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Contact: Debby Herbenick
Indiana University

Orgasms, sexual health and attitudes about female genitals

IMAGE: Debby Herbenick is associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University.

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An Indiana University study published in the September issue of the International Journal of Sexual Health found that women who feel more positively about women's genitals find it easier to orgasm and are more likely to engage in sexual health promoting behaviors, such as having regular gynecological exams or performing vulvar self-examinations.

"These are important findings about body image," said Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Our culture often portrays women's genitals as dirty and in need of cleaning and grooming. Some women may have had greater exposure to such negative messages or may be more susceptible to their impact."

Herbenick's study created a scale for measuring men's and women's attitudes toward women's genitals. Such a scale, she wrote in the study, could be useful in sex therapy, in medical settings to help better understand decision-making that goes into gynecological care and treatment, and in health education settings involving women and their sexual health. The study also found that men had more positive attitudes about women's genitals than women.

"Women are often more critical about their own bodies -- and other women's bodies -- than men are," Herbenick said. "What we found in this study is that men generally feel positive about a variety of aspects of women's genitals including how they look, smell, taste and feel."

Herbenick, also a sexual health educator for The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, offers the following suggestions regarding the findings:

The survey component of the study involved 362 women and 241 men, most of whom were white/Caucasian and between the ages of 18 and 23.

"Our study builds on previous research that demonstrates that the mind and body are highly connected in regard to sex," said Herbenick. "When women feel more positively about female genitals, they likely feel more relaxed in their own skin, more able to let go and thus more likely to experience pleasure and orgasm."


The study was supported by The Joseph Miller Foundation. For a copy of the study, visit http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a914661190.

Herbenick can be reached at 812-855-0364 or debby@indiana.edu. For additional assistance, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 and traljame@indiana.edu.

Journal citation: "The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Attitudes Toward Women's Genitals," International Journal of Sexual Health, 21:153-166, 2009.

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