Women's health * Sexual health

Think twice before opting for a designer vagina

Think twice before opting for a designer vagina Lack of evidence on long term effects and safety

Women should think twice if they want a "designer vagina" experts have warned, as there is a "shocking lack" of evidence on the long term effect and safety of such operations.

Two of the most common types of vaginal cosmetic surgery - or labioplasty - involve "trimming" the labia to reduce their size, or surgically removing a wedge of tissue from each before stitching them back together. Private clinics usually charge around £3,000 for the procedure.

However, scientists from University College London found there was little evidence of what happened to women after the surgery. They analysed data from over 40 reports on labial surgery carried out on healthy women between 1950 and 2009.

Only eighteen of the studies contained patient data, and of these, fifteen had no information on how the study was designed. None of the remaining studies were properly designed.

Although all the studies "claimed high levels of patient satisfaction and contained anecdotes pertaining to success," the authors said that research was needed to find out the long term effects of surgery.

Although women often cite sexual difficulties as a reason for surgery, the authors warned that the operation itself may damage the nerve supply, resulting in reduced sensitivity and impaired sexual function.

In the report, published in this month's British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG), the authors said the amount of tissue removed in cosmetic labial surgery was comparable with some types of female genital mutilation, which can cause complications during childbirth. Young women considering labioplasty should at least be informed of this.

Dr. Sarah Creighton, consultant gynaecologist at University College Hospital, said: “This paper offers a critical review of available scientific knowledge on labial surgery and identifies a shocking lack of solid evidence.

"Some studies have laid claims to 'successes' despite suspect methodology, and some have not bothered to define how the conclusions had been derived. Anecdotes proliferate in the literature. Risks and complications are rarely documented."

Prof. Philip Steer, BJOG editor-in-chief, said: “Commercial images and social pressures often serve to distort public perceptions about what is physically normal. Healthy messaging about the normal variation in female genitalia, as well as body shape and size more generally, is needed and important.

“This study underlines the need for multidisciplinary research to investigate the range of factors that affect women’s sexual function and well being. Reliable information on the risks and benefits of labial surgery, as well as alternative approaches, is vital to ensuring informed choice for women.”

This article was published on Wed 11 November 2009

Image © astoria - Fotolia.com

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