Update 8/5/2020: The study has now been retracted by the journal Fertility and Sterility at the request of the authors.
Endometriosis is a condition that involves tissue similar to the lining of the womb growing in other pelvic organs, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The tissue thickens and bleeds just like it would in the uterus during the menstrual cycle.
It's a painful and long-term condition that can have a significant impact, including infertility. Despite affecting around 1 in 10 women, it can take a long time to get a proper diagnosis. On average, from onset of symptoms to diagnosis, the wait is around 7.4 years for those whose main complaint is pelvic pain, and 4 years for those whose main concern is infertility.
More research into the condition is needed to speed up diagnosis and improve quality of life living with the condition.
What's probably not needed is a study of how hot a group of scientists find women who are suffering from the condition. However, in a paper that's drawing a lot of criticism, that's precisely what we've got.
The study was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2013, but has resurfaced online recently to people's horror.
In the study, titled "Attractiveness of women with rectovaginal endometriosis: a case-control study", which many contend is quite pointless, the researchers set about studying the link between attractiveness and severity of the condition. They claimed their results showed that "an emerging phenotype" for patients with endometriosis appears to be that they are more attractive than others without the condition.
The study, which people have called "gross" and "sexist", saw women have a physical examination to measure their BMI, hip to waist ratio, and breast size. They were then ranked on their attractiveness levels by the researchers themselves (or at least colleagues who had not been involved in the prior medical examination in order to blind any prejudice when ranking).
Critics noted that though the researchers say they gained full consent for the study from the participants, they were not given "information on the specific hypothesis of different degrees of attractiveness" in order to "limit potential unintentional seductive behaviors that might have swayed the raters' judgment".
The authors say that the severity of the condition was linked to BMI, breast size, and (by their own potentially culturally biased rankings) attractiveness, based on a study of 31 patients. They speculate that this could be to do with increased estrogen levels, which could lead to endometriosis. However, the study has been criticized as having "no clinical utility".
"I fail to understand how a small group of Italian doctors rating attractiveness of women with different stages of endometriosis contributes anything to medical science," OB/GYN Dr Jen Gunter wrote when the paper was first released.
"If women with severe endometriosis truly do have a lower BMI there could be a multitude of reasons, some of which may actually be important, but this hypothesis is not answered by this study. In fact, this study of 31 women contributes nothing to the medical literature and Fertility and Sterility should be ashamed they accepted it for publication.
"Objectifying women has no place in medicine. It is even more horrifying that such a publication comes from a department on OB/GYN."