Images of the body and the reproductive system among men and women living in shantytowns in Porto Alegre, Brazil

Ceres G. Victora, Daniela R. Knauth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper presents the results of anthropological research on graphic and verbal images of the reproductive system carried out among 99 women and 103 men living in four shantytowns in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Interviewers were instructed to ask for the drawings in the course of interviews lasting 12-20 hours. Some 55 drawings of the female reproductive system by men and 99 by women were produced and are analysed here together with information from the interviews and observational data. The majority of the men's drawings of women's reproductive system tended to include 'external' body parts only, in contrast with the 'hidden' nature of the internal body parts, which were commonly depicted by the women. Women have been more exposed to the health system than men and the majority made basic biomedical types of drawings. However, their verbal representations were sometimes informed by other notions and values and their physical experience of their bodies. Lack of contact with the health system does not fully account for the men's apparent lack of knowledge about the reproductive body. Rather, biomedical knowledge was simply not a point of reference for the men's understandings of the body. The majority of drawings made by men of the female reproductive body portrayed the primacy of sexuality in their view of the reproductive system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-33
Number of pages12
JournalReproductive Health Matters
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Brazil
  • Images of the body
  • Low-income groups
  • Reproduction
  • Sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Reproductive Medicine


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