There are many more serious reasons for women to seek labiaplasty surgery that doesn’t include wanting a ‘designer vagina’ writes Dr Laith Barnouti, Specialist Plastic Surgeon and member of the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS).
While childbirth is one of the most significant things a woman’s body experiences, bringing a new baby into the world can cause severe damage to the genital area.
In recent media coverage of labiaplasty, opponents of the operation have positioned genital plastic surgery as a procedure only undergone for aesthetic purposes based on unrealistic female images. In fact, there is currently discussion in Great Britain to have the procedure labelled as “genital mutilation”.
However, this opinion ignores the functional and psychological benefits of the surgery, such as improved sexual satisfaction.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statics, a baby is born in Australia every one minute and 41 seconds. That means there are a lot of women potentially living with vaginal trauma.
Many women experience issues during childbirth including tearing, cutting and stretching. While a woman’s body is designed to give birth, delivery can be difficult, and many women are left with scarring, tearing, prolapse, a stretched tract and other complications as a result.
The fact is that the average size of a baby’s head is 11.4 centimetres in diameter; however, the average diameter of a woman’s vagina is 2.1 to 3.5 centimetres. So with a ratio like this, it is entirely understandable that there may be damage caused to a woman’s vaginal wall during childbirth. There is a lot of variation in the ability of the female body to spring back to its original form following childbirth. While many women find their abdominal skin and muscles stretch significantly, others will experience little change. Similarly, some women will find their vulva is significantly stretched and changed by childbirth, and others will not. Not all women need or desire to return to how they were functionally and aesthetically before childbirth.
In spite of the stigma clouding this operation, it is one of the fastest growing plastic surgery procedures with more than 5,000 procedures performed in the United States in 2013, a 44 per cent increase from 2012, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).
There were 114,135 procedures performed worldwide according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). Between 2013 and 2018 this figure grew by around 15 per cent each year.
There are a lot of women who are suffering in silence, embarrassed about their genital area and what childbirth has done to this part of the body. This affects their self-confidence and their quality of life, especially their sex life. Childbirth can cause the vagina and pelvic floor muscles to become enlarged and stretched. Some women suffer from a stretched vagina and stretched pelvic floor muscles, uterine prolapse and lack of sexual satisfaction.
While stigma is still attached to genital plastic surgery, it is essential to for women to know that such surgery exists and can offer genuine benefits to restoring the form and function of their genital area that goes far beyond cosmetic reasons. Many of the women I see in my surgery are turning to vaginal rejuvenation and corrective surgery to improve function so they can feel more comfortable within themselves.
There is a role here for GPs to play as well. In their post-pregnancy consultation with women, GPs should ask women how their genital area is recovering and whether they need to seek the assistance of a physiotherapist or specialist surgeon to help them to restore the function of their vagina. We need to have open and honest conversations about this issue as too many women are suffering, and they shouldn’t be.