As labia surgery surges in Britain, a research charity has released an animated film which hopes to encourage debate on the phenomena of the “designer vagina”.

Three women who have had surgery to “neaten” the appearance of their genitals spoke to documentary maker Ellie Land about their experiences, and feature in the Wellcome Trust’s Centrefold Project.

The clip asks: “Is labiaplasty anti-female pornification or an empowering choice? You decide…”

animation

A still from Ellie Land's animation for the Centrefold Project, depicting one woman's nightmare of her 'Dr Who' labia

One woman who opted for surgery told of how she used to imagine her labia were so long she likened them to a “Dr Who scarf”, flapping in her wake and strangling her.

She added: “There would be people standing around laughing and pointing. I felt like a complete freak.”

She explained how she pored over pornographic magazines and websites, searching for women whose genitals were similar to her own – to no avail. She concluded it was “yet another piece of evidence that there was something was wrong with me.”

Another complained the size of her labia affected intercourse because “they would get in the way”.

As well as aesthetic reasons, some women cite pain and even friction blisters for their reasons for the operation.

The surgery appears to have offered a mixed bag of results for the women, with one claiming the reduction “really helped” her sex life, although her husband “misses” her old labia.

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While one of the interviewees is still haunted by her “Dr Who scarf” dream, she is pleased with her appearance, although she admits “It’s such a shame that was such a big stigma for me.”

Sadly, another confesses: “Six or seven weeks on my labia is smaller but I still hate it. It looks like a big fat piggy’s nose peeking out of a pair of curtains.”

According to the BBC, more than 2,000 labiaplasties were carried out on the NHS last year, with a fivefold increase in the last five years.

The surgery tends to involve reducing the length or changing the shape of the labia minora (inner lips of the vagina) although other surgeons can also reshape the outer labia to alter the external appearance of the genitalia.

Private surgery can cost from £3,000 upwards.

To be eligible for NHS labiaplasty, there must be evidence of pain during intercourse, physical discomfort due to rubbing on clothes, rare hormonal disorders causing the labia minora to enlarge and damage caused by giving birth.

The UK Health Centre adds: “It is also possible to get a labiaplasty on the NHS even if there is little real medical need for one. This would be if the size of your labia are causing you real psychological damage such as depression or self-esteem problems.”

As consultant gynaecologist Dr Sarah Creighton points out, there are no guidelines as to what constitutes "normal" sizes and shapes for female genitalia.

Dr Creighton, who sees patients as young as 11, says she is surprised by what she believes is a new phenomenon.

Urging caution, Dr Lih-Mei Liao, a consultant clinical psychologist at University College London Hospitals, adds: "Women have the right to make an informed decision. When we notice something we don't like it's very normal to want to fix it."

What do you think?