In an analysis published in BMJ journal on how healthcare providers should respond to requests for cosmetic genital surgery, co-authors Lih Mei Liao, a clinical psychologist, and Sarah M Creighton, a gynecologist, argue 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,’” they write. “Advertisements for cosmetic genitoplasty are common, often including before and after images and life changing narratives.”
The authors are both affiliated with the UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health. The study’s abstract and introduction are available here.
According to this story about the BMJ article, some patients complained that the size of their vulvas interfered with their ability to wear tight clothing or ride a bike comfortably, though men who have similar problems are more likely to seek alternative solutions to surgery.
Patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat with no protrusion beyond the labia majora, even though there is nothing unusual about protrusion of the labia minora or clitoris beyond the labia majora, say the authors. Some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from advertisements or pornography that may have been digitally altered.
The increased demand for cosmetic genitoplasty may reflect a narrowing social definition of normal, or a confusion of what is normal and what is idealized, they write. And the provision of genitoplasty could narrow acceptable ranges further and increase the demand for surgery even more.
Here’s a story from Women’s eNews about women seeking vaginal plastic surgery. It’s a couple of years old, but I remembered it because some of the quotes are so disturbing — both from doctors performing the surgery and women seeking reconstruction to conform to some sort of beauty ideal or because of pressure from their partners.