Issue 20 / 15 November 2010

AS if nose jobs, boob jobs and Botox injections weren’t enough, an increasing number of women are apparently now looking to get their genitals “recontoured” in the never-ending search for bodily perfection.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week on a surge in demand for vaginal cosmetic surgery, something I’d heard about anecdotally.

Ted Weaver, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, expressed concerns about the increasing popularity of procedures such as labial reduction, telling the newspaper they should only be performed for clear indications and after proper counselling.

“They couch it in language like ‘sculpting and rejuvenation’,” he said of some clinics. “But it’s cutting and stitching. It’s not glamorous.”

Look at some of the myriad websites spruiking the procedures and you could be forgiven for thinking that having surgery on your genitals is on a par with having your legs waxed: you’ll be in and out in a couple of hours with minimal pain and inconvenience.

The Cosmetic Surgery Australia website, which includes links to doctors who perform labial reductions, does not appear to be plagued by doubts, saying: “The purpose of labiaplasty is to improve the external appearance of the vagina. After the procedure most women have less discomfort during intercourse, feel more positive about their appearance and show overall improvement in their self esteem.”

The website also had this to say about sensation in the recontoured labia: “Sexual feeling after labiaplasty depends on the degree of labia abnormality to begin with. If excess labia tissue interferes with sexual activity prior to labiaplasty, then you and your partner may notice improvement after surgery.”

Shouldn’t there be at least some mention of the risk genital surgery could actually lead to reduced rather than improved sensation?

None of this is to say labial reduction may not be clinically warranted in some women, where hypertrophy causes great physical or psychological discomfort.

But I suspect most of the procedures are performed for cosmetic reasons — out of an insecurity fuelled at least in part by increased exposure to porn and the fashion for less abundant pubic hair.

Proponents argue having your labia trimmed is no different from any other cosmetic procedure. Maybe they have an argument, though it’s one I’m struggling to accommodate.

Are there really no limits to the anxieties that can be whipped up about our various body parts?

Wouldn’t helping people feel good about the bodies they have be better than encouraging them to think fulfilment and self-esteem can be achieved via the surgeon’s scalpel?

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer. She has worked for Melbourne’s The Age and contributed to publications including the BMJ, The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. She is also a former news and features editor with Australian Doctor. Her book, Making girls and boys, on the science of sex and gender, will be published by UNSW Press early next year

Posted 15 November 2010

2 thoughts on “Jane McCredie: Nip ‘n tuck that goes too far

  1. bb says:

    Most men, while perhaps taking a peak to satisfy curiosity, in various questioning say they wouldn’t want to marry one of “those girls” preferring the girl who is wholesome and natural. So unless through some gross accident or outlandish abnormality through birth – low self-esteem and self undervaluation of who they are is the motivation for cosmetic surgery – this operation does not lead to a firmer commitment in a partner who should be marrying you for who you are complete with defects (if there are any other than in the mind).
    I have been married for 46 years and there is so much more that leads to a sustainable marriage other than looks. In the words of Judge Judy: “Looks wane with age – brains last forever.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yes – this is a disturbing trend, and distinctly different to cosmetic modification of other body areas for one important reason: there is no generally accepted “normal” appearance. As opposed to faces, noses and breasts, whose range of shape and contour across the population is easily visible, the image we have of genitalia was previously limited to personal experience. The change that has taken place now is the ease of access to pornography on the net (and who hasn’t taken at least a quick peak to satisfy curiosity?).
    Instead of exposing us to the range of normal appearances – such as we have of noses – internet porn gives a very distorted view of what female genitalia should look like (essentially hairless and perhaps juvenile). The same trend is probably also driving the fashion for “brazilian” hair removal. If one’s partner derives their view of normality from internet porn, then they might expect that all women should look that way.

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