Vaginal rejuvenation and genital cosmetic surgery is on the rise but it doesn’t come without risks. Gynaecologists are warning women to educate themselves and get an understanding of their bodies before even considering surgical or cosmetics options.
The vaginal rejuvenation trend started to gain popularity in Hollywood a few years ago, spurred on by reality TV. Real Housewives stars Sonja Morgan, Kelly Dodd and Cynthia Bailey have all undergone vaginal surgery. The procedure is called labiaplasty and Dr Natalia Novikova, gynaecologist and endoscopic surgeon, said it’s becoming popular in South Africa as well.
Information on aesthetic procedures, particularly labiaplasty, is now more readily available, encouraging more women to speak openly about intimate issues, share their experiences and consider treatment.
Novikova said that labiaplasty is a surgical procedure to remove the excess skin of the vaginal lips, usually the labia minora or inner lips.
She says: “The procedure can take 40 to 90 minutes and is performed under local anaesthetic. There are several methods of labiaplasty and the gynaecologist will determine the appropriate technique based on the desired outcome of the patient. Sometimes a clitoral hood reduction may be performed to counter the larger appearance of the clitoris post-labiaplasty. Sexual intercourse and tampons are to be avoided for six weeks after.”
Studies published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that most women seeking labial reduction procedures had normal-sized labia minora. Added to this, the research shows there is nothing unusual when a woman has labia minora longer than the labia majora. Commonly, some women having “innies” and others having “outies”, much like with belly buttons.
While many women have accepted they have “outies,” when the topic came up in a recent thread on Reddit, those who would describe themselves as having large labia were asked how they felt about them and whether they were self-conscious about how they looked. The response from many women in the comment section was that they struggled to accept that their shape and size was “normal”.
Although the procedure is considered aesthetic, Novikova said there are a number of functional reasons women seek labiaplasty treatment.
“Protruding labia minora may cause discomfort, even pain, during sex. Some women experience discomfort when cycling or performing other exercise. Being unable to wear tight clothing or particular styles of swimwear is also a frequent concern.
“In some rare cases the longer labia increase susceptibility to infections, itchiness and discharge. Even in the absence of functional reasons, some women are deeply distressed by their labia, affecting their sexual relationships and overall confidence” she said.
In order to correctly engage with this trend, it’s vital that it’s understood exactly what is and isn’t “normal” when it comes to the vagina.
Dr Katrien Dehaeck, a gynaecologist at Vincent Pallotti Hospital who specialises in vulvovaginal health, said: “There’s been an increase in the number of referrals and requests for treatments and the main reason is that women don’t believe they look normal ‘down there’.
“It’s very important that women put the look of their genitals into perspective and understand that it’s not a ‘one look fits all’ scenario. I’d suggest that surgery only be considered if it interferes with your quality of life.
“For example, some women put up with (urinary) leaking problems, which can range from a drop every now and then to constant leaking, so it’s relative to the individual. If the condition causes pain or is consistently uncomfortable, such as in the case with active horse riders or cyclists, then surgery would be an option.
“Other cases in which surgery would be a valid option are for children born with congenital issues, or women who’ve had several children and have experienced tears,” added Dehaeck.
She cautioned that “there are unnecessary and inappropriate practices occurring in the industry” and that women need to be cautious not to undergo surgeries that can lead to additional problems, such as the vulvo- vaginal area being tightened too much, or excessive scarring.
“I’d suggest that women consult their gynaecologist to get an objective opinion of the issue that concerns them. Women’s genitals come in all different shapes and sizes, and these variations are completely healthy and normal,” said Dehaeck.