Many people believe it’s a side effect of the availability of soft- and hard-core pornography in our society. Some say it started with some rude references to female genitalia by Howard Stern a few years back. Whatever the reasons, the surgical procedure called labiaplasty, known by a variety of other names including “designer vagina” (and administered with a few other twists, such as “revirgination”), appears to be here to stay.
The most commonly performed surgery reduces the size of the labia minora, the soft folds of skin that hang just outside the vagina. For a quick view of a typical before-and-after, look up labiaplasty in Wikipedia. (Just be ready for the images to come up front and center.)
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, three to four thousand women undergo what’s termed “vaginal rejuvenation” in the United States each year. (Labiaplasty accounts for most of these surgeries, vaginal tightening for some.) The number is small compared to the hundreds of thousands who choose breast surgery, for instance. Nevertheless, labiaplasty outranks two other cosmetic procedures, namely buttock lift and cheek implants, in popularity.
If you’re scratching your head wondering just what it takes to drive a woman to elect labia surgery, you’re not the only one. Some people even term labiaplasty “self inflicted genital mutilation.”
To be sure, there are some cases when it might be understandable to seek surgery. In the case of the woman in the Wikipedia images, well, what if she’s an equestrian? Would horseback riding have hurt before surgery? What if she dreamed of a career as a swimsuit model? Would her labia have shown up in the wrong places? What if she suffered major discomfort during sex?
Unfortunately, however, many women are interested in labiaplasty for aesthetic reasons alone. Doctors report consultations in which women bring photos of the “ideal” they’re seeking, not realizing that the model may have had surgery herself or the images may have been touched up.
In a position paper published last year, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said women should understand that there are “a large number of variations in the appearance of normal female genitalia.” Ted Weaver, the chairman of that organization’s women’s health committee, went on to note that labiaplasty procedures, “pose real risks” and “have the potential to cause serious harm.”
Doctors in the U.S. have been concerned as well. Two years ago, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a press release advising against cosmetic vaginal procedures. Citing risks such as adverse scarring, residual pain, altered sensation and infection, the document noted that “very few cosmetic vaginal procedures are medically indicated.”
Both the U.S. and Australia/New Zealand organizations recommend strongly that women be informed about normal variations in female genitalia. The ACOG press release stated that an honest discussion with a medical professional could go a long way in easing a woman’s concerns. Dr. Weaver from the Royal College mentioned that some patients might benefit more from psychological help than from surgery.
Seems like good, sound advice. Will the numbers of women seeking vaginal cosmetic surgery soon begin to decline, then? Given the dollars spent on medical marketing, especially here in the U.S, somehow that seems unlikely.
If this topic really gets to you, especially thinking about how women fall victim to aggressive marketing of the “ideal” female form, you may want to visit www.newviewcampaign.org. This site is home to a group looking to challenge such notions, especially as promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. It’s also a good place to research female genital variation (go to the “activism” page.)