Vaginal Cosmetic Surgery Worries Some Canadian Doctors

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Pornography is helping to create unrealistic ideas of what female genitalia should look like, says the CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
Pornography is helping to create unrealistic ideas of what female genitalia should look like, says the CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

Some Canadian doctors are concerned about the rising demand for genital cosmetic surgery, with one saying that women seeking such procedures may have false ideas about what "normal" genitalia are supposed to look like.

Surgery has been promoted as a way to enhance female sexual organs but it can also make women feel that their genitalia are unattractive, Dr. Jennifer Blake, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), told Postmedia News.

She raised her concerns as SOGC readies to host a debate on cosmetic surgery called "The Ideal of Perfect — Genital Cosmetic Surgery" at its annual conference in Niagara Falls from June 10 to 13.

The program will look at some of the most common female cosmetic surgeries and discuss the "motivations and rights" of patients.

Examples of cosmetic surgeries include a labiaplasty, which typically makes the labia major (outer vaginal lips) or the labia minor (inner vaginal lips) smaller or gives them more symmetry, according to WebMD.

Another surgery is a clitoral hood size reduction. This procedure reduces the tissue that covers the clitoral head so that "sexual function can be more easily achieved," according to the Toronto Cosmetic Clinic.

Blake is concerned that such procedures are leading to a commercialization of the female body, and that pornography is giving women erroneous ideas of how genitalia are supposed to look.

"What bothers me most is that women are being made to feel insecure and unhappy about a perfectly normal, healthy part of their body and will submit themselves to costly surgery when we just don’t know what the long-term impact is going to be," Blake said.

Blake is also concerned about procedures that involve lasers, saying that they could reduce a vagina's flexibility as a woman ages.

Other doctors disagree with the idea that pornography is influencing women's decisions to obtain genital cosmetic surgery.

Dr. Kyle Wanzel, a plastic surgeon based in Etobicoke, told The Grid in January that he has yet to come across a patient who wanted a labiaplasty because of what she saw in porn.

"The vast majority of women have been online to chat rooms, found out about the [surgery], and then just looked it up on my website," he said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jerome Edelstein, a plastic surgeon based in Toronto, told The Grid that the growing trend is motivated by contemporary attitudes to body hair, which can lead to people revealing more in the genital area.

This is not the first time that doctors have raised concerns about genital cosmetic surgery.

In December, the SOGC issued a policy statement about cosmetic procedures on the vagina or vulva, saying there is "little evidence to support any of the female genital cosmetic surgeries in terms of improvement to sexual satisfaction or self-image."

It said doctors should not promote such practices as a way to enhance sexual function, and also expressed concern that some patients may be coerced into it by their partners.

The American College Of Obstetricians and Gynecologists raised a similar alarm in 2007, after "strongly [questioning] the medical validity and safety of female genital cosmetic surgery."

But some doctors already screen out people who may have faced psychological difficulty or outside pressure, The National Post reported in January.

And some, like Dr. Martin Jugenburg of the Toronto Cosmetic Surgery Institute, say most patients have reported post-surgery improvements.

"So often, someone will tell me ‘My partner has never seen me in the light, it’s always in the dark, I’m so ashamed of how I look down there,’" he told the newspaper. "They want to be more comfortable with their partners."

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