Gender Bias in the Study of Genital Evolution: Females Continue to Receive Less Attention than Males

Integr Comp Biol. 2022 Mar 30:icac012. doi: 10.1093/icb/icac012. Online ahead of print.


The evolution of female genitalia has historically received less attention than male reproductive organs. Several papers have underscored the disparities in research efforts, but have calls for change resonated with the scientific community and rectified the skew? A literature review was conducted of journal articles published between 2013 through 2021 that explore genital evolution to determine if gender bias (sex of research subject) and imbalance (sex of researcher) have changed. Of the 334 articles that specifically explored genital evolution, first authors of both sexes published on female genitalia less than half as often as male genitalia, although the majority of authors published on genitalia of both sexes. First authors of both sexes mentioned females after males substantially more often than females before males. Female first authors published the most about genital evolution in all taxa except for insects and arachnids. Female first authors published in high impact journals marginally less often than male first authors. Articles about genital evolution across taxa generally had high impact factors, but how impact factors and number of citations varied by the sex of the subject was not clear. Although the number of studies exploring genital co-evolution between the sexes has increased across taxa and years, female genitalia continue to be researched less often than male genitalia when only one sex is investigated. Both female and male scientists are publishing in the field of genital evolution, although research on female subjects continue to lag behind males, demonstrating continued bias within the discipline.

Keywords: Genital evolution, gender bias, reproductive morphology; sexual selection.