A peer-reviewed study rating the attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis, released seven years ago, has finally been finally retracted from the medical journal Fertility and Sterility.
The study, titled “Attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis: a case-control study”, concluded that “Women with rectovaginal endometriosis were judged to be more attractive than those in the two control groups. Moreover, they had a leaner silhouette, larger breasts, and an earlier coitarche (age of first sexual intercourse).” Not only is this problematic, but it also brings up ethical concerns – namely, the participants of the study did not give their consent to be rated on their attractiveness, nor were they aware that this rating was occurring.
Despite all of this, the study has continued to be defended by many of its authors and the journal itself. The official article withdrawal request states that “We [the entire group of investigators] conducted the study in good faith and according to correct methodology. We believe that our findings have been partly misinterpreted, but at the same time realize that the article may have caused distress to some people.”
Rectovaginal endometriosis is a severe form of endometriosis, a “condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside the uterus, most commonly in the pelvic cavity…It can grow on organs (ovaries, uterus, bowel, and pelvic sidewall), causing inflammation and pain.” 10 percent of women who are of childbearing age are affected by endometriosis worldwide, which is more than the percentage of adults affected by diabetes globally.
In addition to being painful and debilitating, endometriosis is linked to infertility – 30-40 percent of women with endometriosis may not be able to have children, and 50 percent of infertile women are impacted by endometriosis. Moreover, there is no cure, and it takes an average of 7.5 years to be diagnosed. This means, on average, endometriosis patients experience 7.5 years of undiagnosed and incurable pain, a loss in work productivity, and additional healthcare costs.
Additionally, only white women were selected to participate in this study, thus excluding women of color who also experience endometriosis. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an American gynecologist, condemned this study by stating “While I am not an endometriosis researcher, as I only treat women with pelvic pain, I see many women every single day with endometriosis and I have yet to identify a severe-endometriosis phenotype. But, then again, I don’t ever consider my patients’ attractiveness, just, you know, their medical and social history, their physical findings, and response to treatments…If the goal were to look at BMI, or some other validated measurement of body habitus, the title of the article and main outcome measure wouldn’t be attractiveness.”
She concluded “Objectifying women has no place in medicine. It is even more horrifying that such a publication comes from a department on OB/GYN.” This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Kate Young, a public health researcher who said “That paper is a really good example of what happens when we do research about women but not for them. And that’s partly a reflection of the patriarchal society that we live in and also the way we’ve structured research and research funding…We really need better systems in place that come from the bottom up. We need research to be influenced by the people who it is for.”
Sources: The Guardian 8/5/20, Fertility and Sterility 1/1/13, The Guardian 9/27/15, Dr. Jen Gunter 10/20/12