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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 December 2007, 15:09 GMT
Public vote on website genitals
Interactive body map
The censored version of the body map images
The NHS is asking patients whether a new interactive body map should be correct in every detail - or whether the genitals should be left off.

The state-of-the-art body maps have been developed for the NHS Choices website.

The maps, to be launched next month, allow users to strip away the dummies' skin to explore information about diseases and treatments.

The public will be able to vote on the issue via the website.

I'm all for the genitalia, anything else would just be an overly prudish Victorian approach
Professor Sir Muir Gray

Professor Sir Muir Gray, chief knowledge officer for the NHS, is opposed to any censoring of the images.

He said: "I'm all for the genitalia, anything else would just be an overly prudish Victorian approach.

"It's completely bonkers: the edited versions resemble space aliens. People have to accept this is the 21st century."

Sir Muir conceded that some parents might not want their children to see anatomically correct naked images.

But he said the evidence suggested the straightforward approach was more effective with young people.

The debate over how the human body is depicted is goes back thousands of years.

Ancient Greeks

The ancient Greeks believed that heroes and gods should be depicted in a state of "heroic nudity".

This became the norm for most depictions of the human form in art and science until the middle of the 19th century when the public began to demand more modest portraiture.

Even today, body maps on health websites worldwide appear with their genitalia masked or pixelated.

Paul Nuki, editor of the NHS Choices site, said: "I think it's an American modesty that has set the tone for this sort of thing on the net and, for some, it's now become a worry to let it all hang out.

"On the other hand, we've got some very strong internal advocates for the full monty. In the end we thought it best that our users have a proper say."

Sir Muir is proposing an optional 'drag and drop' fig leaf for the NHS virtual Adam and Eve, so visitors have the option keeping the body-maps covered up.

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