more robust model of female genital evolutionary patterns.