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Correlates of genital perceptions among Canadian post-secondary students.

Abstract

The current research summarizes three studies (Ns = 312, 584, and 176) examining genital perceptions among groups of Canadian post-secondary students. Results indicated that male participants evidenced consistently more favourable views of their genitalia in comparison to female participants. Men and women who were non-virgins (i.e., had engaged in vaginal and/or anal intercourse) also reported more favourable perceptions than their virgin counterparts. In addition, among those who were sexually experienced, the favourability of their genital perceptions correlated positively with sexual esteem, and negatively with body-image self-consciousness and sexual anxiety. Finally, item analysis suggested that, for men, the locus of genital dissatisfaction was penis size whereas for women, the loci were genital odour and pubic hair (amount and texture). Limitations of the current research and directions for future inquiry are provided.

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Research suggests that perceptions of physical appearance are associated with variations in sexual functioning. For example, in a large survey of female readers of Shape magazine (N = 3,627), Ackard, Kearney-Cooke, and Peterson (2000) found that those who reported being satisfied "when they looked at their body in a mirror" (p. 424) were more likely than their dissatisfied counterparts to feel comfortable undressing in front of their partner; have sex with the lights on; and initiate new sexual activities. In addition, participants satisfied with their bodies expressed greater confidence in their ability to provide sexual pleasure to their partner, and reported having sex more often and being more likely to achieve orgasm. Wiederman and Hurst (1998) similarly identified differences in sexual activity as a function of perceived attractiveness. Female participants who had experienced cunnilingus evidenced significantly higher mean scores on a single-item measure of self-rated bodily attractiveness than those who had never experienced this form of oral sex. The authors also found that participants' sexual esteem (i.e., the tendency to view oneself positively as a sexual partner) correlated positively with self-rated bodily and facial attractiveness. Finally, Cash, Maikkula, and Yamamiya (2004) examined the association between body-image and sexual functioning in samples of male and female college students. In this study, dispositional and situational body-images were measured. The former conceptualises satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with one's physical appearance as a global trait whereas the latter focuses on body-image as it is experienced within specific contexts (e.g., during sexual intimacy). Results indicated that participants' general body satisfaction correlated negatively with their level of anxiety about exposing parts of the body during sexual activity (i.e., situational body-image). Intriguingly, multiple regression analysis revealed that situational, but not dispositional, body-image emerged as a significant predictor of sexual functioning for male and female participants. The nature of the association was negative such that greater anxiety about the body during sexual activity was associated with poorer sexual functioning. This finding suggests that perceptions of the body during sexual activity may play a more important role in sexual functioning than assessments of physical appearance that are not context specific.

Although body-image and sexual functioning have received empirical scrutiny, surprisingly little research has examined the association between individuals' genital perceptions and their sexual attitudes and behaviours. Winter (1989) reported that male participants who described themselves as possessing large genitalia evidenced more favourable genital image, body image, and beliefs about their sexual abilities, as opposed to those who described their genitalia as being average or small in size. Using a small sample of female clients seeking treatment for an unspecified sexual dysfunction, Berman and associates (2003) found that participants' genital self-image correlated negatively with levels of sexual distress and depression. A non-significant correlation was obtained between genital perceptions and scores on a measure of female sexual functioning; however, the size of this correlation (.34) suggests that its non-significance is attributable to the small number of participants used (N = 31). To the authors' knowledge, only one published study provides comparative information on men and women's genital perceptions. Reinholtz and Muehlenhard (1995) found that, as hypothesized, perceptions of male college students were more favourable than those of female college students. In addition, the favourability of participants' genital perceptions correlated positively with involvement in, and self-reported enjoyment of, specific sexual activities (e.g., oral sex). Based on the findings obtained in their study, the authors concluded that "attitudes toward the genitals are an important facet of human sexual experience" (p. 164).

The purpose of the current research was to expand understanding of the correlates of genital perceptions among non-clinical samples of men and women. Three studies were conducted (Ns = 312, 584, 176) with samples of university students attending institutions located in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan (Canada).

STUDY 1

In this study, male and female genital perceptions were examined in relation to sexual status (virgin/non-virgin), sexual-esteem, and body satisfaction. On the basis of the preceding review of the literature, the following hypotheses were formulated:

Hypothesis 1: Non-virgins will evidence more favourable genital perceptions than will virgins.

Hypothesis 2: The favourability of genital perceptions will correlate positively with body satisfaction.

