Hundreds of girls aged 14 or under are having ‘designer vagina’ surgery
Hundreds of young girls are having ‘designer vagina’ surgery on the NHS, say researchers.
Figures show 343 operations were performed on girls aged 14 or under in the last six years, possibly for cosmetic reasons.
The procedures involve reshaping female genitalia and requests may be granted on the grounds that the problem is psychologically damaging.
Researchers from University College Hospital, London, led by Dr Sarah Creighton, claim it is ‘disturbing’ that there is no minimum age limit for the surgery.
They say demand may be growing for such procedures because of poor and inaccurate information available on the internet, usually from private clinics.
Websites of companies that provide female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) make ‘unsubstantiated claims’ about the benefits of the procedures.
They also use confusing terminology and do not highlight surgical risks, according to the research published in BMJ Open.
A survey of 10 websites found little information was given on short-term or long-term surgical risks either from individual clinics and their surgeons or from the medical literature.
‘’Unsubstantiated claims of physical, psychological and sexual benefits were present on every website’ said consultant gynaecologist Dr Creighton.
‘The absence of a lower age limit for any of the FGCS procedures is most disturbing of all’ she said.
Labiaplasties, which are operations to reshape the labia, the inner lips of the vagina, have become increasingly common, often because women are dissatisfied with their appearance.
Dr Creighton said her research cannot confirm whether some girls are having medically unnecessary surgery.
She said ‘In the past six years, 343 labiaplasties were performed in the UK NHS on girls aged 14 or under.
‘The indications for surgery in this group of children are unknown, but labial anomalies requiring surgical interventions are extremely rare.
‘In a recent observational study of referral patterns, girls as young as nine years with normal labia had presented for labiaplasty.
‘The labia minora change as part of normal pubertal growth, with development completed as the individual approaches adulthood.
‘Given the fact that anatomy continues to change throughout the lifespan, the younger a girl begins her FGCS journey the higher the number of lifetime operations and the greater and more multiple the risks’ she said.
Dr Creighton added ‘The NHS collects information about the number of these procedures and the age range but there is no requirement to record the reasons for them.
‘We do not know what they have been done for, we can only speculate and more information is needed.’
Dr Creighton said it would be impossible to ban such operations on girls under 14 on the NHS because of the possibility that they were medically necessary.
‘But we should have great caution about offering any genital surgery to girls under the age of 18’ she added.
Dr Creighton says it is difficult for doctors to refuse to operate if the patient argues they perceive the problem as being psychologically damaging although her clinic rejects such cases and operates only to correct medical or congenital abnormalities.
A study last year revealed more than 2,000 women a year are receiving labial reduction or reshaping operations on the NHS, with thousands more performed in the private sector at costs running into thousands of pounds.
Some experts say the demand is driven by the pornography industry and explicit reality TV shows where all female performers have perfectly symmetrical body parts.
Lih-Mei Liao, a clinical psychologist at University College Hospital, and a co-researcher on the BMJ survey, has carried out studies into the growing phenomenon.
‘She reviewed 33 women, with an average age of 23, who were referred to the hospital for NHS labial reduction surgery between 2007 and 2010.
‘They were turned away by gynaecologists who said they did not need an operation, with the result that a number said they would pay to have it done privately.
‘Dr Liao said at the time that the study showed a disturbing trend.
‘She said ‘It is nothing to do with a recognisable disease or condition.
‘‘There is something cultural going on about what women think about the way their genitals appear to themselves or their partners.’
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: ‘There is no such thing as a designer vagina on the NHS.
‘Of course there is cosmetic surgery carried out on the NHS, but this is only for patients who have a clinical need for it – absolutely not for those who would simply like to have it done.’
Posted on November 22, 2012, in Articles, News and tagged BMJ, Creighton, Department of Health, designer vagina, Genital modification and mutilation, London, NHS, surgery, University College Hospital. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.