One of the world’s most prestigious health journals BMJ has lashed a fast-growing trend in the United States and Britain for “designer vaginas”.
Rising numbers of women are asking the UK National Health Service to provide cosmetic surgery on their genitals. Writing in the British Medical Journal, authors said the number of “labial reductions” carried out in NHS hospitals had doubled to 800 a year over five years.
Demand for cosmetic genitoplasty or vaginoplasty is increasing. Lih Mei Liao, consultant clinical psychologist, and Sarah M Creighton, consultant gynaecologist, argue that surgery carries risks and that alternative solutions to women’s concerns about the appearance of their genitals should be developed.
More and more women are said to be troubled by the shape, size, or proportions of their vulvas, so that elective genitoplasty is apparently a “booming business.” Advertisements for cosmetic genitoplasty are common, often including before and after images and life changing narratives.
Television programmes and articles in women’s magazines on “designer vaginas” may also fuel desire for better appearance.
But decisions about surgically altering the genitalia may be based on misguided assumptions about normal dimensions, they warn. Surgery carries risk, such as loss of sensitivity and the long term benefits are unclear, they say. Some doctors even align the practice with “female genital mutilation.” So what makes women take such risks when their genital characteristics fall within typical ranges?
The increased demand for cosmetic genitoplasty may reflect a narrowing social definition of normal, or a confusion of what is normal and what is idealised. And the provision of genitoplasty could narrow acceptable ranges further and increase the demand for surgery even more. Surgery is an extreme and unproved intervention in this instance, and it should be thought of as the last resort, not the first port of call, they argue.