Cosmetic surgery on the female genitalia, particularly labiaplasty, has seen a dramatic increase in popularity among younger patients, according to a recent study in Australia. More than 35 percent of plastic surgeons polled said they had received requests for the procedure by women under the age of 18. Adolescent girls, who are already under immense pressure to fit in and emulate the looks of their peers, are adding a new cosmetic worry to the equation: the size of their labia.
The reason behind the uptick in teen labiaplasty – in Australia and around the world — appears to stem from social anxiety. In this particular study Aussie practitioners said that teen girls cited peer pressure, discomfort in tighter fitting clothing, negative comments from partners, exposure to pornography, as well as current perceptions of what is physically beautiful or “normal” as motivations for the surgery.
Prior studies in Australia have shown that peer influence and altered media images have a huge impact on a person’s perception of “normality,” which puts unrealistic pressures on young girls to achieve what they believe to be a “perfect” vagina. “The industry is brilliant at using social media to convince women and girls that they have ‘redundant’ or ‘excess’ tissue, when in fact we know that the labia are rich with nerve fibres,” argues the study’s lead author Magdalena Simonis M.D., of the University of Melbourne.
140 percent increase in Labiaplasty procedures
According to Medicare statistics, the number of Aussie women undergoing vulvoplasty or labiaplasty in Australia has spiked more than 140 percent since 2001. Perhaps the most alarming finding of the study was that plastic surgeons reported more than half of all their labiasplasty requests came from patients who were suffering from obvious depression, anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder (BDM) or some other kind of emotional instability.
The Medical Board of Australia has enacted new policies regarding vaginal surgery in teenagers that went into effect earlier this month. Now, women under the age of 18 are required to go through counselling and wait at least three months before having the procedure.
ACOG issues guidelines for counseling teens
The growing demand for labiaplasty among younger patients has raised red flags in the United States as well. Just this year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued new guidelines regarding labial procedures in teen patients and how surgeons should discuss the wide range of normal labial variations to adolescents. It’s worth noting that labia minora reductions in American girls under the age of 18 have nearly doubled in recent years.
The ACOG stresses the importance of educating adolescents about normal variations in the shape, symmetry, color and size of the labia minora, and suggest surgical intervention only when medically necessary. Aesthetic concerns aside, doctors may be inclined to reduce the labia minora in cases where patients have extreme discomfort, chafing and soreness due to unusually large labia.
Dr. B. Aviva Preminger knows that labiaplasty may be appropriate for some teenagers, but always ensures healthy motivations, emotional readiness and medical necessity before consenting to such a procedure. To schedule a private appointment at her Manhattan plastic surgery office, please call 212.706.1900..
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