Hypothesis 3: The favourability of genital perceptions will correlate positively with sexual-esteem.

Hypothesis 4: Males will evidence more favourable genital perceptions than will females.

Method

Participants

Participants were 312 self-identified heterosexual post-secondary students (149 males; 163 females) enrolled in a community college in Alberta, Canada. Mean ages for males and females were 23.2 (SD = 6.8, range = 17 to 56) and 20.1 (SD = 3.6, range = 17 to 40), respectively. No additional demographic data were collected.

Measures

Participants received a questionnaire that contained a variety of measures. However, only those pertinent to the current research are described. It should be noted that all measures were coded such that higher scores denote more of the construct in question. As well, information concerning reliability and validity is provided by the authors cited.

Body-image Inventory (BII; Levitan, 1983). The BII consists of 40 items and examines satisfaction with various features of the body (e.g., hands, face, and weight). In the current study, a 5-point Likert-type scale (1 = very dissatisfied; 5 = very satisfied) was used, with total scale scores ranging from 40 to 200.

Female Genital Image Scale (FGIS; Morrison, Ellis, Bearden, Harriman, & Morrison, 2004). The FGIS contains 12 items and measures how women perceive various aspects of their genitals (e.g., tightness, shape, attractiveness). For each item, female respondents were asked to rate their level of satisfaction using a 5-point Likert-type rating scale (1 = very dissatisfied; 5 = very satisfied). Total scale scores can range from 12 to 60.

Male Genital Image Scale (MGIS; Winter, 1989). This 14-item scale measures how men perceive various aspects of their genitals (e.g., length, circumference, and appearance). The rating scale is identical to the one used by the FGIS, and total scale scores can range from 14 to 70.

Sexual-Esteem Scale (SES; Snell & Papini, 1989). The SES contains 10 items (e.g., I think of myself as a very good sexual partner) and, in the current study, uses a 6-point Likert-type response format (0 = not applicable; 5 = very often). Five items are reverse keyed to avoid response bias, with total scores ranging from 0 to 50.

Procedure

The proposed research was approved by an Ethics Review Board. Permission then was solicited from instructors of various classes to determine whether they would be willing to allow one of the authors to distribute the questionnaire during class time. Instructors were informed of the purpose of the study and given details concerning the study's adherence to ethical requirements for research with human participants. For those instructors giving their consent, arrangements for data collection (e.g., date and time of questionnaire distribution) were made.

Prior to getting a questionnaire, all students enrolled in a given class received a consent form, the details of which highlighted the voluntary nature of the study; the anonymity and confidentiality of students' data; and their right to omit any items they wished, without penalty or consequence. Due to the sensitive nature of the questionnaire, a separate answer booklet was provided for participants' responses. This booklet contained question numbers and appropriate rating scales, but not the items themselves. Completion of the questionnaire took approximately 30 minutes.

Initially, no remuneration was provided for participation in the study. However, as preliminary data collection revealed a significant gender disparity (75% female; 25% male), a raffle was organized for those programmes containing a disproportionate number of male students (e.g., welding). In accordance with ethical requirements, participants' eligibility for the raffle was not contingent upon them completing the questionnaire.

Results

Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for all measures are provided in Table 1. Inspection of this table reveals that levels of scale score reliability were excellent (> .85). Mean scores suggest that both males and females possess moderate levels of body satisfaction and sexual-esteem, and fairly positive genital perceptions (i.e., all mean scores were above scale mid-points).

As hypothesised, male and female non-virgins evidenced more favourable genital perceptions than did their virgin counterparts: male VIRGINS, M = 48.0, SD = 9.6 vs. male NON-VIRGINS, M = 52.1, SD = 9.6, t (136) = 2.05, p < .05, d = .35 and female VIRGINS, M = 37.0, SD = 7.9 vs. female NON-VIRGINS, M = 42.2, SD = 9.4, t (152) = 3.25, p < .001, d = .53. As well, genital perceptions correlated positively with body satisfaction for both female (r = .34, p < .001) and male (r = .52, p < .001) participants. The correlation between sexual esteem and genital perceptions was significant for females (r = .24, p < .01), but not males (r = .06). However, these correlations should be interpreted with caution as many participants answered "not applicable" for items on the Sexual Esteem Scale (SES). When correlations were recalculated restricting the sample to those participants who answered all 10 items on the SES (ns = 76 and 66 for women and men, respectively), the correlation for female participants increased in magnitude (r = .40, p < .001) as did the correlation for male participants (r = .59, p < .001). Finally, an independent samples t-test was used to determine if male participants evidenced greater satisfaction with their genitals in comparison to female participants. As the FGIS and MGIS contain an unequal number of questions, total scale scores were standardised (i.e., mean scores were divided by the total number of scale items). Using this procedure, total scores could range from 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied). In accordance with the study's hypothesis, a significant gender difference was found, males: M = 3.7, SD = .7 and females: M = 3.4, SD = .8, t (300) = 3.15, p < .01. It should be noted, however, that the effect size was small (d = .36).

