The New View Campaign is a group of educators, clinicians, researchers, and activists who, since 2000, have been working on several fronts to challenge the ways that financial gain shapes both public discussion of sexuality and individual sexual expression. They began their work challenging the way that sexual concerns get re-framed as sexual dysfunction in order to sell drugs that, until the dysfunction was created, had no market. They have held four amazing conferences in both Canada and the U.S., they have been able to insert their much needed perspective into public health considerations of experimental drugs to "treat" low sexual desire, and in 2009 they curated a two day "intervention in honor of female genital diversity" (complete with puppets and knitting circles).
In 2008 they began working to raise awareness of genital cosmetic surgery, the practice of altering external female genitalia for aesthetic purposes only. This practice, which isn't nearly as common as the surgeons who advertise it would like you to believe, differs from other kinds of genital surgeries in that it isn't done to address pain or to allow someone to have a body that more fully matches the gender they identify themselves to be. It's cutting and stitching, creating new scar tissue and often reducing sensation, under the guise of increasing sexual pleasure and sexual confidence. There is, no doubt, a debate to be had, but if you look at how this stuff is marketed and then delivered, it's hard not to call it despicable.
Vulvanomics began on November 1st with an online petition that calls for oversight:
Operations for labia that are allegedly "too big" or "mismatched" may bring big profits, but surgeons are not required to explain real genital diversity or report actual surgical consequences. Without this information, women cannot make an informed choice. Patient testimonials are not information. No professional group in the U.S. tracks labial or clitoral surgeries, so neither the public nor the media knows their extent or how often there are complications.
They are also heading out in the streets. On November 19th activists in the U.S. and Canada will be "converging on the offices of surgeons who perform FGCS." I'm not sure what happens next, and this kind of action can always catch up regular people who may not be ready to be educated about the ill effects of surgery, but what I appreciate about the approach is that it will force people to start talking more about this. In Toronto where I live there's at least one plastic surgeon who advertises in the subway. Because my work is about sex, people regularly ask me about these ads. They are curious, they are sometimes worried that they should consider it, but they are almost universally embarrassed enough about it to not want to talk to others. I think in that silence, the for profit shame-ads for these surgeons win.
I do think we need to be mindful when talking about this stuff. Ultimately if we say that people have the right to modify their bodies, that has to include modifications that we may disagree with, modifications that we consider not worth the risk, and modifications that challenge our values and beliefs. Saying people can't have this kind of surgery isn't a tenable position. But context matters. What I find encouraging and exciting about Vulvanomics (other than the name) is the focus on making conversations public and demanding that the same kind of ethics and oversight that is applied to other cosmetic surgeries, be applied here. My interest lies less in targeting the procedure and more in outing the obvious financial motives of those who would prefer we all stay silent and ashamed.
Whether you agree or not, there's plenty on their site to think about, and I can promise it makes for more than one interesting dinner conversation.
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