Lead Author: CHAISSON, Nicole
Published by: The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Year published: 2023

Background: Visual imagery has been used to educate healthcare providers, patients, and the lay public on female genital cutting (FGC) typology and reconstructive procedures. However, culturally inclusive, diverse, and anatomically accurate representation of vulvas informed by women possessing lived experience of FGC is lacking.

Aim: We sought to apply World Health Organization (WHO) FGC typology to the development of type-specific visual imagery designed by a graphic artist and culturally informed by women with lived experience of FGC alongside a panel of health experts in FGC-related care.

Methods: Over a 3-year process, a visual artist created watercolor renderings of vulvas with and without FGC across varying WHO types and subtypes using an iterative community-based approach. Somali women possessing lived experience of FGC were engaged alongside a team of clinician experts in FGC-related care. Women and clinicians provided descriptive input on skin color variation, texture, and skin tone, as well as the visual depiction of actions necessary in conducting a genital examination.

Outcomes: A series of vulvar anatomic illustrations depicting WHO FGC typology.

Results: FGC types and subtypes are illustrated alongside culturally informed descriptors and clinical pearls to strengthen provider competency in the identification and documentation of FGC WHO typology, as well as facilitate patient education, counseling, shared decision making, and care.

Clinical Implications: Ensuring equitable representation of race, gender, age, body type, and ability in medical illustrations may enhance patient education, counseling, and shared decision making in medical and/or surgical care. FGC provides a lens through which the incorporation of patient-informed and culturally relevant imagery and descriptors may enhance provider competency in the care of FGC-affected women and adolescents.

Strengths and Limitations: The strengths of this study include the development of visual imagery through an iterative community-based process that engaged women with lived experience of FGC alongside clinicians with expertise in FGC-related care, as well as the representation of historically underrepresented bodies in the anatomical literature. Study limitations include the lack of generalizability to all possible forms or practices of FGC given the focus on one geographically distinct migrant community, as well as the reliance on self-report given the inability to clinically verify FGC status due to the community-based methodology employed.

Conclusion: Patient-informed and culturally representative visual imagery of vulvas is essential to the provision of patient-centered sexual health care and education. Illustrations developed through this community-engaged work may inform future development of visual educational content that advances equity in diverse representation of medical illustrations.