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80% of women have enlarged labia? That would be a ‘sex panther’ statistic

September 6th, 2010

Dr Petra

Fans of the movie Anchorman will no doubt be familiar with the men’s fragrance ‘Sex Panther’. If you hadn’t heard of it before, here’s your introduction…

The fantastic line ‘they’ve done studies you know. 60% of the time it works every time’ has become a well known catchphrase. But I think it deserves far wider use and so I’ve appropriated it to highlight dubious sex research claims.

Last week a Dallas TV station didn’t disappoint with an amazing Sex Panther statistic of their own, claiming ’80% of women have an enlarged labia’. You can see the coverage of the story here.

Even with my dubious maths skills this doesn’t make sense. Because if such a large majority of women report large labia then presumably this becomes ‘the norm’ rather than ‘a problem’.

Using a standard Sex Panther approach we’re told nothing about the origins of this statistic. Merely an assumption that science has shown us 80% of women have larger labia. So we don’t know how many women were studied to make up this figure, who they were, when they were studied, or whether they actually considered themselves to have a problem. We don’t know who did the research, or whether it was even published. We’re given no clue about how ‘enlarged’ labia must be before they become unwieldy. The statistic becomes even more ludicrous if we’re assuming ‘enlarged’ to mean ‘larger than average’. In which case we seem to be being told that 80% of women have larger than average labia.

And that’s before we get on to the problem of the programme makers not being able to differentiate between the vagina and labia.

Of course the piece is really only an advertorial for a “misses only makeover” and sadly amidst the coy references from the anchorwomen we see absolutely no investigative journalism to assess whether cosmetic surgery for well women is needed or to interrogate the concept of ‘enlarged labia’ and who is problematising our vulva shapes and sizes.

Had any research been undertaken the journalists may have learned there is no clear evidence for the effectiveness of cosmetic genital surgery in well women, but there is a growing trend within the cosmetic surgery industry to pathologise the female body as a means to creating a wider market in ‘enhancement’.

Although uncritical media reporting on genital surgery is not unusual there is fortunately an antidote.

THE NEW VIEW CAMPAIGN announces its THIRD Conference, to be held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Sunday, September 26, 2010.

FRAMING THE VULVA: GENITAL COSMETIC SURGERY AND GENITAL DIVERSITY

While the vulva surgeons are holding a conference on the Las Vegas strip, the New View, in collaboration with the UNLV Women’s Studies Department and Petals, will hold a counter-conference to examine the
personal and political complexities of the new female genital cosmetic surgeries.

Our one-day event will include a morning plenary session on the emerging issues in genital scholarship, activism, and art, and an afternoon of experiential and discussion workshops for participants to share strategies and build connections. The event will conclude with an evening reception, photography and craft exhibition, and film showing at the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Areas covered will include:
• Cosmetogynecology and the new genital perfectability industries
• The rhetoric vs. the realities of Western genital surgeries vs. “FGM”
• Collaborative models of activism
• The revival of “cunt art” in craft, film, photography and painting
• Sex education and feminist-owned sex shops
• The latest body modification trends, from Vajazzling to Vatooing
• Disease-mongering, marketing, and body surveillance
• Critical health studies perspectives on cosmetic genital surgery

Confirmed plenary speakers include:

• Virginia Braun, University of Auckland, New Zealand
• Leonore Tiefer, NYU Medical School, NYC
• Vanessa Schick, Indiana University, Bloomington
• Lynn Comella, UNLV, Las Vegas

Full registration, hotel, and contact information here.

Please share information widely and if you’re a health worker, activist, therapist or sex educator do try and support the event if you can – either by attending the conference or donating to the New View Campaign. Journalists may particularly want to attend to learn more about celebrating women’s bodies and accurate reporting on the growing trend for medicalisation.

In the meantime go on – love your labia! Or love someone else’s. And if a journalist tells you there’s something wrong with your genitals without explaining the science behind their statements be assured they’re simply selling you Sex Panther Statistics.

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