STUDY 2

In this study, associations between genital perceptions and body-image self-consciousness during sexual activity, sexual esteem, sexual anxiety, and sexual status (i.e., virgin/non-virgin and currently active/inactive) were assessed. In accordance with available research on body-image and sexual functioning as well as the findings obtained in Study 1, the following hypotheses were tested:

Hypothesis 1: Non-virgins will evidence more favourable genital perceptions than will virgins.

Hypothesis 2: Males and females who report being currently active sexually will evidence more favourable genital perceptions than those who report being currently inactive.

Hypothesis 3: Favourability of genital perceptions will correlate negatively with body-image self-consciousness during sexual activity.

Hypothesis 4: Favourability of genital perceptions will correlate positively with sexual esteem.

Hypothesis 5: Favourability of genital perceptions will correlate negatively with sexual anxiety.

Hypothesis 6: Males will evidence more favourable genital perceptions than will females.

Method

Participants

Participants were 584 students (202 males; 382 females) enrolled in a university in Saskatchewan, Canada. Three hundred and seventy-six respondents self-identified as sexually experienced (135 males; 241 females) and 204 self-identified as virgins (67 males; 137 females). Mean ages for sexually experienced men and women were 20.1 (SD = 3.2; range = 17 to 42) and 19.4 (SD = 2.9; range = 17 to 43), respectively. Mean ages for virgins were 19.2 (SD = 3.0; range = 17 to 38) and 18.4 (SD = .9; range = 17 to 22), respectively. Of those who reported being sexually active, the proportions of men and women who engaged in vaginal intercourse within the four-week period prior to completing the questionnaire were 61% (n = 82) and 72% (n = 174), respectively. Finally, 4% (n = 5) of male participants and 8% (n = 20) of female participants reported engaging in anal intercourse within the four weeks prior to completing the questionnaire.

Measures

Descriptions of the Female Genital Image Scale (FGIS; Morrison et al., 2004); Male Genital Image Scale (MGIS; Winter, 1989); and the Sexual-Esteem Scale (SES; Snell & Papini, 1989) are given in Study 1. In addition, the following measures were used:

Body-image Self-Consciousness Scale (BISC; Wiederman, 2000). The 15-item BISC measures a woman's body-image self-consciousness during physical intimacy with a partner. Since both men and women were sampled in Study 2, the scale was modified to be gender neutral. Specifically, four items were eliminated that focused on body concerns deemed more pertinent to females than to males (e.g., While having sex I am (would be) concerned that my hips and thighs would fatten out and appear larger than they actually are). Therefore, the modified BISC contains 11 items and uses a 6-point Likert-type rating scale (0 = not applicable; 5 = very often). Higher scores represent greater body-image self-consciousness (possible range is 0 to 55).

Sex Anxiety Inventory (SAI; Janda & O'Grady, 1980). The 25-item SAI measures the level of anxiety an individual may feel in sexual situations that deviate from social norms. A sample item is: When I awake from sexual dreams a) I feel pleasant and relaxed or b) I feel tense. Participants select the most appropriate response from two options; one which denotes anxiety (1) and one which does not (0). Total scores on the SAI can range from 0 to 25, with higher scores denoting greater levels of sexual anxiety.

Sexual Experience (Rothman, Kelly, Weinstein, & O'Leary, 1999). Participants were asked to respond yes or no to the following: "Have you engaged in vaginal intercourse?" "Have you engaged in anal intercourse?" "Have you engaged in vaginal intercourse in the last 4 weeks?" and "Have you engaged in anal intercourse in the last 4 weeks?" These items were used to identify sexual status (i.e., virgin or non-virgin; currently active sexually or currently inactive sexually).

