Sunday, June 26, 2016
Australia - New survey finds more women want female genital cosmetic surgery
AN INCREASING number of Australian teenage girls have “genital anatomy anxiety” and are requesting genital cosmetic surgery to alter “normal” bodyparts, according to alarming new research.
The survey of 443 Australian GPs found a third have seen patients aged below 18 wanting to trim or shape their genitalia. Almost all the doctors surveyed said they had seen women of all ages express concerns about the appearance of their genitalia.
“The GPs surveyed said a large proportion of women have some degree of genital anatomy anxiety,” said head researcher Dr Magdalena Simonis, a fellow at The Royal College of General Practitioners, who revealed the survey’s preliminary findings to news.com.au.
The reasons for this anxiety included a “perception of normality based on images seen online”, particularly those in porn.
According to more than half the GPs surveyed, women who request genital surgery may have a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, depression or eating disorders.
GPs, plastic surgeons and gynaecologists have echoed the findings and say many women have a warped understanding of what is a “normal-looking” vagina, due to the rise of internet porn and photoshopped images of genitalia, and because more women are removing their pubic hair.
Between 2000 and 2011, Medicare claims for vulvoplasty and labiaplasty grew from 640 annually to 1565 per year, according to a Women’s Health Victoria report. Labiaplasty, often marketed as “vaginal rejuvenation”, involves removing excess folds of skin surrounding the vulva.
The US and UK have seen similar increases. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says that 400 girls 18 and younger had labiaplasty last year, an 80 per cent increase from the 222 girls who had cosmetic genital surgery in 2014. A 2013 British report found the number of labial reductions on girls and women done by the UK National Health Service had increased fivefold over 10 years.
Dr Laith Barnouti from Australia Plastic Surgery, a Sydney clinic where labiaplasty and other “vaginal rejuvenation” procedures are regularly performed, says his practice has seen a 5-10 per cent increase in requests for genital surgery since January 2015. Most of his patients are aged between 15 and 30.
Dr Barnouti says only fully-qualified plastic surgeons, not cosmetic surgeons, should perform the procedure.
“We will not do this on someone with a normal labia, only those with very prominent labia. Many of these women are embarrassed about it and they avoid intimate situations.”
He said women who have the procedure performed by an unqualified surgeon risk permanent damage.
“We see people who have too much tissue removed and we need to do a reconstructive labiaplasty. Some of the doctors don’t understand the function of the labia. If you cut the labia flush with the skin, then the opening of the vagina will dry up and you can get ulcers,” he said.
Women are becoming increasingly insecure about how their genitalia look, says the president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Steve Robson.
“With the fad of removing a lot of pubic hair, women and their partners can see the labia in more detail,” he said. “Lots of women don’t think they’re normal because they compare themselves to unrealistic models.”
The best way to improve the problem is to reassure women that there is a wide variation in the way things look.
“If your genitalia look and function normally, you do not require an operation,” said Prof Robson, who only performs “one or two” of these operations a year.
“I would do a labiaplasty if there was really a great degree of asymmetry, or someone had big labia which become inflamed when they ride a bike or do other forms of exercise.
“Often women just want to please their partners. I’ve said to them: The problem is with your partner, not your vagina’.”
Dr Simonis’ preliminary findings come as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued guidelines to doctors last week to assist women who want to have genital surgery, The New York Times reported.
The college urged doctors to reassure these patients and suggest non-surgical alternatives that may alleviate discomfort and screen them for a psychiatric disorder that causes obsession about perceived physical defects.
Last July, the Royal College of General Practitioners issued guidelines for doctors on treating patients who request genital surgery, including recommending that they be directed to images of female genitalia that have not been digitally altered.