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The dangers of designer vaginas

September 23rd, 2008

Dr Petra

Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve got major concerns over our current preoccupation with all things ‘designer vagina’. Whether it’s labiaplasty (surgical trimming of the vaginal lips), vaginoplasty (tightening of the vagina) or g-shots (injecting collogen into the vaginal wall) my worry has been that this represents a very real problem in medicalising the female body.

Plastic surgeons have convinced us that our vaginas are too loose, our labia too large or flappy, or our g-spots not ‘obvious’ enough. They’ve had a lot of success within the media – particularly in the fashion and women’s press – with stories advocating rather than critiquing genital surgery. And there has been a fair amount of celebrity endorsement of genital surgery too.

Obviously there can be cases where surgery is genuinely needed – for example during repairs following injury, disease, or sometimes in the case of intersex children. However that’s not really what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is a situation where we have a problem set up (where we’re told our genitals are not good enough and need ‘improving’), we have a source of support (plastic surgery) and we have ‘cures’ sold to us in the form of testimonies from satisfied patients.

I’ve also heard from other colleagues across Western Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand who are all also worried about the growing uncritical promotion of genital surgery within the media and on blogs and chatrooms.

Today there’s the strongest evidence yet that we’re all right to be worried. Professor Linda Cardozo from Kings College Hospital, presenting at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists scientific meeting has raised the problem of unregulated procedures, lack of scientific evidence, and patient exploitation. It’s not clear if she intends to publish this work, but I hope she decides to do so.

While we do need further investigations into women who’ve had this procedure, we also need to start tackling the media about their coverage of genital surgery. The whole time they continue to provide what is essentially free advertorials for cosmetic surgery companies they are putting us at risk in several ways. They are giving out the message that whether you have surgery or not, that your genitals probably need enhancement. They are encouraging people to have surgery that is risky (as all surgery can be) and largely untested. And they are often recommending people to have a clinical procedure that may be performed by someone who is not completely qualified to do the job.

With this new evidence we have some chance of getting a new angle on this story into the headlines. Let’s start getting journalists to investigate this thoroughly, to expose the way this surgery is being marketed and to refuse giving free and uncritical advertorials to cosmetic companies. Let’s also start asking journalists to write features for women that encourages them to see their genitals positively – and to teach us all that it’s natural for genitals to come in all shapes and sizes – and the majority of us are absolutely fine just as we are.

You can do this in the following ways:
- if you’re a journalist start pitching in stories in a sex positive way using the information I’ve detailed above
- if you spot a feature celebrating genital surgery contact the editor of the paper/magazine/website and draw attention to this new evidence
- write to magazines and papers and ask them to write more positive stories about your body.

And let me know how you get on!

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