by Rachel Ogbu
A new trend seeing teenage girls as young as 14 having ‘designer vagina’ surgery raises new concerns with researchers believing the problem is psychologically damaging.
Researchers from University College Hospital, London, led by Sarah Creighton, claim it is ‘disturbing’ that there is no minimum age limit for the surgery and figures show 343 operations performed on girls aged 14 or under in the last six years.
Reports say the surgery involves restructuring the female genitalia and the demand may be growing for such procedures because of poor and inaccurate information available on the internet, usually from private clinics.
According to the research published in BMJ Open, websites of companies that offer female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) make ‘unsubstantiated claims’ about the benefits of the procedures and use confusing terminology and do not highlight surgical risks.
One of the most common surgery requested is the Labiaplasties, it reshapes the labia and the inner lips of the vagina for women dissatisfied with their appearance which happens to be on the rise.
“In a recent observational study of referral patterns, girls as young as nine years with normal labia had presented for labiaplasty.
The labia minora change as part of normal pubertal growth, with development completed as the individual approaches adulthood.
Given that anatomy continues to change throughout the lifespan, the younger a girl begins her FGCS journey the higher the number of lifetime operations and the greater and more multiple the risks.”
A survey of 10 websites found little information was given on short-term or long-term surgical risks either from individual clinics and their surgeons or from the medical literature.
‘’Unsubstantiated claims of physical, psychological and sexual benefits were present on every website’ said consultant gynaecologist Creighton.
“The absence of a lower age limit for any of the FGCS procedures is most disturbing of all… we should have great caution about offering any genital surgery to girls under the age of 18,” she added.
Some experts believe the pornography industry is driving demands and explicit reality TV shows where all female performers have perfectly symmetrical body parts are also responsible.
Lih-Mei Liao, a clinical psychologist at University College Hospital, and a co-researcher on the BMJ survey, conducted studies into the growing phenomenon.
She reviewed 33 women, with an average age of 23, referred to the hospital for NHS labial reduction surgery between 2007 and 2010.
‘They were turned away by gynaecologists who said they did not need an operation, but a significant number said they would pay to have it done privately.
Dr Liao said at the time that the study showed a disturbing trend as it had nothing to do with a recognisable disease or condition.
‘‘There is something cultural going on about what women think about the way their genitals appear to themselves or their partners.’