Archetypal Aspects of the Female Genitals
Dr. Nelson Soucasaux , Brazilian gynecologist
This article mainly concerns some of the innumerable and eternal archetypal
and symbolic aspects of women's sexual organs and, therefore, the importance
they have, have had or had in our understanding (and, unfortunately, often
misunderstanding) of women's nature throughout time.
In the past, due to the ignorance about the anatomic and physiological
details of the female genitals, there was a strong tendency to consider
the uterus as "the woman's fundamental organ." This standpoint
often induced a symbolic identification of women with this organ, which
failed to recognize the enormous importance of the other organs that constitute
the female genitals. An excessive "hystero-centric" standpoint
dominated the concept of the female sex. ["Hystero" comes from
the Greek word for "uterus," as in "hysterectomy" and
"hysteria" - read more below]. This idea was reinforced by the
rich mythology that has always existed about the uterus, involving what
we may call "uterine archetypes." Here, by archetypes I mean the
Jungian concept of the term [that is, the concept of the Swiss psychoanalyst
Carl Gustav Jung].
Speaking about physicians from the old times, Pierre Vachet has observed
that, deeply impressed by the periodicity of women's organic life, they
believed they had found the "key" for the understanding of the
female psyche in the genital functions: "tota mulier in utero"
(Vachet, P. "A Mulher - Enigma Psico-Sexual" ["La Femme,
Cette Enigme"], Círculo do Livro, São Paulo, Brazil,
1976). Here we can clearly verify how much the uterus was, wrongly, regarded
almost as a "synonym" for the female genital organs. This means
that, in the past, the wholeness constituted by the woman's genitals was
mostly represented by one of their parts, that is, the part was used to
assume the role of the whole.
Another example of the strong symbolism of the uterus in women's nature
lies at the very origin of the old medical term "hysteria" which,
for a long time, was used to name several psychological, emotional and nervous
disorders in the female sex. With regard to the concept of "hysteria"
and also other pathologies of women, Germaine Greer has observed that some
physicians believed that ". . . est femineo generis pars una uterus
omnium morborum," ". . . the uterus participates in all diseases
of the female sex." According to Greer, women were regarded as being,
by nature, subjected to the "tyranny" of the "insatiable
uterus." (Greer, G. "A Mulher Eunuco" ["The Female Eunuch"],
Círculo do Livro, São Paulo, Brazil, 1975).
With the acquisition of more precise and accurate knowledge on the woman's
sexual organs, their anatomy, physiology and pathology, this old "hystero-centric"
position no longer could be maintained at the light of medical science.
Nevertheless, due to the influence of the already mentioned "uterine
archetypes," much of the mythology related to this organ remains in
In my opinion, from the somatic (bodily) point of view, everything in
women's bodies that characterizes them as women is endowed with the greatest
signification. However, if we should attribute degrees of importance to
the various parts of the female body and genitals, certainly, physiologically
speaking, the ovaries are much more important to the woman's wholeness than
the uterus. Moreover, as it is widely known, the uterus itself depends on
the ovarian hormones for reaching its entire development at puberty and
for the maintainance of its trophicity and function throughout the fertile
years of women's lives; the endometrial cycle is under the command of the
estrogens and progesterone produced by the ovaries and, finally, pregnancy
obviously depends on the fertilization of an oocyte originating in these
organs. As I always used to remark, almost everything that is characteristically
female in the woman's body depends above all on the ovarian estrogens, since
they are the fundamental hormones of femininity at the physical level.
It was just for that reason that, obviously without intending to fall
into an "ovary-centric" position, I have devoted an entire chapter
of my book "Os Órgãos Sexuais Femininos: Forma, Função,
Símbolo e Arquétipo" ("The Female Sexual Organs:
Shape, Function, Symbol and Archetype") to the ovaries. If, on the
one hand, we consider the crucial importance of these organs to the female
physiology and to the preservation of the fitness of the woman's body and,
on the other hand, the paradoxes of their nature, we will see that the ovaries
demand very special attention. (On this subject, see my articles "The Ovaries: Some Functional and Archetypal Considerations"
and "Nature and the Ovaries," published
here at the MUM).
Returning to the ancient hystero-centric view of women, it is important
to make clear that the old associations sometimes made between the uterus
and the female sexual impulse had an essentially symbolic and archetypal
meaning, being devoid of any physiological basis. Regardless of the existence
of a considerable participation of the uterus in the female sexual response,
culminating with the typical uterine orgasmic contractions, it is undeniable
that, at the genital level, the clitoral and vulvo-vaginal response is much,
much more important than the uterine one. This is so because the main pelvic
"receptors" for sexual stimulation in women are located at the
clitoris and other vulvar structures, at the vaginal entrance and at the
controversial Grafenberg's Spot [the "G spot," which plays a part
in some women's orgasms, and sits between the vagina and urethra]. During
the orgasmic response, the contractions of the muscles that surround the
lower third of the vagina are, perhaps, much more important than the uterine
contractions that take place simultaneously.
