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Break The Silence

Updated 24 August 2020

Sexist endometriosis study rating women according to looks retracted after 7 years

This controversial study has been criticised by doctors since it was published in 2013.

  • It's taken seven years to retract a sexist study on endometriosis and women's attractiveness
  • The study claims women with a severe form of the condition had larger breasts and first had sex earlier in life
  • It was retracted by its authors, without an apology 

Sexism is nothing new in science – it has contributed to the abuse of women's health for centuries.

You might think we have moved past this kind of biased science in the 21st century, but just one look at this study – which has taken seven years to be retracted – shows that it's alive and well.

Leaner with bigger breasts

You only have to look at the study's name to understand why it's so controversial: Attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis: a case-control study.

First published in 2013 in Fertility and Sterility, its Italian researchers concluded that more attractive women tend to suffer from this painful disease. Rectovaginal endometriosis is a condition where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus and penetrates deep into the vaginal and rectal areas.

"Moreover, they had a leaner silhouette, larger breasts, and an earlier coitarche," wrote the authors.

"Coitarche" means the age of one's first sexual intercourse, so the implication is that the sexier and more promiscuous you are, the worse your endometriosis will be.

It's, therefore, not hard to understand why many people questioned the validity of such an overtly subjective and biased study.

READ | Gender-bias in science: Men rated as better students despite women outperforming them 

Non-apology seven years later

Seven years later, the study has finally been retracted at the behest of its authors, which surprisingly also included women. In a letter published in the journal, the authors defended the reasoning behind their study and its methodology.

"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 | Covid-19 science: Who’s behind the research? A shockingly low number of women, a study finds

According to The Guardian, the participants in the study did not consent to be judged according to their looks during the medical consultations, where measurements like breast size and waist ratio were taken. They also only included Caucasians in the study.

Online, many feel that the letter doesn't exactly constitute an apology from the journal itself.

READ MORE | Are you ignoring endometriosis?

Image credit: Pixabay