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Vaginal cosmetic surgery ads misleading, say researchers

Information is poor, often inaccurate and plays on women’s fears, study shows

Louise Prime

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Information available to women considering surgery to correct perceived problems with the appearance of their vulva or vagina is poor and sometimes inaccurate, UK research has shown. Authors of the study, published online today in BMJ Open, have called for urgent guidelines to improve the standard of information from private clinics offering ‘designer vagina’ procedures.

Researchers conducted an internet search, using Google, for private providers of female genital cosmetic surgery, and then investigated the first five UK and US websites that came up. They analysed in depth the information that the companies provided about the procedures they offered, and how these were done; risks and benefits; and the language that companies used.

They found that the clinics offered procedures including ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ and ‘G-spot amplification’, as well as labial surgery. The authors criticised the language that clinics used because it implied that they were treating medical conditions – terms used included ‘labial hypertrophy’, ‘labioplasty, ‘liposculpting’, ‘hoodectomy’ and ‘hymenoplasty’.

The sites all claimed that surgery would improve vulval appearance, in some cases saying that labial reduction would make women’s genitals appear ‘sleeker’, ‘more appealing’ or even ‘more youthful’. Half said that it would increase sexual pleasure.

Several sites also alleged that surgery would improve vulval hygiene and reduce the risk of infections.

Sites that offered ‘repair’ of the hymen said it was recommended because it would improve “the woman’s hidden aesthetics” and ensure that she would bleed on her wedding night and so she could “keep [her] head high.”

Although all the sites mentioned risks, they downplayed them, and many didn’t specify what these were or quote revision rates. None of the sites mentioned a lower age limit for surgery.

Only two sites gave their ‘success’ rates, and failed to define success; all sites quoted social and psychological benefits from surgery, including restored confidence and self-esteem, but did not back up these claims with evidence.

The researchers acknowledge that they only looked at relatively few websites, but say their work still raises concerns. They criticise the clinics for playing on women’s fears about their genitals, which they say might be better addressed by psychological therapies, or in some cases emollients.

They conclude: “This report highlights significant gaps in the breadth, depth, accuracy and quality of clinical information given by some service providers of female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) …

“Impeccable professionalism and ethical integrity is crucial for this controversial practice. Clear and detailed guidelines on how to raise the standard of information to women on all aspects of FGCS are urgently needed.”

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