Even considering all of this and despite the fact that, at the present
state of our knowledge, the uterus no longer can be regarded as the "supreme
woman's organ," the beauty and the obviously enormous value and importance
of this organ was not altered. A considerable part of the rich mythology
associated with the womb still has strong reasons to exist. We only must
be careful to not restrict the importance of the uterus to its reproductive
function (as medicine regrettably often does), because the value of this
organ in women's nature by far transcends this function. To my point of
view, the uterus is endowed with a reason for existing and a very peculiar
symbolism that have acquired supremacy over its exclusively biological reproductive
capability. (Besides, we cannot forget that, from the physiological point
of view, the uterus constantly mirrors the ovarian function through the
periodic occurrence of the menses.)
As I remarked in my book "Novas Perspectivas em Ginecologia"
("New Perspectives in Gynecology"), the fact that women are endowed
with a genital apparatus and a physiology which, besides characterizing
them as women and originating a typical kind of sexual activity, also possess
a reproductive function, does not allow us to consider the latter as the
principal aspect. From the existential point of view, all form and human
constitution far transcend their original biological purpose. I believe
this observation demonstrates quite well what I mean about the enormous
intrinsic value of the uterus as a typical organ of women, and that this
value goes far beyond its merely reproductive aspect.
But more about the archetypal, symbolic and mythological aspects of
the woman's sexual organs. Though the mythology related to the female genitals
has always been enormous, unfortunately a considerable part of it is hardly
specific about the peculiarities of each organ or part of this apparatus.
Considering that most of the archetypal contents expressed in the mythologies
are very old and date back to times in which anatomic knowledge was scanty,
many of the archetypes related to the woman's genitals, pelvis and belly
are "centered" in the uterus, vagina and vulva. Therefore, they
are mostly "utero-vaginal archetypes." Because of this, unfortunately,
it is difficult to find references to the ovaries and Fallopian tubes in
Another aspect to be emphasized about the myths related to the female
genitals is that they were always reinforced by the intrapelvic and therefore
internal location of most of these organs. This fact, associated to the
very rich symbology of the woman's genitals, greatly increases their somewhat
"mysterious" features and attributes. In this way, innumerable
fantasies, expressing the more diverse archetypal contents, have been constantly
elaborated about the female sexual organs, as well as the pelvis and belly
that house them.
Even today, many cultured and educated women demonstrate considerable
lack of knowledge regarding details of the anatomy and physiology of their
inner genitals. It's needless to point out that male ignorance about the
woman's internal genitals also remains enormous.
Returning to mythology, the intrapelvic and consequently "hidden"
feature of the female genitals, associated with the eternal mysteries that
have always surrounded women's nature, gave rise to many symbolic analogies
between them and several fantastic elements such as magic caves, mysterious
gateways and tunnels, deep fountains and wells, both seductive and menacing
mouths, etc. Actually, the genital "canal" can be regarded as
the "way in" to the intimacy of the female body and, symbolically,
to the "source of life."
In modern psychical research, other kinds of uterine archetypes are
the "perinatal matrixes of the unconscious," described by Stanislav
Grof and related to the stages of childbirth (Grof, S., "Beyond the
Brain - Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy,"McGraw-Hill,
The text above is an excerpt from my book "Os Órgãos
Sexuais Femininos: Forma, Função, Símbolo e Arquétipo"
("The Female Sexual Organs: Shape, Function, Symbol and Archetype"),
published by Imago Editora, Rio de Janeiro, 1993. For information on the
book, see page http://www.nelsonginecologia.med.br/orgaos.htm , from
my website www.nelsonginecologia.med.br .
Copyright Nelson Soucasaux 1993, 2003
Nelson Soucasaux is a gynecologist dedicated to clinical, preventive
and psychosomatic gynecology. Graduated in 1974 by Faculdade de Medicina
da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he is the author of several
articles published in medical journals and of the books "Novas Perspectivas
em Ginecologia" ("New Perspectives in Gynecology") and "Os
Órgãos Sexuais Femininos: Forma, Função, Símbolo
e Arquétipo" ("The Female Sexual Organs: Shape, Function,
Symbol and Archetype"), published by Imago Editora, Rio de Janeiro,
Web site (Portuguese-English): www.nelsonginecologia.med.br