I’ve been a student of female private parts for well over a decade—clinically speaking, of course. Add in the fact that I am a proud owner and user of said parts, and I suppose you could count most of my years on this planet as time with an interest in what makes my parts mine and what makes them tick. Yet despite these many combined years of ever increasing knowledge and understanding, I have been unable to shake my incredulousness at the proliferation of elective aesthetic cosmetic gynecology.
That’s a mouthful, huh? (Minds out of the gutter, people…I meant that with respect to using four multisyllabic words that are emblematic of one topic, not in any remotely suggestive sense.) So here’s what I mean…that increasing numbers of women are seeking out surgical procedures to their genitals in order to make them more “normal looking,” sexy, and satisfying to their partners.I…am…incredulous!
Before I explain why, I must express that there are certainly times when women require pelvic surgery for functional and medically-warranted reasons, such as labia that—due to length or size—chaff and are not easily contained by undergarments. The merit and need for such functional indications ARE NOT being questioned in this piece. I am addressing procedures undertaken for aesthetic reasons, only.
As women, is it not enough that nearly every magazine and media outlet targeting us screams about what we can do to change our bodies, our make up, our hair and our wardrobes to be more attractive? Not just attractive, but more sexually pleasing to ourselves and our partners—that’s usually a big part of it. As a woman, this really sucks, easily feeling like the message is “You’re not good enough! You’re not good enough!” Some of it is well intentioned, I’m sure. And I certainly enjoy fashion—including hair and make-up—but do so for fashion and style’s sake, as an expression of who I am, not because of “what will make him H-O-T for you right now!!” Seriously, there has been nothing in our media and culture that has helped me accept my staunchly A-cup chest. What finally did? Realizing that the very surgery that would make my small and somewhat deflated, post breast-feeding (three times over!) breasts more “normal” and “sexy” could actually decrease my breast sensation, creating less sexual enjoyment. In short, more sexy looking could = less sexy feeling (for me!). I decided my As are A-OK.
Let’s move below the belt now, to what really inspired this post: learning that women—increasing numbers of women—think that their labia are too long/floppy/fat/hairy/etc; that the vaginal opening should appear as a barely-visible slit; and that there is an industry profiting mightily from convincing women of these things.
The frank and informative documentary, Orgasm Inc, shows just how prevalent photo-shopping of female genitalia has become in the porn industry to achieve this aesthetic. It further dives into the industry seeking to help everyday women achieve this aesthetic via scalpel, including one cosmetic gynecology rep whose moral compass is put to the test by the pitch she is required to deliver (starting at 2min into the video).
The issue is also being addressed by thought leaders in female medicine, as evidenced by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) June 2012 Editorial “Cosmetic Gynecology and the Elusive Quest for the ‘Perfect’ Vagina.” In this piece, Cheryl B. Iglesia, MD, talks about the “new vulvovaginal standard” being set by the disappearance of pubic hair and proliferation of services for vulvar skincare (vagacials) and “decorative vulvar services (vajazzling).” There is collective opinion by ACOG that the benefit to women—beyond the aesthetic—is unproven and that such commercialization of gynecologic surgery is a slippery slope to nowhere good. Her final commentary is spot on: “…women are being misled or are confused about what is normal compared with what are legitimate pathologic vulvovaginal conditions for which there are effective evidence-based treatments. Clearly cosmetic procedures do not need a medical indication and it is a woman’s prerogative to choose to do something solely for cosmetic enhancement. However, in our society, women’s insecurities have expanded from their faces, breasts, and body mass indexes to their genitals—imbuing women with a literally ‘narrow’ standard of beauty, such that any deviation is deemed unattractive, imperfect, and in need of fixing.”
With this racing through my head, I recently picked up the Boston Globe and saw that a group of teenage girls in Maine made headline news for their work lobbying Seventeen magazine to make changes in their portrayal of young girls. At issue was the over-sexualization of girls in the media. I applaud these young ladies for their bold spirit and their achievement with Seventeen magazine, as well as the organization providing wind to their sails: SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge). If you think that their work is unnecessary, consider the increase in popularity of breast augmentation as a high school graduation gift for females: “Breast surgery is at the top of the list for graduates now,” Dr. Romita says. “Girls are maturing faster, and there is more pressure than ever to wear sexy clothes.
It will take the work of SPARK, Seventeen magazine, Liz Canner (Orgasm, Inc), ACOG and many others to not only reverse this trend, but to prevent it from spiraling into our britches. Because, if my now-5 year old asks for a vajazzler or labiaplasty for high school graduation, so help me….she’s still getting a suitcase.
- The porn-aesthetic for the female genitalia (larger labia majora, fully enclosing the labia minora, hairless and with a small slit of a vaginal opening) IS NOT THE NORM FOR WOMEN!
- For most women, the labia minora (Inner Lips) protrude past the labia majora (Outer Lips).
- Read #1 and #2 again.
- Though in small percentages (2-4%), complications can occur during genital cosmetic surgery, such as: pain with sex, “too-tight vagina,” altered sensation, infection, scarring, or wound separation.
- No studies have shown that cosmetic procedures performed for aesthetic reasons have actually improved the woman’s sexual experience.
- So-called “vagacials” and “vajazzling” may have their appeal—in name and sex appeal—but the clinician in me can’t help but suggest that renaming is in order. Perhaps “labiacials” or “mons pubedazling” would be more accurate?
***In researching this piece, the following video link surfaced. Snarky, non-PC, and not to everyone’s tastes I am sure, yet the essence of this video post (creator is unknown to this author and to Share MayFlowers) hits on many of the topics addressed in our post.