Female genital cosmetic surgery [FGCS] is a hot topic in my world. The ever-increasing popularity of procedures like g-spot amplification, labiaplasty and vaginal rejuvenation has sparked a major controversy. I am concerned, as are many others, that these procedures and the people who provide them are creating problems where none actually exist, leading women to think that their normal bodies are disfigured or that minor sexual issues are serious problems that require surgery.
Although, why should we treat cosmetic surgery for the genitals any differently than we do other procedures? If we accept that a facelift or a nose job can make you feel better about yourself, why isn’t it OK to have cosmetic surgery on the vulva if it makes you feel more confident?
These are just some of the questions that make the issue of FGCS so complex and confusing, not just for educators like me, but for medical professionals who do the procedures or advise patients who want them. While searching for answers, I discovered that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada created a policy on FGCS last December. They are not the only ones. OBGYN’s around the world have created similar policies in response to this growing trend.
The SOGC acknowledges that women have the right to change their bodies any way they wish, but also recognizes that many women grow up learning to be ashamed of their genitals. They also rarely get opportunities to look at vulvas other than their own. They may think their bodies are abnormal or misshapen when they aren’t. The SOGC recommends that doctors explain the wide range of “normal” when it comes to vulvas and even show pictures to put things into perspective.
Another issue is potential complications. Putting needles into or cutting into the vagina is not like a brow lift. The vagina, bladder, urethra, pelvic floor muscle and other structures as well as a multitude of blood vessels and networks of nerves exist in very close quarters and have complicated effects on each other. Although it’s true that we don’t know that much about the long-term effects of other cosmetic surgeries either, messing around with this area is complicated and could cause issues with fertility, bladder function and sexual satisfaction that we don’t fully understand. Those concerns should be fully explained before surgery.
The third issue they address is the marketing of these procedures as a way to improve sexual satisfaction. They are most often performed in independent, for-profit clinics that have a vested interest in advertising their benefits, yet these benefits have never been proven by research. The SOGC considers this unethical, and I agree.
It seems to me that it all comes back to better education. If women have full information about what bodies actually look like, the wide range of common experiences with sex and the potential effects of procedures on all aspects of their health, there’s nothing wrong with having one of these surgeries. I’m quite sure, though, that if this kind of education was widely available, there would be a lot less demand for them in the first place. V
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.