Beauty Below the Belt Doctors Warn against Vaginal Cosmetic Surgery

Taking the quest for ideal beauty to the nether regions, more and more women are undergoing labial surgery. Doctors, though, warn that the procedure could have negative effects.

Cosmetic surgery for female genitalia is on the rise.

Cosmetic surgery for female genitalia is on the rise.

When women opt for elective vaginal cosmetic surgery, are they taking the obsession with physical beauty too far? The sharp increase in women wanting "designer vaginas" has prompted the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to warn women seeking the surgery to find alternative solutions to a procedure they say could have unknown risks.

In this month's edition of the journal, London psychologist Lih Mei Liao and gynecologist Sarah Crieghton criticize surgeons who they say are taking advantage of female insecurities to perform genitoplasty -- even though the procedure could cause nerve damage and impaired function of erogenous zones, among other potential problems.

According to their article, "more and more women are said to be troubled by the shape, size or proportions of their vulvas," turning the operation into a "booming business." Although precise figures aren't available, an apparent trend is emerging. In 2004 and 2005, the British National Health Service performed 800 labial reductions -- six times as many as in 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, the number of privately financed operations is unknown.

Women who undergo genitoplasty are reported to seek a flattened vulva that corresponds to the youthful ideal of fashion magazines. The procedure often entails reducing the size of the labia, removing the skin which protects the clitoris, and possibly even shortening the entire length of the vagina. According the BMJ article, fashion magazines often discuss genitoplasty, and patients have been known to show surgeons examples torn from pornographic magazines which have likely been digitally altered.

Liao and Creighton report that of the 490,000 results from a "labial reduction" Google search, 47 of the first 50 results were advertisements from US and UK clinics offering the surgery. These ads frequently include before and after photos along with "life changing narratives."

In a study of patients in British hospitals, some women cited problems in their lifestyle, such as inability to wear tight clothing or ride a bicycle, as reasons for having the intimate surgery. The study, however, was not representative of the typical genitoplasty patient, the authors write.



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