It makes us squeamish to even think about it, but the amount of women getting cosmetic surgery on their vaginas is on the increase. But before you dismiss this as another fad influenced by reality tv stars, spare a thought for the women who turn to this procedure after suffering pain during sexual intercourse, for whom it provides a much greater quality of life.
Speaking to The Independent, a cosmetic surgeon has shed light on the physical and mental trauma that leads women to undergo labiaplasty. The procedure, which costs around £3,500 but is also available on the NHS, involves trimming away the flaps of skin on either side of the vaginal opening.
There has been fierce debate in recent years around the apparent popularity of “designer vaginas” and the perceived pressure placed on women to go under the knife to have “neater” vaginas. The procedure rose tenfold between 2003 and 2013.
However, Christopher Inglefield, a plastic and cosmetic surgeon at the London Bridge clinic stressed that the women on whom he operates experience great physical discomfort.
He said it is “insulting” to patients for people to assume that most women have the surgery for cosmetic reasons.
“We see women who say ‘this has bothered me for two or three years and I haven’t had sexual intercourse for two years because it’s too uncomfortable’,” he said, explaining that the labia can become caught and pulled during intercourse. “That affects a healthy individual’s quality of life.”
Around two women a week – the majority of whom are in their twenties or thirties – visit Mr Inglefield for labiaplasty consultations. Only three patients in the past ten years have visited him because they dislike the appearance of their labia, he said.
While the number of women who ask him about the operation has slowly increased over the past five years, he added that he believes this is because more women are aware of it rather than because of a cosmetic trend.
“The women have significant discomfort with recurrent infections and irritation because of their enlarged labia,” he explained.
“The most extreme case I dealt with was a girl in her late teens whose labia grew abnormally large to the point that she was being teased and told she looked like a boy. She was very traumatised and we had to get approval from the hospital psychologist to go ahead with the surgery,” he said. He added that he did not know how she dealt with the discomfort she would have endured for years.
In 2013, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists warned against labiaplasty being carried out on girls under the age of 18 on the NHS, and stressed girls should be taught that genitals come in all shapes and sizes. This sounds like a good approach to us- we fully support any movement to convince women they are perfect just as they are.