Cosmetic Genital Surgery: The Physical and Monetary Cost of "Designer Vaginas"

September 5, 2012

Writing in The Atlantic, Melanie Berliet shares her experience as a patient seeking a consult at a vaginal surgery clinic that offers genital cosmetic surgeries.

Berliet’s consult, which included a physical exam, was focused on the supposed sex-enhancing and cosmetic applications of these surgeries — not on medically indicated procedures that address pain and discomfort.

I scheduled this complimentary consultation under the guise of wanting “to understand my options.” Secretly, I want to explore why a growing number of women are modifying a body part so few can see by undergoing the elective surgeries in which [Dr. Ronald] Blatt specializes: vaginoplasty (removal of excess lining and tightening of surrounding tissue and muscles) and labiaplasty (reshaping of the labia minora, and sometimes the labia majora and/or clitoral hood).

In an examination of the “tightness” of her vagina, the doctor offered a vague assessment, noting she was “not real loose, but there’s room for tightening,” leading Beliet to ask, “Could you get it down so just two fingers fit comfortably?”

Sure it’s possible, for $5,900 — or $9,900 for the dual vaginoplasty and labiaplasty surgery, called “vaginal rejuvenation.”

According to Berliet, a female employee told her (OK, prepare to shudder): “This is a life changing surgery. You’re saying boyfriend now? After this he’s going to marry you.”

Ack.

In addition to sharing details of the exam, Berliet explores the idea that these surgeries may be taking off in part because women have no idea that a wide range of normal exists. They don’t know what they “should” look like (or if there even is a “should”). Most of the vulvas they see are the limited view provided through porn. She writes:

What is most striking, however, in the dialogue on this topic is the obvious confusion among women about what they should or should not look like. The pronouncements of self-loathing and embarrassment over genital appearance are widespread, reinforcing my growing sense that we’re failing to educate. If we feel more vulnerable to our insecurities after viewing pornography, it’s probably because no one has filled our vaginal diversity knowledge gap.

As an aside on that knowledge gap, the story conflates “vagina” with “vulva” several times. It’s a minor criticism, but one that reflects a common lack of knowledge or distinction between the vagina and other anatomical parts such as the labia and clitoris.

A related story at ABC News takes a closer look at the health risks of these surgeries. The biggest risks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, include “infection, altered sensation, dyspareunia (painful contractions of the vagina), adhesions and scarring.”

ACOG also underscores the need for women to be informed that there’s a real lack of data on potential complications. Numerous reports of “botched” surgeries are turning up on online forums, according to ABC News.

For further discussion of this issue, see these previous posts.

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