An increasing number of women are having cosmetic surgery to achieve a “designer vagina” but doctors warn that the operation may be unsafe.

No studies have looked at the long-term safety of labiaplasty, an operation to make the labia smaller, experts said. The irreversible operation, which can cost between $3,500 to $6,000 in the U.S., is often carried out for cosmetic reasons.

Once considered a rare surgery, female genital cosmetic surgery is becoming more common in wealthy nations and is being advertised to healthy women, according to researchers from University College London.

Writing in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers say that surgery can damage the nerve supply to a woman’s genitals and called for more research on the effects of surgery on long-term sexual function.

The authors said “all reports claimed high levels of patient satisfaction and contained anecdotes pertaining to success”. However, they said more research was needed on whether women were actually suffering physical symptoms — such as discomfort or lack of sensation — or if their desire for surgery was purely cosmetic.

Here in the U.S., female genital cosmetic surgery is one of the fastest-growing types of cosmetic surgery, with one of the most common procedures being labiaplasty, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In fact, vaginal rejuvenation procedures increased 30 percent between 2005 and 2006, from 793 procedures in 2005 to 1,030 procedures in 2006. The ASPS said U.S. women spent $2.3 million in 2006 — the most recent figures available — on cosmetic vaginal procedures.

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