Procedure

In this study, two-thirds of participants received the questionnaire during a mass testing session, and one-third were given the questionnaire in small groups of 5 to 10 students each. Details concerning the study's adherence to ethical requirements for research with human participants are identical to those provided in Study 1 (i.e., students were informed that participation was voluntary; they were debriefed at the cessation of the study; and so on). All participants received course credit for their involvement.

Results

Descriptive statistics and alpha coefficients for the measures used are given in Table 2. Inspection of this table reveals that levels of reliability ranged from satisfactory (.78) to excellent (> .90). Mean scores suggest fairly low levels of sexual anxiety and body-image self-consciousness during sexual activity (i.e., average totals for men and women were below the mid-point for each scale) and moderate levels of sexual esteem and genital favourability.

As hypothesised, male participants categorised as non-virgins evidenced significantly more favourable genital perceptions (M = 51.5, SD = 8.8) than those categorised as virgins (M = 47.8, SD = 7.1), t (156.6) = 3.16, p < .001, d = .51. The same difference was noted for female participants (i.e., non-virgins: M = 40.9, SD = 7.5; virgins: M = 37.0, SD = 5.4, t [334.6] = 5.79, p < .001, d = .63). Significant differences in genital perceptions also emerged between those categorised as sexually active (i.e., had engaged in vaginal and/or anal intercourse in the last four weeks) versus sexually inactive (i.e., had not engaged in either form of intercourse during that time period). Men who were sexually active reported more favourable perceptions of their genitalia (M = 52.2, SD = 8.4) than those who were inactive (M = 48.9, SD = 8.2), t (196) = 2.74, p < .01, d = .39. A similar difference was observed between sexually active versus sexually inactive women: Ms = 40.9 (7.7) and 38.4 (6.2), respectively, t (320.3) = 3.34, p < .001, d = .37.

To test Hypotheses 3 through 5, correlations were computed between scores on the measures of genital perceptions, sex anxiety, body-image self-consciousness, and sexual esteem (See Table 3). All hypotheses were confirmed (i.e., as genital perceptions became more favourable, sexual anxiety and self-consciousness decreased, and sexual esteem increased). However, conducting separate analyses as a function of participants' sexual status revealed that a majority of the correlations were significant only for those classified as non-virgins.

Finally, to examine differences between men and women in term of their genital perceptions, scores were standardized and compared. As hypothesised, male participants reported more favourable perceptions (M = 3.7, SD = .6) than did female participants (M = 3.4, SD = .6), t (367) = 3.91, p < .001, d = .41.

Exploratory Analysis

To identify which variables account for the greatest proportion of variance in sexual-esteem, multiple regression (MR) analysis using the enter method was employed. The predictor variables were (in order): genital perceptions (standardized measure), sex (male/female), sexual status (virgin/non-virgin), sexual anxiety, and body-image self-consciousness. A destructive testing approach was adopted whereby participants' score on the standardized measure of genital perceptions was entered as the first predictor, with each remaining variable being added to the model on subsequent steps. According to Anderson and Dill (2000), with destructive testing, the goal is to gauge the durability of the link established between the criterion measure and the predictor variable. Therefore, in the current study, of interest was the degree to which the association between genital perceptions and sexual-esteem remained significant following the inclusion of additional predictor variables.

Diagnostic statistics were conducted to ensure the data were suitable for MR analysis. Results indicated that the standardized residuals had a mean of zero, and a standard deviation of approximately one; Cook's distance did not exceed an absolute value of 1.0; the variance inflation factor (VIF) was low (i.e., < 1.3); and the Durbin-Watson statistic approximated 2.0. These findings suggest that (in order) non-normally distributed residuals, influential outliers, multicollinearity, and autocorrelation of residuals are not problematic.

