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What is Labiaplasty?

November 5 2020 | Written by Madi Hanaka (She/Her)

Living in a world full of instagrammable content, it can be challenging - and seemingly impossible - to feel satisfied with your physical appearance. Between Instagram influencers, Snapchat filters, and Facetune, it becomes second nature to compare ourselves to others. As the goal posts constantly shift in terms of what society deems acceptable and attractive, many turn to plastic surgery to better live up to these ideals. While some go under the knife for nose reconstruction or breast augmentation, recent years have seen a rising number of women seeking a different procedure: labiaplasty. In this week’s blog, the Marlow team is diving into the world of designer vaginas, exploring what labiaplasty is, and why it has increased in popularity. 

What is Labiaplasty?

So let’s cover the basics. What exactly is labiaplasty? If we refer back to Miranda’s blog “The Anatomy They Failed to Teach You in Sex Ed”, we learned that the labia is “often referred to as the lips of the vulva, the inner labia (Minora) and the outer labia (Majora)”. Labiaplasty is a surgical procedure that decreases the size of the labia minora. Using a laser or harmonic scalpel, the edges of the labia minora are sutured off, or in other cases, V or W shaped wedges are removed.

In removing this excess skin, the goal is to ensure that the labia minora does not protrude outside the “lips” of the vulva. Although the procedure is only 30 minutes, labiaplasty costs approximately $4000-$6000 in Canada, and patients can experience a number of issues post-surgery. Complication rates can be as high as 30%, and specific issues include bleeding, infection, wound breakdown, scar tissue formation, nerve damage/reduced sensation, or reduced sexual function caused by nerve pain.

Considering the number of concerning side effects, one could wonder why an individual would choose to undergo this procedure, and the answer varies. For instance, some individuals choose to surgically reduce the size of their labia for functional reasons: chronic irritation, difficulty with personal hygiene, complications and irritation during sexual intercourse, or even interference with general activities like biking or horseback riding. These individuals, however, make up a smaller percentage of those who undergo this procedure. According to Dr. Asif Pirani, “two thirds of women getting this are doing it because they are bothered by how it looks”. 

Given the media’s outsized influence on how we perceive ourselves and others, this isn’t hard to believe; it is plausible that repeated exposure to images of the “perfect” female body influences our view of our own bodies. While this messaging is incredibly pervasive throughout the media industry in general (ie. television, movies, and advertisements), these messages only become more prevalent and blatant in pornography, especially in relation to our genitalia specifically. Typically porn actresses are presented with prepubescent features; not only through their submissive demeanour but also their appearance. These actresses rarely have any body hair and typically have flat vulvas with no protrusion beyond their outer “lips” - sometimes referred to as the “hot dog bun” vulva. 

Being exposed to these images on a regular basis would likely take a toll on one’s confidence and ability to feel comfortable in their own skin. One woman interviewed by CBC stated that “I’ve been watching pornography since I was 9-10 years old, and I would watch a lot of vulvas that did not look like mine, doing things that I really wanted to do but that I was insecure about doing”. While these ideals may be incredibly unrealistic, they nevertheless have an effect on their audience and the way we perceive ourselves in relation to our self image and sexuality. 

As Miranda stressed in her previous post, every vulva is different. 

“An important thing to note about labia is that they VARY from person to person. Colours range from pink to black, and there can be significant variation in size.” 

- Miranda

However, when we are inundated with messaging that convinces us that our bodies are abnormal, unattractive, and undesirable, this can be difficult to remember. Ultimately, what you choose to do with your body is completely up to you, and you should feel comfortable and confident making such decisions without fear of judgement. With that said, it is important to deeply analyze why we may be interested in a procedure like labiaplasty in the first place. The road to recovery after this type of surgery is longer than only a couple of days; surgeons suggest taking at at least a week off from work to allow the area time to heal. After labiaplasty, patients also need to refrain from having sexual intercourse for over a month. Again, there are several complications that may arise when surgically removing parts of your genitals, and so it is incredibly important to recognize where the motivation may come from in wanting labiaplasty. Whether this stems from wanting to improve your quality of life or simply for aesthetic purposes, it’s up to the individual as to whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

We must remind ourselves that while we may not see our own genitalia represented in pornography, vulvas are incredibly diverse! When it comes to our bodies, there is no such thing as “normal”, and that is what is most important to remember. In Marlow’s blog, we seem to come back to this idea a lot, but that is because it is universally applicable to so many topics. In the case of labiaplasty, whether your labia is big, small, pink, brown or anywhere in between, it is uniquely yours.