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Vaginal surgery sought by girls as young as nine

Leading gynaecologist warns too many young girls seek surgery for cosmetic reasons

Mark Gould

Monday, 03 July 2017

Dr Naomi Crouch, the chair of the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology is concerned that GPs are referring rising numbers of young girls for labiaplasty for purely cosmetic reasons. The NHS says it should not be carried out on girls before they turn 18. But last year, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS. More than 150 of the girls were under 15 and at least one was just nine years old.

Dr Crouch, told BBC2's Victoria Derbyshire show that in her work for the NHS she was yet to see a girl who needed the operation. She believes labiaplasty should be given only to girls who have a medical abnormality.

"I find it very hard to believe there are 150 girls with a medical abnormality which means they needed an operation on their labia," she said.

She added there were uncomfortable parallels between this surgery and female genital mutilation (FGM), which is illegal in the UK. "The law says we shouldn't perform these operations on developing bodies for cultural reasons. Current Western culture is to have very small lips, tucked inside. I see this as the same thing".

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the operation should not be performed until a girl had finished developing, after the age of 18. The majority of labiaplasties are done by private cosmetic surgeons on women over 18. The industry has been criticised for normalising the procedure. Plastic surgeon Miles Berry told the programme that the surgery could improve women's lives. "It can change people fundamentally, the feelings they have about themselves, their confidence and self-esteem.

"I have seen patients aged between 16 and 21 who have never had a boyfriend because they are so concerned about this."

Dr Paquita de Zulueta, a GP for more than 30 years, who was also featured in the programme said it was only in the past few years that girls had started coming to her with concerns over the appearance of their labia.

"I'm seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there's something wrong with their vulva - that they're the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust.

"Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It's very normal for the lips to protrude."

She blames the unrealistic images girls are being exposed to through pornography and social media. "There isn't enough education and it should start really quite young, explaining that there is a range and that - just as we all look different in our faces - we all look different down there, and that's OK."

NHS England said it did not carry out the operation for cosmetic reasons, only for clinical conditions. For the past few years, clinical commissioning groups have been able to refer only patients who are experiencing physical pain or emotional distress.

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