The first model examined the association between genital perceptions and sexual-esteem. This model was highly significant, F (1, 416) = 55.51, p < .001, with genital perceptions accounting for approximately 11% (adjusted [R.sup.2] = .11) of the variance in sexual-esteem ([beta] = .33, t = 7.18, p < .001). Sex of the participant then was added. The overall model remained highly significant: F (2, 415) = 27.22, p < .001, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .11. However, only genital perceptions emerged as a significant predictor ([beta] = .31, t = 6.61, p < .001). The next variable to be added was sexual status (i.e., virgin/non-virgin). The resultant model was highly significant: F (3, 414) = 173.48, p < .001, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .55, with all three predictors having probability values less than .01 (genital perceptions: [beta] = .19, t = 5.44, p < .001; sex of the participant: [beta] = -.11, t = -3.37, p = .001; and sexual status: [beta] = -.68, t = -20.30, p < .001). The next variable to be added was sexual anxiety. Again, the overall model was significant, F (4, 413) = 170.28, p < .001, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .62, with genital perceptions ([beta] = .12, t = 3.83, p < .001), sexual status ([beta] = -.56, t = -16.46, p < .001) and sexual anxiety ([beta] = -.31, t = -8.47, p < .001) serving as significant predictors. In the final model, body-image self-consciousness was included. The overall model was significant, F (5, 412) = 136.15, p < .001, with the significant predictors being genital perceptions ([beta] =.12, t = 3.50, p = .001), sexual status ([beta] = -.56, t = -16.46, p < .001) and sexual anxiety ([beta] = -.30, t = -8.12, p < .001). This final model accounted for 62% of the variance in sexual-esteem.

The results of destructive testing suggest that the association between genital perceptions and sexual-esteem remains, even when variables such as sex of the participant, sexual status, sexual anxiety, and body-image self-consciousness are considered. While the amount of variance in sexual-esteem accounted for by genital perceptions is modest (approximately 11%), these findings indicate that it does not appear to be redundant with the broader constructs included in the multiple regression analysis.

STUDY 3

The purpose of this study was to investigate participants' responses to each item on the measure of genital perceptions. It was anticipated that this form of item analysis would permit the researchers to better understand respondents' locus of dissatisfaction with their genitalia. Given the exploratory nature of this study, no formal hypotheses were tested. However, it was anticipated that men's dissatisfaction would be most pronounced on scale items that assess penis size (e.g., Brod, 1988; Lee, 1996; Pietropinto, 1986) whereas women's dissatisfaction would be most apparent on items assessing vaginal tightness (e.g., Braun & Kitzinger, 2001; Davis, 2002) and odour (e.g., Reinholtz & Muehlenhard, 1995). Given that body hair contravenes hegemonic standards of attractiveness in women (Toerien & Wilkinon, 2003), it also was expected that items assessing pubic hair would constitute another locus of dissatisfaction for women.

Method

Participants

A convenience sample of 112 female (63.6%) and 64 male (36.4%) college students (N = 176) enrolled in both introductory psychology and social psychology courses completed the questionnaire. The ages of male participants ranged from 18 to 55 (M = 24.4, SD = 8.4), and the ages of female participants ranged from 17 to 45 (M = 20.8, SD = 5.3).

Measures

A questionnaire containing a variety of measures was distributed to participants. However, only the Female and Male Genital Image Scales (FGIS and MGIS) are relevant to the current study. Details concerning these measures are provided in Study 1.

Procedure

Ethical approval was obtained from an Ethics Review Board. The procedure followed was similar to that outlined in Study 1. However, in this study, only students enrolled in introductory and social psychology classes were targeted for recruitment and no incentive to participate, such as a raffle, was provided.

Results

Alpha coefficients for the FGIS and MGIS were excellent (i.e., .91 and .92, respectively). Mean scores were (in order): 40.8 (SD = 7.0) and 50.8 (SD = 8.2) suggesting that females and males possess moderately favourable views of their genitalia. As was found in Studies 1 and 2, a comparison of standardized scale scores revealed that men (M = 3.6, SD = .6) evidenced more favourable genital perceptions than did women (M = 3.4, SD = .6), t (167) = 2.47, p < .02, d = .38.

Percentages for each item on the FGIS and MGIS are provided in Tables 4 and 5, respectively. The three loci of dissatisfaction for men concerned the length, circumference, and appearance of their non-erect penis. For women, these loci were the texture and amount of pubic hair, and the smell of their genitalia.

Inspection of Tables 4 and 5 also suggest that women in this study may be more likely than men to possess "neutral" attitudes toward their genitalia. Such neutrality is understandable when one considers that men's genitals are more visible than women's and, thus, may constitute a more salient evaluative target (1).

