Rising rates of genital cosmetic surgery subject of new research

June 29, 2018 by Kathryn Powley, University of Melbourne
Red Canna (1924) by Georgia O’Keeffe. Credit: Wikimedia

A pilot study is investigating a sharp increase in the number of Australian girls, some as young as 11, seeking cosmetic surgery on their genitals.

Demand appears to be driven by , and a lack of awareness generally about the true range of diversity.

University of Melbourne researcher Emma Barnard has begun interviewing who sought medical advice about their genital appearance.

The of the 41 girls and young referred to the Royal Children's Hospital between 2000 and 2012 concerned by how their labia looked, was 14.5, and in nearly a quarter of cases it was the mother who was concerned, RCH figures show.

Medicare claims for labiaplasty and vulvoplasty more than doubled from 707 in 2002-03 to 1584 in 2013-14. And the number of claims among 15 to 24-year-olds was similar to women aged 25-44. Medicare no longer covers such , but Ms Barnard has interviewed women who had the surgery done privately.

Female genital most commonly involves "labiaplasty" to cut the edges of the labia minora so that it doesn't extend beyond the outer skin folds, the labia majora. It can also extend to procedures like vaginoplasty to tighten the vagina, or vulval lipoplasty to remove fat around the vulva.

One study participant, now 18, told Ms Barnard that when she was just 13, she started worrying about how her vagina looked after noticing textbook drawings looked different to her body.

The girl's mother then took her to a doctor to explore the option of surgery. The doctor referred her to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne where she was reassured that she was perfectly normal, Ms Barnard said.

"Something has changed in the last 10-15 years to make women and girls more aware of the appearance of their genital anatomy," said Ms Barnard, of the School of Population and Global Health.

"For nearly all the women I spoke to, this experience of having concerns is happening from around 13 to 16. It is a very specific and fraught time when they are trying to figure out who they are and how their bodies work," Ms Barnard said.

Many of the study's participants said that as girls they had only seen vaginas in stylised or airbrushed images in textbooks, magazines, social media or on the internet. Fashion for Brazilian waxing, tight-fitting clothing and G-strings were also an influence, but perhaps surprisingly pornography appeared not to have played a major role.

"You don't have to be an adult to have these worries, yet the voices of young women aren't in any of the research literature, possibly because it is difficult thing to talk about. If we have a better idea of how experience genital appearance concerns, then we can potentially improve clinical practice, and reduce or eliminate unnecessary surgeries," Ms Barnard said.

Explore further: Images of '€œdesigner vaginas'€ in the media can encourage consideration of genital surgery

Related Stories

Images of '€œdesigner vaginas'€ in the media can encourage consideration of genital surgery

July 1, 2014
More and more women are undergoing cosmetic genital surgery and the most popular of these procedures is labiaplasty, also known as "designer vagina" surgery. This procedure involves the reduction of the vaginal lips, known ...

Rush for 'Barbie' vagina has experts stumped

January 27, 2017
A rush of women going under the knife for designer genitals has taken even plastic surgeons by surprise and divided medical professionals on the ethics and benefits of "labiaplasty".

Women seek labial reduction surgery for cosmetic reasons

August 24, 2011
Women with normal sized labia minora still seek labial reduction surgery for cosmetic reasons finds new research published today (24 August) in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

7 minutes or the knife – short video could decrease likelihood of labiaplasty surgery

January 15, 2016
Watching one short video could influence whether some women choose to undergo labiaplasty surgery, according to Flinders University Psychology researchers who have published a study on how women's perception of 'genital normality' ...

Viewing images of vulva diversity could strengthen women's genital self-image

November 2, 2016
Looking at pictures of natural vulvas in a range of shapes and sizes could help improve women's satisfaction with their own genitalia, even those with a relatively positive genital self-image, according to new research published ...

British experts warn of rise in genital cosmetic surgery

November 15, 2013
British gynaecologists warned on Friday that increasing numbers of teenage girls and women are undergoing genital cosmetic surgery, driven in part by unrealistic images of how they should look based on pornography.

Recommended for you

Surgeons have substantial impact on genetic testing in breast cancer patients who need it

July 3, 2018
For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, genetic testing can offer important information that might guide treatment choices. But studies have shown that only about half of women who could benefit receive genetic testing.

First major study comparing robotic to open surgery published in The Lancet

June 21, 2018
The first comprehensive study comparing the outcomes of robotic surgery to those of traditional open surgery in any organ has found that the surgeries are equally effective in treating bladder cancer. The seven-year study, ...

Antibodies may predict transplant rejection risk

June 19, 2018
The presence of certain antibodies in patients may suggest a higher risk of transplant rejection across multiple organ types, including the kidney, liver, heart and lungs, according to a new study published in PLOS Medicine.

First human test of robotic eye surgery a success

June 18, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford have completed the first successful trial of robot-assisted retinal surgery.

Surgical blood transfusions tied to clot risk

June 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Blood transfusions around the time of surgery may raise your risk for dangerous blood clots, researchers say.

Tonsil and adenoid removal associated with respiratory, allergic and infectious disease

June 7, 2018
Tonsil and adenoid removal associated with long-term risks of respiratory, allergic and infectious diseases Removing tonsils and adenoids in childhood increases the long-term risk of respiratory, allergic and infectious diseases, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.