Pharyngula

It looks like I missed my chance — I think this place was only a few blocks from the hotel where I stayed in Brighton a few weeks ago. An artist has put together a montage of 400 casts of women’s personal bits, called The Great Wall of Vagina. It’s impressive and rather pretty.

You know, I’ve been planning some research on natural variation in populations, and I’ve been looking into variation in limb morphology as an easy assay…but man, I’m looking at that and thinking there’s an even bigger reservoir of natural varieties right here in the human population. Somebody ought to do a study on that — preferably with a multigenerational sample and sibling comparisons to to see how much of it is heritable. We’d need to develop some standardized metrics, though, and it would probably be a much bigger project than I could handle at this point in my career, not to mention the strain it would put on the eyebrows of the human research review committee.

I did take a quick scan of the research literature, but only came up with this one source that mentions the paucity of research in this field.

Howarth H, Sommer V, Jordan FM (2010) Visual depictions of female genitalia differ depending on source. Med Humanit 36(2):75-9.

Very little research has attempted to describe normal human variation in female genitalia, and no studies have compared the visual images that women might use in constructing their ideas of average and acceptable genital morphology to see if there are any systematic differences. The objective of the present work was to determine if visual depictions of the vulva differed according to their source so as to alert medical professionals and their patients to how these depictions might capture variation and thus influence perceptions of ‘normality’. A comparative analysis was conducted by measuring (a) published visual materials from human anatomy textbooks in a university library, (b) feminist publications (print and online) depicting vulval morphology and (c) online pornography, focusing on the most visited and freely accessible sites in the UK. Post hoc tests showed that labial protuberance was significantly less (p<0.001, equivalent to approximately 7-14 mm) in images from online pornography compared to feminist publications. All five measures taken of vulval features were significantly correlated (p<0.001) in the online pornography sample, indicating a less varied range of differences in organ proportions than the other sources where not all measures were correlated. Women and health professionals should be aware that specific sources of imagery may depict different types of genital morphology and may not accurately reflect true variation in the population, and consultations for genital surgeries should include discussion about the actual and perceived range of variation in female genital morphology.

Somebody get to work on this! The artists are beating the scientists to the data!

The focus so far has been on the perception of the female genitalia, but it seems to me the really interesting question is in the source of these amazing variants.