To investigate whether female participants evidenced greater neutrality vis-a-vis genital perceptions, dummy coding was used. Specifically, the neutral response option was coded as 1, with all other responses receiving a code of 0. Total scale scores then were computed. Thus, scores on the MGIS could range from 0 (neutral option was not selected on any item) to 14 (neutral option was selected for each item). As the FGIS contained 12 items, the possible range was 0 to 12. To permit gender comparisons, scores were standardized (i.e., divided by the total number of scale items). Therefore, the resultant score could range from 0 (neutral option was never selected) to 1 (neutral option was selected for all items). An independent samples t-test revealed that the mean score for female participants was significantly higher (M = .42, SD = .35) than the mean score for male participants (M = .30, SD = .28), t (156.3) = -2.60, p < .02, d = -.42. Thus, when instructed to rate their levels of satisfaction with various parts of their genitals, women in this study were more likely than men to select the neutral option. However, it should be noted that the magnitude of this gender difference, as determined by Cohen's d, was small.

General Discussion

Findings suggest that, among samples of Canadian post-secondary students, the favourability of their genital perceptions varies reliably as a function of gender (i.e., males evidence more favourable perceptions) and sexual status (i.e., non-virgins evidence more favourable perceptions as do those who report being currently active sexually). In addition, for non-virgin participants, favourability of genital perceptions correlated positively with sexual esteem and negatively with sexual anxiety and body-image self-consciousness during physical intimacy. For virgins, patterns of significant correlations were less reliable. Exploratory analyses revealed that genital perceptions emerged as a significant, albeit modest, predictor of sexual esteem, even when broad constructs such as sexual anxiety and body-image self-consciousness were taken into consideration. Finally, inspection of responses to each item on the genital perceptions measure provided illuminating information, with men appearing to be most dissatisfied with the size of their penis while women's dissatisfaction centred upon amount of pubic hair and genital odour. The findings concerning differences between men and women are qualified, however, by the discovery that women's responses on the genital perceptions measure were more likely than men's to be neutral. Although the practical significance of this gender difference was quite modest, the reasons underlying women's apparent neutrality toward their genitalia warrants investigation.

There are a number of limitations to the current series of studies that should be mentioned. First, participants were students enrolled in post-secondary institutions and not members of the general population. Although it is difficult to construct compelling arguments with respect to why the correlations reported herein would not be found outside of a post-secondary milieu, in the absence of research with non-student samples, this caveat must be issued.

Second, given the sensitive nature of these studies, it is entirely possible that those who volunteered differ in important ways from those who refused to do so (Bogaert, 1996; Wiederman, 1999). The issue of volunteer bias is particularly important when examining the proportional data provided in Tables 4 and 5. One should not assume that these percentages reflect the average person's perceptions of his or her genitalia. Indeed, given the possibility that participants in these studies were those who are particularly comfortable with sexual matters, these percentages may represent upper estimates of favourability.

Third, research suggests that individuals may be less prone to tell the truth when asked to complete measures focusing on sexual behaviours (e.g., number of lifetime sexual partners--see Brink, 1995). While the importance of providing honest answers was stressed, and care was taken to reassure participants that the information they provided would be anonymous and confidential, there is no guarantee that these details provided sufficient comfort to the individuals surveyed. The mean scale scores obtained in these studies demonstrate that ceiling and floor effects were not problematic; however, the absence of extreme scores is not tantamount to "truthful" responding (i.e., participants may have simply selected response mid-points). Future research should address this issue by measuring social desirability bias and, if necessary, treating it as a covariate.

Fourth, as all studies were non-experimental, a causal framework can not be applied to these findings. It would be erroneous to conclude, for example, that genital perceptions cause increases or decreases in variables such as sexual esteem or sexual anxiety (and vice versa).

In terms of future research, a number of questions arise. Are socio-demographic factors associated with variations in the favourability of genital perceptions? For example, in a recent meta-analysis by Morrison, Morrison, and Sager (2004), effect sizes suggested a slight difference in body satisfaction as a function of sexual orientation (i.e., heterosexual men and--in a small subset of studies--lesbian women were slightly more satisfied with their bodies than gay men and heterosexual women). Does a similar difference exist in terms of genital perceptions? Also, do self-other comparisons on the dimension of genitalia influence how individuals perceive their genitals? Social Comparison Theory (Festinger, 1954), which has been used to understand linkages between exposure to idealistic images of the body and self-perceptions of physical attractiveness, would appear to be a useful framework. Specifically, do comparisons to the "idealistic" genitals depicted in sexually explicit material (SEM) affect men and women's genital attitudes? Previous quantitative research has suggested that viewing SEM contributes to men rating their penis as smaller than average (Brod, 1988; Lee, 1996). For women, no published experimental studies have addressed this issue. However, an article in the Canadian magazine See (1997 as cited in Davis, 2002) identified women who said viewing SEM in magazines and movies started them thinking about comparing their genitalia to the models featured in these media. In particular, these women commented on a desire to focus on the "abnormalities" of their own genitals.

