Physicians throughout time have analyzed and compared the male and female reproductive organs. From Galen's one-sex model of the reproductive system to today's diverging fields of study in female and male anatomy, the concepts and images of the reproductive organs of both sexes have evolved with medicine and technology. From antiquity through the Renaissance, most physicians portrayed the female and male reproductive organs as counterparts of each other and wrote of homologous anatomical structures. Female genital organs were often explained as "lesser" male organs due to differences in size, complexion and orientation. These misconceptions were enhanced by the terminology used to describe the different parts of the sexual organs. For example, the terms "testes" and "sperm" were used by Galen to refer to both the male and female. In contrast, later physicians distinguished the organs by more gender specific terms such as "testes" versus "ovaries."

Although it took centuries to move away from the one-sex model such as Galen's, traces of a new kind of understanding of the female body can be noted as early as in the work of Master Nicolaus, who begins to contrast in more detail the differences between the female and male reproductive systems. Avicenna and later physicians develop this comparison further by explaining the differences between the female and male "sperm." Interestingly enough, despite the common features shared by females and males, the general concept shared by all the early physicians is that female was inferior because her organs were both smaller and colder than the male's.

Questions to consider: Why did it take so long for physicians to turn away from the one-sex model? How did advances in anatomy and dissection affect the view of female and male genitalia?

A Collection of Quotations from Original Sources and Images of the Female Genitalia:



Galen, 200 A.D.

"All the parts, then, that men have, women have too, the difference between them lying in only one thing, which must be kept in mind throughout the discussion, namely, that in women the parts are within [the body], whereas in men they are outside, in the region called the perineum. "

"[T]he scrotum would necessarily take the place of the uteri, with the testes lying outside, next to it on either side; the penis of the male would become the neck of the cavity that had been formed; and the skin at the end of the penis, now called the prepuce, would become the female pudendum [the vagina] itself."


The Middle Ages


Avicenna, 980-1037

"According to the teaching of philosophy, the process of generation may be compared with the processes which take place in the manufacture of cheese. Thus the male 'sperm' is equivalent to the clotting agent of milk, and the female 'sperm' is equivalent to that of milk. The starting point of the clotting is in the rennet; so the starting-point of the clot 'man ' is in the male semen ("We made the life-germ a clot"---Q.23.14). Just as the beginning of the clotting is in the milk, so the beginning of the clotting of the form of man lies in the female 'sperm.' Then, just as each of the two --the rennet and the milk --enter into the 'substance' of the cheese which results, so each of the two --male and female sperm--enters into the 'substance' of the 'embryo."'

"The female is of colder temperament; that is why the female is smaller than the male. The female is also moister. The coldness of temperament, as well as the habit of staying at home and taking so little exercise, accounts for the accumulation of excrementitious matters in the female. Their 'flesh' is more fine in 'substance' than that of the male, though the flesh of the male is more rarefied in virtue of that which is admixed with it. The denseness of male flesh renders permeation through its veins and nerves more difficult."







Master Nicolaus, ca. 1150-1200


"The testes are hot and moist in complexion, delicate and soft in substance, slight and spongy in composition, round and oblong in form. In men they are large, in women small. In both sexes they germinate sperm."

"The uterus is cold and dry in complexion, fibrous and dense in composition, oblong and round in form. It is hollow and villous within, smooth outside, divided into seven cells, and has two openings."

"The uterus is divided into seven cavities, three on the right side, three on the left, the seventh in the middle. In these cavities the fetus is generated, but there are diverse opinions about its formation."

7 celled uterus

"The testes also, as the most important of the generative organs, are provided with certain members which are protective, others subservient. As protective members they have the scrotum, the little pouch in which they hang, which protects them against the pressure of the thighs, and in turn the thighs protect them from external injury. As members they have the vessels, which carry the sperm from the testes by the way of the penis into the mint of conception."

"There are other genital organs called seminal ducts, which are between the testes and penis and carry the sperm formed and generated in the testes into the mintingplace of conception."



The Renaissance

Jacopo Berengario da Carpi, 1460-1530

Concerning the seminal vessels: "You will also note two similar vessels descending in the same way and united on the left side, one from the milker vein of the left kidney, the other from the aorta artery. All these small veins and arteries thus descending are called the vessels which prepare the sperm."

"These vessels are broader and harder in the male than in the female except at times of impregnation and menstruation, as is evident to the senses by the large amount of blood retained in them at those times. But at other times in the male they are harder and broader; they are always also longer because they have to carry their contents a longer distance. They are of such a nature because the male sperm is greater and thicker than that of the woman. By reason of the length of the vessels in the male the sperm is more digested."

"The sperm of the right side generates males because its material is more digested and cleansed from aquosity. The sperm on the left side, however, generates females because it is cold and watery, coming from the aforesaid milker arteries filled with watery blood."

