A recent disturbing trend among young girls and women has sparked the need for issuance of a health guide. More and more young women are going under the knife to get “designer vaginas”. These operations are called labiaplasty and alters the shape and appearance of the lips of the vagina or the vulva. Statistics show that over 2 years since 2015, the number of women undergoing cosmetic genital surgery has risen by 45 percent. Girls as young as nine are going under the knife, experts note.
The health guide is titled, “So What Is A Vulva Anyway?” and has been commissioned by the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology (BritSPAG). It aims at teaching the anatomical structure of the female vulva and vagina and makes them aware of the risks involved with labiaplasty and other genital cosmetic surgeries. Louise Williams, clinical nurse specialist at University College Hospital and co-lead of the project said, “We see many patients in our paediatric and adolescent gynaecology clinic who have a poor understanding of the function of parts of the anatomy and also of normal genital variation… This educational resource will help young people to understand their vulva and how it develops during puberty, particularly if they are worried about how they look or feel. We hope it will reassure young people that vulvas come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and if they need advice and support, they can know where to go.”
The guide is illustrated with different types of vulvas and goes to show that there are variations of the normal and all of them are just as normal despite how they appear. The guide also talks about female anatomy including not only the vulva but also the labia, vagina and the clitoris. It shows that changes that the vulva undergoes as the girl grows into a woman and as she gets older. According to Dr Naomi Crouch, chair of the BritSPAG she is yet to encounter a girl in her practice who has undergone a cosmetic genital surgery because she needed it medically speaking. “There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the practice of labiaplasty and the risk of harm is significant, particularly for teenagers who are still in stages of development both physically and psychologically," she said in her statement.
The guide was officially released at the Annual Update in Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology, which is jointly hosted by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and BritSPAG.
A labiaplasty in the UK can cost anywhere between £1,000 and £3,000. Costs rise if there are complications from the surgery and requirement of follow up care. Some of the risks of labiaplasty that the guide aims to make young women aware of include infection, scarring, bleeding and reduction of sensation over the genital area due to nerve damage.
Dr. Crouch says, “We hope this resource will provide information for girls and young women that their vulva is unique and will change throughout their life, and that this is entirely normal.” The guide is available at the sexual health charity Brook website and is also available to download on the BritsPAG web page.