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Labiaplasty

Before You Consider Cosmetic Genital Surgery

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What Is Labiaplasty?

Labiaplasty refers to surgery that changes the shape and size of the labia minora and/or labia majora, although most often it involves making the labia minora (or inner lips) smaller. This may be done using a laser or blade (scalpel or curved scissors). The procedure is done using a local anesthetic and on an outpatient basis.

Why Do People Get Labiaplasty?

While there are some medical conditions that require labiaplasty, the majority of advertisements for labiaplasty are based on cosmetic and aesthetic considerations; with surgeons encouraging people to consider the procedure just to “look and feel better”.

Unfortunately there are no reliable studies that have examined what, if any, impact labia size actually has on sexual functioning and pleasure (some surveys have been done, but always funded by for profit companies with a financial interest in the topic). There is also no agreement on what “normal” size labia are.

What this means is that most of what we know about labiaplasty comes from the people who are making a lot of money offering the procedure. These people report that women elect to have labiaplasty due to reasons which include: self-consciousness about the way ones labia look (to long, too thick); inability to enjoy sex because of self-consciousness; belief that ones genitalia are ugly or wrong; complaints that labia cause physical discomfort.

How Common Is Labiaplasty?

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, which maintains statistics of plastic surgery procedures performed by their members has only recently started collecting data about cosmetic vaginal surgeries. They don’t break the figures down but in 2005 they reported 793 procedures listed as “vaginal rejuvenation” and in 2006 the number rose to 1030. Those numbers are relatively small (0.08% of all cosmetic procedures), but the surgery is the third fastest growing procedure from 2005 to 2006, showing a 30% increase in that time.

Will It Improve My Sex Life?

There is absolutely no evidence that labiaplasty will have a positive impact on your sex life, and there are some reasons to suspect that it could have a negative impact. Despite glowing testimonials printed on the websites of plastic surgeons, there are practically no long or short term studies on this question. While surgeons claim that labiaplasty will improve self-confidence and self-assurance there is no proof of this, and no proof that this will result in “better” sex.

But it is completely possible that you will be as unhappy with your surgically altered labia as you are with your current labia. It’s also possible that any complaints you have about your sex life are related to something more complicated than the size of your labia. There are lots of reasons to avoid unnecessary genital surgery (I mean the phrase along should be enough to do it), and despite the claims to the contrary, there is no proof that such surgery will improve your sex life.

Dangers Associated with Labiaplasty

Aside from some discomfort immediately following surgery reports suggest that most women do not experience pain or swelling two to four weeks following the surgery, indicating that the procedure itself doesn’t seem to carry serious dangers.

Of the few peer-reviewed articles that report on outcome of labiaplasty the largest one (with one hundred and sixty three patients) reported “no significant complications”, but twenty percent of patients felt the doctor did not adequately explain the procedure and the results, and seventeen percent were not satisfied with the result. Another smaller study found that twenty three percent of patients had complications following surgery. In another article exploring the ethical implications of labiaplasty a gynecologist who has performed the procedure reported seeing a patient who had persistent vulvar pain as a direct result of labiaplasty that took almost a year to treat successfully.

Of additional concern are the possible effects on sexual functioning in the long term. Research in the past ten years has completely changed the way we understand female genital anatomy, specifically the clitoris, which we now know is not just a surface organ but one that extends deep into the body. Any cutting therefore raises the possibility of scar tissue and the reality of nerves killed in the process. There is no research on the long term impact of labiaplasty so claims that these procedures have no negative impact beyond six weeks after your surgery are premature.

How Much Does Labiaplasty Cost?

Quotes for labiaplasty on line range from $3000-$5,500. Unless you are having the procedure for a diagnosable medical condition its unlikely that it would be covered by any insurance. This is probably why so many of the websites advertising labiaplasty have financing and payment plan options available.

Sources:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons “2006 Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Trends”. Accessed April 16, 2007.

Girling, R., Salisbury, M., & Ersek, R. "Vaginal Labioplasty" Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. Vol. 115 No. 6 (2005): 1792-1793.

Goodman, M. P., Bachmann, G., Johnson, C., et. al. “Is Elective Vulvar Plastic Surgery Ever Warranted, and What Screening Should be Conducted Preoperatively? The Journal of Sexual Medicine . Vol. 4 No. 2 (2007):269-76.

Liao L.M., Michala L., Creighton S.M. "Labial Surgery for Well Women: A Review of the Literature" BJOG Vol. 117, No. 1 (2010): 20-25.

SIECUS. "Desire and Dollars Equals Designer Vaginas for More and More Women in the United States" Making Connections Vol. 4 Issue 3 (2006). Accessed April 16, 2007.

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