Girls as young as 15 are asking their doctors for genital plastic surgery because they are afraid they don’t look normal, a study has found, with porn being blamed for their worries.
The study, which is the first in the world to look at GP’s experience of female genital cosmetic surgery, found that 35% of doctors have seen patients under 18 requesting female genital cosmetic surgery, also known as labiaplasty.
Labiaplasty is an operation in which a doctor surgically removes part of the labia to reduce their size. While the procedure is sometimes necessary for medical reasons, women also request it for cosmetic reasons.
Dr Magdalena Simonis of the University of Melbourne, who led the study, told the Guardian she blames porn, Brazilian waxes, fashion and perceptions of beauty for women’s dissatisfaction with their genitals.
The research team interviewed 443 Australian GPs, most of whom were women’s health specialists, about requests for female genital plastic surgery.
While 97% had been asked by patients about what a “normal” vagina looks like, 54% had seen female patients request the surgery.
Worryingly, over half of the GPs suggested that the patients requesting the surgery were suffering from conditions such as depression, anxiety and body dismorphic disorder, while others had relationship issues.
In Australia, more than 1,500 labiaplasties were performed in 2013 - a threefold increase in a decade.
“When we talk about adult women into their 20s of course they are entitled to make their own decisions about their body and surgery, provided they are well informed and have good information and don’t have any mental health disorders that might be affecting their decision,” Dr Simonis said.
“But the really vulnerable here are young women and teens impressed by what they see online and what a lot of the portrayals are like in pornography. I think we need to be carefully looking at those women and ensuring they are supported and better informed.”
Dr Simonis said she was motivated to carry out the study after her own patients began requesting labiaplasty.
“I felt underprepared to respond to those requests,” she said.
“When I spoke to colleagues who were also working in areas of women’s health, they also expressed the same sort of experiences with women questioning whether their genitals looked normal.
“Many of them volunteered that that 20 or 25 years ago, this was never an issue.”