Study judging women with endometriosis' attractiveness, breast size and when they had sex recalled

  • A hospital in Italy conducted a study linking women’s attractiveness to rectovaginal endometriosis.
  • The women who took part in the study didn't know they were being judged for their attractiveness and that the study was part of their consultations. 
  • The doctors involved in the study responded to criticism by apologising for "the discontent the publication originated". 

If you thought the repugnant trope of rating women’s bodies was limited to ill-mannered adolescents in films, think again. 

A group of doctors at an academic hospital in Milan, Italy, took it upon themselves to link women’s attractiveness to endometriosis, a chronic condition that's believed to affect 1 in 10 women worldwide.

As reported by The Conversation, endometriosis occurs when tissue that has similar properties to the womb lining ends up in the body and attaches to organs, forming a patch of tissue called a lesion.

READ MORE: 10 tips to better cope with your menstrual cycle every month 

This study titled Attractiveness of Women With Rectovaginal Endometriosis: A Case-control Study, published by medical journal, Fertility and Sterility, was reportedly widely criticised by doctors, and more recently, social media users. 

Citations for the study and the full report still exist online and a simple Google search, at the time of publication, led to the results of the study which read, in part: "A total of 31 of 100 women in the rectovaginal endometriosis group (cases) were judged as attractive or very attractive, compared with 8 of 100 in the peritoneal and ovarian endometriosis group and 9 of 100 in the group of subjects without endometriosis. A higher proportion of cases first had intercourse before age 18."

The conclusions of the study states: "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 (they had intercourse for the first time when they were younger)."

Among the critics is Dr Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN based in the U.S. At the time she wrote, “I fail to understand how a small group of Italian doctors rating attractiveness of women with different stages of endometriosis contributes anything to medical science.”

And adds, “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.”

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The issue of this doesn’t lie with the study topic alone but other ethical issues arose after its publication. The Guardian reports that the women who took part in the study did not consent to be judged for their attractiveness and didn’t know it was happening as part of their medical consultations.

The study authors collectively issued a letter, which is quoted by The Guardian, saying: “We believe that our findings have been partly misinterpreted, but at the same time realise that the article may have caused distress to some people. Women’s respect is a priority for us, and we are extremely sorry for the discontent the publication originated.”

READ MORE: 'I have no kids and chose to get sterilised at 29, this is why I did it and how it felt'

Unfortunately, this is not the only study that is accused of questionable ethics. Just last year, Stellenbosch University was heavily criticised for a study it published titled Age- and Education-related Effects on Cognitive Functioning in Colored South African Women

Barbara Boswell, an associate professor of English at the University of Cape Town, is quoted by News24 criticising the study’s, “racist ideological underpinnings, flawed methodology, and its reproduction of harmful stereotypes of 'coloured' women”.

SOURCES: Fertility & SterilityIndependent, Research-gate, News24, The Guardian,

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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