Cosmetic Genital Surgery: The Physical and Monetary Cost of “Designer Vaginas”

By Rachel Walden |

Writing in The Atlantic, Melanie Berliet shares her experience as a patient seeking a consult at a vaginal surgery clinic that offers genital cosmetic surgeries.

Berliet’s consult, which included a physical exam, was focused on the supposed sex-enhancing and cosmetic applications of these surgeries — not on medically indicated procedures that address pain and discomfort.

I scheduled this complimentary consultation under the guise of wanting “to understand my options.” Secretly, I want to explore why a growing number of women are modifying a body part so few can see by undergoing the elective surgeries in which [Dr. Ronald] Blatt specializes: vaginoplasty (removal of excess lining and tightening of surrounding tissue and muscles) and labiaplasty (reshaping of the labia minora, and sometimes the labia majora and/or clitoral hood).

In an examination of the “tightness” of her vagina, the doctor offered a vague assessment, noting she was “not real loose, but there’s room for tightening,” leading Beliet to ask, “Could you get it down so just two fingers fit comfortably?”

Sure it’s possible, for $5,900 — or $9,900 for the dual vaginoplasty and labiaplasty surgery, called “vaginal rejuvenation.”

According to Berliet, a female employee told her (OK, prepare to shudder): “This is a life changing surgery. You’re saying boyfriend now? After this he’s going to marry you.”

Ack.

In addition to sharing details of the exam, Berliet explores the idea that these surgeries may be taking off in part because women have no idea that a wide range of normal exists. They don’t know what they “should” look like (or if there even is a “should”). Most of the vulvas they see are the limited view provided through porn. She writes:

What is most striking, however, in the dialogue on this topic is the obvious confusion among women about what they should or should not look like. The pronouncements of self-loathing and embarrassment over genital appearance are widespread, reinforcing my growing sense that we’re failing to educate. If we feel more vulnerable to our insecurities after viewing pornography, it’s probably because no one has filled our vaginal diversity knowledge gap.

As an aside on that knowledge gap, the story conflates “vagina” with “vulva” several times. It’s a minor criticism, but one that reflects a common lack of knowledge or distinction between the vagina and other anatomical parts such as the labia and clitoris.

A related story at ABC News takes a closer look at the health risks of these surgeries. The biggest risks, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, include “infection, altered sensation, dyspareunia (painful contractions of the vagina), adhesions and scarring.”

ACOG also underscores the need for women to be informed that there’s a real lack of data on potential complications. Numerous reports of “botched” surgeries are turning up on online forums, according to ABC News.

For further discussion of this issue, see these previous posts.

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3 Comments

  1. Sienna says:

    I just had this surgery and am so glad I did. After having twins, each baby weighing over 6lbs, believe me, no amount of kegals did anything to undo the damage of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s not just a vanity thing at all. What gives you the right to judge other people’s decision to have this surgery? It sounds like you have no idea at all.

  2. itsaboutchoice says:

    Sienna – your choice to have the surgery is not the right kind of choice, therefore pro choice ‘reproductive health’ proponents do not support your choice. sorry.

  3. Rachel says:

    The intended point of this post (as the blogger above) was not at all that your specific individual choice was inappropriate – it’s that women in general may not be getting fully informed of the risks by the folks pushing the procedures, may not be aware that there’s not much real data available on the procedures in the first place, and may not have a realistic image of the wide range of normal appearances of vulvas. You can make your own choices for your body – but the lack of information in play here to actually help women make informed choices makes it an issue worth talking about.

    All of this is why, a few years ago, the main medical organization for U.S. ob/gyns said: “It is deceptive to give the impression that vaginal rejuvenation, designer vaginoplasty, revirgination, G-spot amplification, or any such procedures are accepted and routine surgical practices. Absence of data supporting the safety and efficacy of these procedures makes their recommendation untenable.” – http://www.acog.org/Resources_And_Publications/Committee_Opinions/Committee_on_Gynecologic_Practice/Vaginal_Rejuvenation_and_Cosmetic_Vaginal_Procedures