'Designer Vagina' Surgery Poorly Explained on Sites

Three women look at a computer screen
(Image credit: Friends photo via Shutterstock)

The real risks and benefits of "designer vagina" surgery — which includes procedures such as labial reduction and laser vaginal rejuvenation — are poorly explained on websites that consumers are likely to visit, a new study finds.

Normal female genitalia vary in their appearance, but medical practices that offer female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) generally do not make this clear on their sites, and "give only minimal scientific information on outcomes or risks" of the surgery, the researchers wrote.

"Unsubstantiated claims of physical, psychological and sexual bene?ts were present on every website," reviewed in the study, the researchers said.

For example, labiaplasty (surgery typically aimed at reshaping or reducing the size of the labia) is perhaps the most popular operation, based on the amount of text devoted to it, the researchers said. But the "condition" of labial hypertrophy, or having labia that are supposedly larger than normal, is not based in science, the researchers said.

In fact, on sites that included before and after photos, the before photos all showed labia that were normal, they said.

"The quality and quantity of clinical information in FGCS provider sites is poor, with erroneous information in some instances," the researchers wrote in their article, published today (Nov. 21) in the journal BMJ Open. "Clear and detailed guidelines on how to raise the standard of information to women on all aspects of FGCS are urgently needed," they wrote.

For the study, researchers searched for "designer vagina" on the Internet and analyzed the first five websites for providers of such surgery in the U.S., and first five in the U.K., that appeared in the results. In evaluating the sites, they looked at 16 specific criteria, including descriptions of the procedures, the symptoms that the procedures are aimed at fixing, the risks of the surgery and the long-term outcomes.

They found a total 72 procedures offered on the sites, but it's likely that different terms actually referred to the same procedure — there is no standardized terminology, and the sites did not always describe the procedures, according to the study.

For example, the vaginal procedures listed included: vaginoplasty, vaginal tightening, vaginal rejuvenation, laser vaginal rejuvenation, vaginal reshaping, vaginal reconstruction, vaginal enlargement, vaginal reduction, designer vagina, vaginal rugae rejuvenation and designer laser vaginoplasty.

All of the sites said there were risks to the surgery, but only six sites listed specific risks such as hemorrhage or infection.

The sites also all listed aesthetic concerns as a reason why women may want to have this surgery. For example, sites mentioned visibility of the labia under tight clothing, being told by a partner than their labia were large, or achieving a youthful appearance of the vulva. Nine of the 10 sites also included discomfort as a reason for the surgery — for example, with certain types of clothing or during sex.

Half of the sites listed improvements in sexual relationships and enhanced sexual pleasure as a benefit of the surgery.

However, no long-term studies evaluating the effects of such surgery have been done, the researchers said. "Providers should emphasize that healthy vulvas come in all shapes, sizes and colors, that all vulval appearances are compatible with psychological and sexual wellness, and that the majority of women do not choose to surgically alter their healthy vulva," the researchers wrote.

The distortion of information found on websites such as these, along with pornography, blogs and other material found on the Internet contribute to women's negative feelings about their bodies, the researchers wrote.

Pass it on: Cosmetic vaginal procedures are poorly described on websites.

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Live Science Staff
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