Pre-Vesalian Anatomists

"In the woman the seminal vessels descend to the uterus and outside it are woven together; near her testicles they are entwined in a texture of networks filled with glandular flesh."-- Alessandro Achillini, 1463-1512

"The nineteen-month child had an emaciated sinciput and crept back thorough his mother's umbilicus after he was born; it was ordered that he be buried alive as a monstrous animal."-- Alessandro Achillini, 1463-1512

"The members of the fetus are formed from both the male and the female and the spiritual life is produced from both, but the principle members are constituted from the male seed and the other more ignoble one from the female seed."--Alesandro Benedetti, 1497

"The semen is a superfluous nourishment of the body, a material pure and separate from the principle members necessary for generation. . It is believed on the authority of Galen that it is drawn from the brain."--Alesandro Benedetti, 1497

"When [the testicles] are cut off the masculine form and behavior is almost completely changed and becomes feminine, for men lose their strength, boldness, habits, and beard."--Alesandro Benedetti, 1497







Leonardo Da Vinci, 1452-1519

"The origin of the penis is situated upon the pubic bone in that it can resist it's active force on coition. If this bone did not exist, the penis in meeting resistance would turn backwards and would often enter more into the body of the operator that into that of the operated."

"The female has her 2 spermatic vessels in the shape of the testicles and her sperm is at first blood like that of the male. But when one inseminates the other, the testicles receive the generative faculty but not one without the other. Neither one [sperm] nor the other is preserved in the testicles but one in the womb and the other, that of the male, is preserved in the two ventricles which are attached behind the bladder."



[[[[[Comments on two images below here---Vesalius still uses one-sex model.]]]]



William Harvey, 1653


"[According to] Varolio if you compress either the smaller testes or the prostate, nothing issues forth, but [if] at the same time [you compress] the vesicle and prostate, the material contained here issues through the canal in the form of milk; I think sperm since the descending spirit causes it to froth."

"Question whether in women [there is] another sperm; that [according to] Aristotle a special argument against those who [declare] that sperm affects women with lecherousness. Indeed, in furor uteri in women it becomes putrefied and smells bad; and from motion and agitation there is caused a very white froth and [produces] sores as in men; frequently also it falsely appears to be gonorrhea and tumors of a white flux. ...Perhaps the testes of women [are] analogous to these to which [they are] more similar than to the testicles. Without these Rufus says that eunuchs, as I believe, are women."


maybe this image goes in conclusion? more realistic illustrations, understanding of womb/fetus.








Both Leonardo da Vinci and William Harvey describe the female reproductive system in relationship to the male reproductive system. The female is rarely mentioned without mentioning the male, and when she is, terms for male anatomy are used to describe her. Instead of ovaries she has testicles, and instead of eggs, she produces sperm. This shows that the female anatomy is still not thought of as fully separated from the male. She does not have an identity without connection to the male, whereas the male was described without reference to the female. In the modern text, Human Anatomy, both the male and female are describes separately with equal detail. It reflects that we now see two distinct sexes, and we don't think of the female in relationship to the male.

Through an analysis of the contributions the male and female play in reproduction, one can assess and categorize the attitudes of sexual hierarchy embodied. In this depiction of the contributions of the woman as "", one is degrading the vary basis and purpose of women's sexuality. These images that are perpetuated throughout popular culture and religion have jaded the perceptions of the male and female anatomy and falsely elevated the male.


The association of male genitalia with being a man is exemplified though such a description that overtly describes the feminization of a man who is without the functioning or presence of his testicles through castration. This exemplifies the delineation between what is "male" is opposite to that of what is being a "female", as also are the characteristics associated with each. Being a "man" and having testicles is associated with "strength" and "boldness", and a woman is insinuated as being a dichotomy, embodying none of these favorable characteristics. Through linking the anatomy, presence or absence of testicles, with esteemed characteristics of strength it undermines the parity the should exist between the sexes and their equal worth. (da Vinci?????)

The manifestation of the impact of popular culture upon the depiction of anatomy is apparent in such a depiction of the female as having no individuality and therefore homologous reproductive systems. The devaluation and lack of substantial information on the female anatomy led to a understanding of the female body. All women's organs were deemed as shrunken up and defective male genitalia that had yet to develop. The medical explanation intern relied on the inferiority of women by generally analyzing the female as being, in essence, a man "gone wrong" or yet to develop.

Religious innuendoes are embedded within the perceptions produced of the female body and the association of women with evil. As the Descendants of Eve, the temptress who caused the expulsion and she and Adam from the Garden of Eden, women have been branded as evil and wicked. This depiction of Eve has been superimposed into the social construction of morality and these value judgments have manifested to such that women are thought to be possible of conceiving and birthing monsters. The manifestation of the impact of religious beliefs and popular culture upon medicine is apparent in these associations of women with monstrous creatures.

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