Qualitative research may prove helpful in particularising why individuals are dissatisfied with certain features of their genitalia. For example, if a woman reports that she is dissatisfied with the smell of her vulva, it is important to tease apart what that means. Is her dissatisfaction based, in part, on mass media (e.g., advertisements for "feminine hygiene" products) which make body odours problematic? Do other factors play a role and, if so, what are they? How does she think her genitals smell in comparison to the "average" woman? What sort of odour would she like her genitals to have? As mentioned earlier, the salience of genital perceptions to men and women also warrants attention. For example, does the neutrality identified among some women in the current study reflect the fact that women's genitalia are less visible than men's? Or is the dimension of visibility fairly unimportant? Finally, self-reflective studies with social scientists (especially sexologists) are needed. Why do they think the topic of genital perceptions has been ignored by researchers? Is it because this area of study is viewed as trivial, smutty, or on the boundary of legitimate culture (Johnson, 1999)?

In conclusion, our findings reiterate the assertion made by other social scientists such as Reinholtz and Muehlenhard (1995) that perceptions of genitalia are associated with variations in sexual functioning. Despite the critical role that sexuality plays in the lives of most individuals, to date, the topic of genital perceptions has received scant empirical attention. It is our hope that studies such as this one will motivate other researchers to examine this unjustly neglected area of inquiry.

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Note

(1.) We thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this point

Todd G. Morrison (1)

Anomi Bearden, MA candidate (2)

Shannon R. Ellis, MA candidate (3)

Rebecca Harriman, MA candidate (4)

(1.) Department of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway, IRELAND.

(2.) Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, CANADA.

(3.) Department of Psychology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, CANADA.

Address all correspondence to Dr. Todd G. Morrison, Department of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway (Email: Todd.Morrison@nuigalway.ie)
Table 1
Descriptive Statistics and Alpha Coefficients (Study 1)

 Men (n = 149)

Measure M (SD) Range Alpha
BII 141.4 (22.6) 80-195 .96
MGIS 51.3 (9.7) 23-70 .95
SES 30.0 (13.4) 0-50 .88

 Women (n = 163)

Measure M (SD) Range Alpha
BII 139.3 (21.7) 44-194 .95
FGIS 40.8 (9.2) 12-60 .96
SES 30.2 (14.8) 0-50 .93

Note: Higher scores represent more of the construct.
BII = Body-image Inventory
FGIS = Female Genital Image Scale
MGIS = Male Genital Image Scale
SES = Sexual-Esteem Scale

Table 2
Descriptive Statistics and Alpha Coefficients (Study 2)

 Men (n = 202)

Measure M (SD) Range Alpha

BISC 18.9 (7.3) 0-48 .83
MGIS 50.3 (8.4) 27-70 .92
SAI 9.1 (4.0) 1-22 .78
SES 32.6 (10.4) 0-50 .94

 Women (n = 382)

Measure M (SD) Range Alpha

BISC 3.8 (7.3) 0-55 .90
FGIS 9.6 (7.1) 12-60 .92
SAI 11.7 (4.3) 3-25 .80
SES 7.2 (14.4) 0-48 .93

Note: Higher scores represent more of the construct.
BISC = Body-image Self-consciousness
FGIS = Female Genital Image Scale
MGIS = Male Genital Image Scale
SAI = Sexual Anxiety Inventory
SES = Sexual-Esteem Scale

Although not formally hypothesised, male evidenced significantly lower
levels of body-image self-consciousness, t (500.7) = -6.59, p < .001,
d = -.59, and sexual anxiety, t (446) = -6.34, p < .001, d = -.60, and
higher levels of sexual esteem, t (513.7) = 5.15, p < .001, d = .45.
These gender differences remained significant, even when separate
analyses were conducted for virgins and non-virgins.

