Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Visual depictions of female genitalia differ depending on source
  1. Helena Howarth1,
  2. Volker Sommer1,
  3. Fiona M Jordan2
  1. 1Department of Anthropology, UCL, London, UK
  2. 2Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Fiona M Jordan, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, PB 310, Nijmegen, 6500 AH, The Netherlands; fiona.jordan{at}


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 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.

  • Vulva
  • body image
  • women's health
  • communications media
  • cosmetic surgery
  • popular media
  • sexual medicine
  • aesthetic/plastic and reconstructive/cosmetic surgery

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Disclaimer All authors had full access to all of the data (including statistical reports and tables) in the study and can take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Data sharing: the measurement dataset is available as an SPSS file to other researchers from the corresponding author.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Linked Articles