What Is It With Scientists And Their Reluctance To Study Vaginas?

Illustration for article titled What Is It With Scientists And Their Reluctance To Study Vaginas?

When it comes to scientific studies of genitalia, whether it be human or otherwise, there's an unquestionable bias towards penises. As a new study shows, it's problem that's actually getting worse — and it's getting in the way of science.

No doubt, scientists just love their penises, including those of ducks, armadillos, turtles, echidnas, slugs, and fish. But when it comes to studying vaginas, not so much. By virtue of their new paper, "Genital Evolution: Why Are Females Still Understudied?," biologists Malin Ah-King and colleagues are hoping to raise awareness about this issue, arguing that an outdated single-sex bias is hampering our understanding of genital evolution. The paper's abstract explains it all very nicely:

The diversity, variability, and apparent rapid evolution of animal genitalia are a vivid focus of research in evolutionary biology, and studies exploring genitalia have dramatically increased over the past decade. These studies, however, exhibit a strong male bias, which has worsened since 2000, despite the fact that this bias has been explicitly pointed out in the past. Early critics argued that previous investigators too often considered only males and their genitalia, while overlooking female genitalia or physiology. Our analysis of the literature shows that overall this male bias has worsened with time. The degree of bias is not consistent between subdisciplines: studies of the lock-and-key hypothesis have been the most male focused, while studies of cryptic female choice usually consider both sexes. The degree of bias also differed across taxonomic groups, but did not associate with the ease of study of male and female genital characteristics. We argue that the persisting male bias in this field cannot solely be explained by anatomical sex differences influencing accessibility. Rather the bias reflects enduring assumptions about the dominant role of males in sex, and invariant female genitalia. New research highlights how rapidly female genital traits can evolve, and how complex coevolutionary dynamics between males and females can shape genital structures. We argue that understanding genital evolution is hampered by an outdated single-sex bias.

Advertisement

PLoS blogger Roli Roberts summarizes three obvious explanations:

a) Biological: Female genitalia don't vary enough to drive evolutionary change.

b) Practical: They do vary, and do drive evolution, but are devilishly hard to study.

c) Intellectual: They do vary and drive evolution, and can be studied, but the field is intellectually blinkered.

Advertisement

Read Roberts's entire summary of the paper here.

Image: Roman Sigaev/shutterstock.

Advertisement

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

I am 25. I have extreme pain during sexual intercourse and until last year even putting a tampon in. It SIX YEARS (age 13, when I got my period, to age 19) for someone to even believe I was in pain and that it was not mental. Then it took years to get into a specialist. Now I have been sent to every fucking specialist and therapist on the planet and no one can specifically help me, they just send me on to the next person. I wrote my thesis for women's studies in college about female sexual dysfunction and the myth that dysfunction is soley not being able to orgasm- some of us feel intense pain with any penetration whatsoever. I've gone through physical therapy, Botox for vaginismus, and finally just recently "nervous system surgery" was recommended for me, but my insurance denied it because it is "not medically necessary." If I had the science and math smarts, I would quit my teaching job in a second and go to medical school. My therapists and doctors pull up slideshows from fancy health conventions for women or sexual health, and even those provide no profound information. It is difficult to deal with because most people cannot understand how putting something in a vagina can be painful. It has taken a serious toll on my mental health, and after years of working to be validated, it is now taking years to prove that living pain-free IS medically necessary. But my insurance company would probably be glad if I successfully committed suicide, no more expensive procedures to pay for or research that my doctor sends to read through.

Thank fucking god this is being talked about, even for this brief moment- it needs to be a major talking point in the medical field.