Table 3
Correlations between Genital Perceptions and Body-image
Self-Consciousness, Sexual Anxiety, and Sexual Esteem

 Men Women
 MGIS FGIS

BISC -.31 (non-virgins = -.28) -.24 (non-virgins = -.28)
 (virgins = -.34) (virgins = -.16 *)
SAI -.32 (non-virgins = -.34) -.27 (non-virgins = -.18)
 (virgins = -.12 *) (virgins = -.26)
SES .32 (non-virgins = .40) .36 (non-virgins = .36)
 (virgins = .09 *) (virgins = .15 *)

Note: BISC = Body-image Self-Consciousness
FGIS = Female Genital Image Scale
MGIS = Male Genital Image Scale
SAI = Sexual Anxiety Inventory
SES = Sexual-Esteem Scale

Correlations in brackets are for non-virgins and virgins.

* p = ns. All other correlations are statistically significant, p < .05

Table 4
Responses on the Female Genital Image Scale

 Very
Scale Item Dissatisfied Dissatisfied Neutral

Colour of my vulva .9 2.8 52.8
(i.e., external genitals).
Attractiveness of my vulva. .9 8.3 53.7
The texture of my pubic hair. 0 15.7 47.2
Amount of pubic hair. 6.5 22.2 27.8
The tightness of my vagina. .9 6.5 26.9
The attractiveness of 0 4.6 51.9
my clitoris.
Shape of my outer lips .9 11.1 40.7
(i.e., labia majora).
Size of my outer lips 1.9 13 42.6
(i.e., labia majora).
Shape of my inner lips .9 4.6 51.9
(i.e., labia minora).
Size of my inner lips 1.9 6.5 52.8
(i.e., labia minora).
Smell of my genitals. .9 21.3 38.9
Overall appearance of 0 5.6 39.8
my genitals.

 Very
Scale Item Satisfied Satisfied

Colour of my vulva 31.5 12.0
(i.e., external genitals).
Attractiveness of my vulva. 31.5 5.6
The texture of my pubic hair. 27.8 9.3
Amount of pubic hair. 32.4 11.1
The tightness of my vagina. 53.7 12.0
The attractiveness of 31.5 12.0
my clitoris.
Shape of my outer lips 39.8 7.4
(i.e., labia majora).
Size of my outer lips 36.1 6.5
(i.e., labia majora).
Shape of my inner lips 37.0 5.6
(i.e., labia minora).
Size of my inner lips 33.3 5.6
(i.e., labia minora).
Smell of my genitals. 35.2 3.7
Overall appearance of 46.3 8.3
my genitals.

Note: Data represent percentages. Due to rounding, totals may not
equal 100.

Top three loci of dissatisfaction are identified in bold italics.

Table 5
Responses on the Male Genital Image Scale

 Very
Scale Item Dissatisfied Dissatisfied Neutral

Length of my non-erect penis. 4.8 23.8 20.6
Length of my erect penis. 1.6 3.2 12.7
Circumference of my 3.2 12.7 31.7
non-erect penis.
Circumference of my 1.6 4.8 23.8
erect penis.
Appearance of my non-erect 3.2 22.2 23.8
penis.
Appearance of my erect penis. 1.6 3.2 20.6
Size of my testicles. 0 4.8 31.7
Way my testicles "hang". 0 4.8 36.5
Appearance of my scrotum 0 4.8 40.3
(i.e., sac).
Texture of my pubic hair. 0 4.8 41.3
Appearance of my pubic hair. 1.6 3.2 42.9
Smell of my genitals. 1.6 1.6 46.8
Overall appearance of my 0 4.8 33.3
genitals.
Overall size of my penis. 1.6 9.5 17.5

 Very
Scale Item Satisfied Satisfied

Length of my non-erect penis. 46 4.8
Length of my erect penis. 66.7 15.9
Circumference of my 42.9 9.5
non-erect penis.
Circumference of my 58.7 11.1
erect penis.
Appearance of my non-erect 39.7 11.1
penis.
Appearance of my erect penis. 54 20.6
Size of my testicles. 44.4 19
Way my testicles "hang". 41.3 17.5
Appearance of my scrotum 41.9 12.9
(i.e., sac).
Texture of my pubic hair. 42.9 11.1
Appearance of my pubic hair. 39.7 12.7
Smell of my genitals. 33.9 16.1
Overall appearance of my 50.8 11.1
genitals.
Overall size of my penis. 57.1 14.3

Note: Data represent percentages. Due to rounding, totals may not
equal 100.

Top three loci of dissatisfaction are identified in bold italics.
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Author:Morrison, Todd G.; Bearden, Anomi; Ellis, Shannon R.; Harriman, Rebecca
Publication:Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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