First it was our noses, then our breasts, then our butts, and now our — our WHAT?
That’s right — our private parts. Thanks to the proliferation of porn and crafty marketing, we’ve seen a rise in female genital cosmetic surgery. Models and celebrities are just some of the women of all ages who are seeking to improve their bedroom appearance.
But, despite its increasing popularity, many in the medical community are taking issue with this "designer genitals" rage. With costs far exceeding the benefits, these sexual surgeries have yet to be supported by solid scientific studies.
So should you — or your significant other — go under the knife?
I first read about vaginal and vulval cosmetic surgeries years ago in a British publication. It featured a woman sitting in a waiting room, flipping through a porn magazine. Her goal: to determine the "look" and feel she desired, as in a "trimmed" labia, tighter vagina, firmer skin around the clitoris, or a more responsive G-spot.
Beyond being absolutely appalled by this new trend, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and the hundreds of other women waiting up to five months to have their genitalia resculpted.
What struck me then — and what pains me to this day — is the degree to which we women have been made to feel ashamed of our genitals.
Equally gut-wrenching is the extreme to which women, feeling abnormal or deformed, will go to in offering up a more attractive look or feel.
Society has reached an all-time low on this one.
Confused over what’s “normal” versus “ideal,” many women are buying into marketing schemes telling them that they need to have a certain below-the-belt look and feel. And they’re paying an arm and a leg for it. A tailor-made vagina can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $18,000.
Add to this the unfounded promise that cosmetically enhanced genitals make for better sex, and you can see how we’ve got even more women to feel sorry for.
While occasionally used to address functional problems, physical discomfort or irritation, most of these elective and unnecessary surgeries are done for psychological reasons. This should be alarming when you consider that, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there was a 30 percent increase in vaginal rejuvenation alone between 2005 and 2006.
So what are women doing to themselves?
Vaginal resculpting typically has one of two aims: First, it attempts to “improve” the appearance of the labia. Second, it seeks to make the vaginal opening narrower or stronger. Surgeons offering such cosmetic procedures say that you can go home the same day, go back to work within days, and have sex within weeks.
It sounds almost as easy as taking your car in for a tune-up, but it isn’t.
Not only does surgery itself pose risks, but you are putting yourself at risk for infection, scarring, nerve damage, adhesions, pain, and a loss of sensation. The scarring alone, which is inevitable, can make the genitals very tender and painful. It is no wonder that, based on a lack of safety and efficacy data, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has warned that the following “vaginal rejuvenation” procedures are unproven and potentially risky.
— Labiaplasty: Nip and tuck has taken on a whole new meaning, with many women wanting a "neat and tidy" look. Believing that their inner lips are “too large,” protruding beyond the outer lips, or asymmetrical, these women see their vulva as ugly. So labiaplasty procedures seek to change a woman’s external genital appearance – namely its shape and size. Most “improvement” efforts target the vaginal lips, with excess flesh cut and reshaped using a laser, scalpel or curved scissors.
— Vaginal Liposuction: Fat is liposuctioned from a woman’s upper thigh or lower abdomen and injected into her labia for a plumper, softer look.
— Vulvar Lipoplasty: Fat is removed from the mons pubis or outer labia for a more “aesthetically pleasing” look and contour.
— Clitoral Hood Reduction: Skin tissue around the clitoris is trimmed. One important note: this procedure can make this prime hot spot less sensitive.
— Vaginoplasty: Cosmetic vaginoplasty, or vaginal rejuvenation surgery, involves a variety of surgical procedures — for example, laser vaginal rejuvenation — that alter the vagina. Women seeking such surgeries want a tighter vagina that offers more friction. A surgeon creates this by cutting the vaginal muscles and reattaching them. Is it any wonder that critics consider these surgeries the Western version of female genital mutilation? (The desire for virgin-like tightness is one of the many reasons the African practice of female genital mutilation is performed).
— G-shots: Women seeking a more sensitive G-spot are going for this procedure, which involves a collagen injection to the front wall of the vagina. This G-shot is supposed to make the area more accessible and sensitive for up to four months. Yet there is little scientific evidence to back the claims. There have been no double-blind placebo-controlled studies have been published on this procedure.
What people want to do to their bodies is their own business. At the same time, as a woman, I take personal offense that we’re all supposed to look and feel a certain way in the sack. Whether in a medical textbook or on the pages of Playboy, most of the vulvas we see are perfectly symmetrical. Yet most women’s vulvas are not perfectly proportioned.
So enough with the body insecurities! So you don’t look like the digitally altered model in Penthouse. Who cares? You’re not supposed to!
There is nothing wrong with your vulva! There is no need to get cut up in the name of a Venus flytrap-type clench! (That’s what Kegel exercises are for). You’re supposed to look and feel like you — no apologies about it!
Thankfully, most doctors and health care professionals, like the National Women’s Health Network, back me on this one. Given the unknowns and unfounded expectations that genital alterations will improve your sex life, many doctors are unwilling to recommend such procedures. They’re pushing the need to warn women of the dangers involved in going the surgical route. They’re recommending that women be offered alternative solutions to their genital woes. After all, we have yet to see any proof that genital cosmetic surgeries help your sexual relationships, improve your self-esteem or impact your overall quality of life.
In-the-Know Sex News . . .
— May Marks Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. With 74 to 95 percent of teen pregnancies unintended, the U.S. continues to have higher teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates than any other industrialized nation. Approximately 750,000 teens become pregnant every year. Hence, groups like Advocates for Youth are leading educational efforts this month to create awareness and mobilize communities to respond.
— Parents Underestimate Daughters' Risks. Research from the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that the vast majority of parents are unaware of their daughters' alcohol use and sexual behavior. Investigators are highlighting the need for parents to transmit their values and safety messaging. Parents who monitor their children's activities, who set rules and who discourage risky behavior are less likely to have children who consume alcohol and engage in early sexual activity.
— Inaccurate Information Impacts Alabama. A special report released by AIDS Alabama and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States finds the state, its abstinence-until-marriage curriculum, delivers messages of fear and shame, misinformation on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and contraceptives, and fosters gender myths and stereotypes. The state is grappling with HIV, STD and teen birth rates far above the national average.
Dr. Yvonne Kristín Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."