Are There Risks In Getting Labiaplasty? Is It Like Female Genital Mutilation? ASK AN OBGYN

Dear SuzyKnew!,  

Some of my friends are talking about getting a little nip and tuck on their vaginas.  They say that it will get rid of that extra skin.  Does it work and are there any risks?


Dear Reader,

The surgery they are likely talking about is called Labiaplasty, which is the surgical altering the labia minora (some call them the little “lips” inside)  and/or the labia majora (the outside big “lips”).   There are very few medically indicated reasons for this surgery, and I’m willing to bet if they are talking about it casually, then it’s a cosmetic surgery, not to treat a medical problem.

A cosmetic surgery on your vagina is absolutely unnecessary, has no health benefits, and yes, it carries risks. The labia are full of nerve endings and the specific risks associated with Labiaplasty are:  pain during intercourse, numbness, diminished or lost sexual sensation, and scarring.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued guidance to their doctors instructing them to consul women and girls to NOT have cosmetic surgery on their external genitalia.  This is in response to an increase in its popularity- in the U.S. the procedure increased by 16% in 2015.   ACOG is particularly concerned about the procedure’s increased popularity in adolescent girls.

Where is the desire to alter our vaginas coming from?  One theory is that the readily availability of images on the Internet that show waxed and airbrushed vaginas are warping our view of what a normal vagina looks like.   A belief that there is an ideal image of the vagina may be affecting young girls the most.   If girls develop an unrealistic idea of what a vagina looks like, they may be disappointed in the reality of their own body as they develop and change with age and life events such as childbirth.

It’s important for all women and men to know that there is huge variability in the anatomy of a vagina, and that there are many versions of normal.   If a girl is only looking at her own vagina and compares that to a model in an airbrushed photo, then she may feel less beautiful or even abnormal.  Boys and men who look at vaginas on porn sites are getting an altered view and may be surprised or even disappointed when they meet up with the real thing.

One could argue that Labiaplasty which is increasing in popularity in developed countries like the United States, the UK, or Australia, has another name- Female Genital Mutilation.    FGM describes a surgical procedure altering the vagina and surrounding healthy tissue and is practiced in many developing countries.  The World Health Organization and global human rights organizations have aggressive campaigns to educate women and their communities about the dangers of the procedure and view it as a violation of human rights and an extreme form of discrimination against women.  Despite this, FGM is still practiced in many countries and is part of a cultural tradition.   We should be asking ourselves- how is a medically unnecessary cosmetic procedure like Labiaplasty any different?

There are some cases when there is a medical indication for Labiaplasty.  Some women experience severe discomfort, difficulty with urination and chronic urinary tract infections from abnormally large labia.  However, this is rare condition.

Here is a great video from an Australian news agency on Labiaplasty that shows the procedure and the issues I’ve raised here.

Take care.


One response on “Are There Risks In Getting Labiaplasty? Is It Like Female Genital Mutilation? ASK AN OBGYN

  1. Yara

    Amazing how we are trying to prevent cutting from a human rights perspective and combat ignorance and in other parts of the world this type of cutting is based on superficial body image and pleasure indulgence. As a girl in the US I never thought of comparing vaginas or have never seen an air brushed one. There is a true sense of distortion that is leading to a warped sense of beauty and ideals of pleasure. Very sad.