Medical experts have sounded the alarm over soaring rates of labiaplasty, as the preliminary findings of a study show women are increasingly turning to private providers to pursue "designer vaginas."
NHS and private sector professionals have warned that some young women approaching cosmetic surgery companies are depressed or on medication, and are being sold operations without preliminary access to alternative psychological therapies.
Experts carrying out the research at King’s College London also suggest that the so-called "pornification" of modern culture may be driving up surgery rates to unprecedented levels as both men and women have increased exposure to pornographic imagery via the internet. Recent studies have shown sharp rises in the numbers of young people accessing porn.
The King’s study is attempting to find out more about the motivations of women who are increasingly seeking surgery. Professor Linda Cardozo, a gynaecologist, said that the preliminary findings show that while women go to the NHS seeking help with functional problems, such as discomfort during sex, those turning to private companies were often seeking purely cosmetic changes and were placing themselves at risk in a growing industry that is largely unregulated. Experts say the risks of labiaplasty include permanent scarring, infections, bleeding and irritation, as well as increased or decreased sensitivity if nerves get caught in the operation.
"The private sector is not recorded, audited or regulated," says Cardozo. "We have no way of knowing how many surgeries take place there. It’s possible to go on a [surgery] course for $75,000 in the US, come back with your own laser equipment and set up. At least if you have it on the NHS you have to go through your GP and that’s a gatekeeper."
Cardozo also expressed concerns that private providers could be acting irresponsibly by operating on vulnerable women in need of psychological care.
The number of labiaplasty operations in Britain is booming. The surgery is primarily intended to make labia smaller or more symmetrical. Figures released to the Observer show that the Harley Medical Group, a leading cosmetic surgery provider across the UK, received more than 5,000 enquiries for cosmetic gynaecology in 2010, 65% of which were for labial reduction, the rest for tightening and reshaping.
[Source: The (UK) Guardian]