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In Search of Perfect Vagina: why women do labioplasty for cosmetic reasons

Tim Boyer's picture

In a recent study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, researchers have found that many women seeking labioplasty (labia reduction surgery) do so for cosmetic rather than medical reasons. During the initial study, the researchers discovered that of 33 women referred to surgeons by their primary physicians, all had normal right and left labia minora measuring an average width of 26.9 mm and 24.8 mm respectively. In spite of the results showing that their inner labia were of normal size, the majority of the women continued to express their desire for the surgery.

The Labioplasty Phenomenon

Labioplasty is a labia reduction surgical technique used to alter the appearance of the vulva. In many cases it is used for patients with a hypertrophy of the inner labia or the clitoral hood. While originally developed as a medical procedure, the reasons for women seeking labioplasty have morphed more toward the cosmetic rather than the functional. Health officials have discovered that the popularity of female genital cosmetic surgery has increased by as much as five-fold in the past 10 years.

In their study, the researchers interviewed and measured the labia of 33 female patients ranging in age from 11-years-old to their mid-30’s, with an average age of 23. All 33 requested labial reduction surgery and had been referred by their doctors. What the researchers determined was that all 33 possessed inner labia of normal dimensions, with three that met the criteria for what they considered to be significant asymmetry. The three patients with asymmetric labia were then offered surgery.

Twelve of the patients who were denied surgery remained convinced that they still wanted the surgery. Eleven of of the women accepted a referral to a psychologist and one patient was referred to mental health services for evaluation.

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When the patients were interviewed by the researchers for the reasons why they were dissatisfied with their labia, their answers ranged from an increasing self-awareness of their genitals to public perception of what a vulva should look like.

Labioplasty Documentary

Public perception appears to be the primary impetus for women seeking cosmetic surgery that is know more colloquially as “Hemming the Curtains” or “Getting an Australian Bob”—you know, a little nip and tuck down under. However, in spite of the levity the subject elicits in conversation and popular magazines, cosmetic surgery of the genitals is a serious socio-medical problem.

In a documentary titled “The Perfect Vagina” (available free on the internet), journalist Heather Leach approaches doctors, patients, the public... and even herself in a candid look at why many women seek a perfect vagina. This documentary is an important - if not at least a visceral - view of how women perceive themselves in a society that some feel has driven them to modify their bodies.

Crouch N, Deans R, Michala L, Liao L, Creighton S. Clinical characteristics of well women seeking labial reduction surgery: a prospective study. BJOG 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2011.03088.x.
vimeo.com/4704237 (Viewer discretion is advised as this documentary contains graphic video footage of genital surgery performed.)