I mean, what else is there to say about this?

Across the country, post-pubescent and peri-menopausal women alike are having their vaginas tightened, their mons pubis liposuctioned, their labial folds nipped and their clitoral hoods tucked. Most are seeking to restore what plastic surgeons are calling “a more youthful look” to this long-secreted corner of the female anatomy and often to improve their sex lives in the process. (In some cases, women with few pretensions to virginity are surprising their partners by having their hymens surgically restored.)

Other women, bothered by the imperfect proportions of their genitalia, undergo surgery just to bolster their self-image — a boost that often pays sexual dividends as well.

“I was the type who always wanted to have the lights down low” when having sex, says Holly, a 50-year-old medical assistant who recently had surgery to trim her labia minora and who asked that her last name not be used to maintain her privacy. “Just being comfortable with my body, this was huge for me. I was able to be sexually confident.”

Even as the small but growing group of genital plastic surgeons devise new and better surgical techniques, they acknowledge the standards women hope to achieve are set mostly by adult film actresses, strippers and nude denizens of the Internet.

“I know what women want,” says Dr. David L. Matlock of Los Angeles, an obstetrician turned plastic surgeon who has been a pioneer in devising and popularizing the procedures. He knows, he says, because so many of his patients tote their husband’s or boyfriend’s magazines into his office and point to photos almost as explicit as the before-and-after ones posted on many surgeons’ websites.

More traditional plastic surgeons and gynecologists may be reluctant to endorse such procedures, but the demand is undeniable. Vulvar and vaginal plastic surgery is one of the fastest-growing areas in plastic surgery, say some in the field.

Many of the techniques have been practiced for decades by obstetricians and gynecologists to repair childbirth-related injuries, and by urologists and reconstructive surgeons who repair birth defects or perform sex-reassignment surgery. But in the late 1990s, a few surgeons began offering the procedures as a means to enhance the aesthetic appearance of women’s genital organs and, in some cases, to improve sexual function.

Interesting that they said function, not sensation. I’m guessing that is one thing that doesn’t improve, post-op…

Some people might be surprised at who’s getting it, too:

Next year, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons expects to begin collecting data on the number of vulvar and vaginal procedures its members are performing. Several practitioners of the new procedures, including a pair of Los Angeles plastic surgeons, have been profiled on cable TV shows pitched to viewers hungry for news of the beautiful and famous. And members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have begun grumbling that it’s an issue on which they need to weigh in.

But Dr. V. Leroy Young, who chairs the Emerging Trends Task Force of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, says the true gauge of these procedures’ popularity may lie precisely in the fact that, far from either coast, conservative heartland women are paying doctors like him to perform them.

Young performs about two to three vulvar procedures a month on women who “would never dare ask the question at a church social,” but who can now learn about such procedures on the Internet and on TV. “It’s right here in middle America,” says Young, whose practice is based in Creve Coeur, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Actually, I’d say this is not so much a measure of the popularity of the surgery as it is of the shame these repressed heartlanders feel about their “less than perfect” genitals (whatever perfect may mean, since female external genitalia are as unique as fingerprints–and, when healthy, just as functional, regardless of appearance.) These churchladies may not wear burqas, but their willingness to resort to such extreme genital modification makes them every bit as psychosexually messed-up as any tribe that resorts to female genital mutilation or honor killing.

And now, for something truly yucky–and pathetic. If you are at all squeamish, you may want to scroll past this next bit:

In 2000, many Americans learned about a new procedure called labiaplasty when a porn star known as Houston had her labia-reduction surgery filmed and distributed to subscribers, then later auctioned off the excised flesh over the Internet.

Sharon Mitchell, executive director of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills, says few of today’s adult film actresses are having the surgery because so many are already very young. But Mitchell, an adult film actress for 25 years before she earned a doctorate in human sexuality, says the adult film industry’s emphasis on youth, as well as its growing audience among beauty-conscious women, is almost certainly driving the upsurge in the surgery.

And many women take the standards set by sex workers very much to heart, say doctors performing the surgeries.

“I hear it time and time again,” says Dr. Gary Alter, a urologist-turned-plastic-surgeon who operates out of offices in Beverly Hills and New York City. “The woman says, ‘I thought I was normal and I watch these movies with my boyfriends and now I feel like I must be a freak.’ They feel they’re the only ones in the world.”

See, this is just one of the many reasons why I don’t like porn. (The other ones being that the dialogue sucks, the clinical lighting is a huge turn-off, the mostly fake females ditto, the guys are generally hideous, the scenarios are absurd and contrived, and as a result, the whole thing just does absolutely NOTHING for me.) When a woman comes away from watching a mechanical, unrealistic rendition of sex, and thinks her body needs all kinds of mangulations to look appetizing, that’s just sad. I’m not anti-porn out of any prudish grounds, let alone belief in the exploitativeness of it; I just personally can’t stand it because it’s a real pleasure killer for me on so many levels.

And speaking of pleasure killers, here’s another piece the squeamish will want to sail past:

“You’re basically taking a risk for no or very little benefit” with most of these surgeries, says Dr. Thomas G. Stovall, immediate past president of the Society of Gynecological Surgeons. Stovall warns that with labiaplasties and vaginal tightening, patients run the risk of developing infection and scar tissue, which can decrease sensation — or worse, cause pain — in the areas where incisions have been made.

