Women's genital self-perceptions: the good, the bad, and the discordant

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University of New Brunswick


Female genital self-image (FGSI) refers to women’s subjective thoughts and feelings about their own genitals. Some, if not many, women are dissatisfied with their genitals. This is a significant problem because genital dissatisfaction is associated with a variety of negative sexual health outcomes for women. Thus, this dissertation aimed to enhance our understanding of FGSI by examining genital dissatisfaction within this broader construct. First, three measures—Female Genital Knowledge Scale, Partner Genital Feedback Scale, and Specific Genital Aspects Scale—were developed and subjected to pilot testing (Chapter 2). Each measure demonstrated psychometric strengths. Next, two manuscripts were produced. The goal of manuscript 1 (Chapter 4) was to examine the prevalence of female genital dissatisfaction, both globally and with regards to distinct genital aspects, for a sample of cisgender women (N = 209) of different ages and relationship statuses. Overall, 18% of the women were globally dissatisfied with their genitals, although very few reported extreme dissatisfaction. Even among the women who reported global satisfaction, 15% were dissatisfied with at least one of three categorical genital aspects and 86% were dissatisfied with at least one (and often several) of 30 specific genital aspects. No differences related to age or relationship status were found. This suggests that whereas few women are globally dissatisfied with their genitals, many (if not all) harbor dissatisfaction with one or more distinct genital aspects. The goal of manuscript 2 (Chapter 6) was to examine the extent to which various psychosocial factors sexual health education (SHE), pornography use, sexual experiences, global affect) are associated with more negative FGSI. Global affect, sexual experiences, and SHE were related to FGSI at the bivariate level. Only global affect and sexual experiences contributed uniquely to the prediction of FGSI. This suggests that the psychosocial context is important for understanding women’s genital self-perceptions. Overall, this dissertation offers a comprehensive view of FGSI, including the prevalence of female genital dissatisfaction and the psychosocial factors that are associated with FGSI. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for researchers, educators, clinicians, and journalists.