As for the claim that vaginal tightening can enhance sexual gratification, Stovall insists “there is no scientific basis” to support it. “It might make it better for her partners,” says Stovall, but the female patient is taking a risk without much prospect of personal benefit.

Feminists too have criticized the trend. Judy Norsigian, co-founder and author of the feminist health tract “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” says women who have these surgeries are taking risks to adhere to standards of feminine beauty that are fleeting, unnatural and, ultimately, dictated by a society in which men are fixated on barely pubescent girls.

Norsigian and others have spoken out against Brazilian waxes, a popular hair removal trend that leaves all but a tiny wisp of pubic hair intact, as a reflection of that fetish. In turn, by making women’s genitals more visible, the Brazilian wax trend has naturally led more women to take the risky next step of having their genitalia surgically altered, she says.

“We live in a country where people are always thinking up new things, new practices, new ways to make money,” says Norsigian. “And if you can play upon an insecurity, you can get a lot of people to do a lot of things.”

Both the doctor and the feminist health critic have a good point–this is NOT about any real benefits for the woman, no matter how much anyone blathers about how “empowered” such an operatio
n makes a woman feel. A vagina shouldn’t be tightened for strictly cosmetic reasons; only compelling health reasons, such as cancer, urinary leakage or uterine prolapse, legitimately occasion a vaginal operation. The health risks from such a surgery are real, and can ruin your life. Just ask Waris Dirie, who was genitally mutilated as a child and is now an outspoken campaigner against the “perfecting” procedure that caused her so much needless suffering.

Besides: how much of a daring bad girl can you be if you try to fix what ain’t broken, just so you can look a little younger and feel a little tighter “down there”? For between $7,000 and $18,000 US, no less?

Seems like an awfully high price to pay for looking like a pedophile’s wet dream.

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4 Responses to Yecch!

  1. Great article, ‘Bina, and so overdue.
    Now, I tend to be one of the more liberal ones when it comes to respecting women’s right to choose what to do with their bodies….but this nonsense crosses my line. Why in blazes would any normal functioning woman even want to risk permanent damage to their wombs just to satisfy some whack, overrated male fantasy about barely legal virgin entry???
    And the worst thing is, they don’t even need a surgical procedure; some of the more scummy adult “novelty” stores offer alum-based creams and other products on the market that promise the same effect as these labiaplasty procedures…and at a fraction of the cost.
    When, oh when, will we learn to make do with what God and Goddess gave us, and stop letting the media hoodwink us into buying trash???

  2. Bina says:

    I’m with you, Anthony…generally, I’m of the “whatever floats yer boat” school. But this strikes me as one of those things that would torpedo the boat all women should be on, namely the HMCS Self-Esteem.
    BTW, thanks for the heads-up on those alum creams…they sound like Bhad Nhews, for sure. Not only because of the rip-off factor, but because I’m guessing that the way they “work” is by drying out those delicate mucous membranes that Mother Aphrodite decreed must NEVER run dry. Else, painful tearing and infection are sure to follow. Not a healthy alternative to the dangerous, expensive surgery, that’s for sure!

  3. Here’s some more on the hazards of so-called “shrink creams” courtesy of sex educator Violet Blue (from her “Tiny Nibbles” website):

    * No one knows if “Shrink Creams” can hurt you. Widely available “shrink creams”, “sure grip”, “tighten up” and “feel like a virgin again” claim to make the vagina smaller or tighter. The key ingredient in these creams is alum. Alum absorbs water out of the outer layer of the skin; as more water is absorbed, the cells begin to swell, closing the ducts that water would normally flow through. No study has been done on the effect of these creams on the cervix, which is what they eventually end up getting rubbed on during penetration, but I’ll wager it’s not good.
    I kind of want to make the manufacturers snort a thick rail of alum, so they can study the effects on their own mucous membranes. What I really hate about these “shrink” creams is the fact that they’re trading on female insecurities about the vagina not being tight, pretty or good enough for their male partner — like we need any negative reinforcement from our pussy-phobic culture about how we look, feel or smell down there. The marketing text runs, “China Shrink Cream is formulated to tighten the vaginal walls. China Shrink Cream is to help with loose vagina due to multiple child birth and frigidity.”
    I also want to throw up every time I see the packaging on these creams, as they are often called “oriental” or “China Shrink Cream”, paralying off of racist stereotypes and exotifying Asian “sexual mystery”, much the same way the porn industry fetishizes skin color and markets (I think racist) negative stereotypes about black male sexuality with its “interracial” videos.

    The full article has a lot more helpful information about the health risks of these supposed “novelty” sex toy scams; I highly reccommend a visit to Violet’s site.
    Tiny Unsafe Sex Products

  4. Bina says:

    Thanks again, Anthony…very good to know. That’s about what I suspected–it’s a drying agent, meaning that “tight” feeling is the same kind you get if you don’t apply moisturizer in the wintertime. Much more likely an “ouch” than an “ooh”, in other words.
    And yes, that racial stereotyping factor is definitely an “UGH” unto itself. I’m willing to bet that any Asian woman who’s ever used that crap, sorely regretted it (pun intended!)

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