The number of teenage girls requesting cosmetic surgery to shape their external genitalia has increased so much recently that some gynecologists are becoming concerned, reports The New York Times. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even released a statement from their committee on adolescent healthcare asking doctors to suggest alternatives to this type of surgery, and screen these patients for a mental health disorder that causes obsession over perceived physical abnormalities.
The procedure, known as labiaplasty, is marketed towards adults as "vaginal rejuvenation," but is aimed at women who are older or who have given birth in order to tighten the inner and outer muscles of the vagina. Yet gynecologists say teenage girls are asking for the procedure every week, usually for cosmetic reasons.
Most gynecologists do not advocate the procedure for young women. Dr. Julie Strickland, the chairwoman of A.C.O.G.'s committee on adolescent health care, told NYT "It [labiaplasty] should not be entertained until growth and development is complete."
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One of the biggest issues here is that there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to cosmetic genital surgery, with the labia in particular. The labia have a lot of nerve endings in them and the effects of surgery could lead to a loss of sensitivity, pain or scarring. As of 2014, the A.C.O.G committee's opinion is that cosmetic vaginal procedures have not been proven safe, and could cause serious complications.
So, why are so many adolescent girls asking for this surgery? Some doctors believe it has to do with the fact that most teenage girls in the U.S. wax or shave their pubic hair, exposing the genital area. Today, nude photos and videos are easily accessible online, but those images are often airbrushed or altered in some way, giving young women a false sense of what typical female genitalia looks like.
The A.C.O.G committee statement urges doctors to examine patients who request this surgery for a mental health condition that causes obsession over imagined physical defects, but some doctors, like Dr. Jennifer Walden of Austin, Tex., disagree that the desire for labiaplasty has anything to do with a disorder. She told NYT "If they're coming to a cosmetic surgeon, they do not like the cosmetic appearance of it. But that often goes hand in hand with a functional element in teenagers as well."
Dr. Veronica Gomez-Lobo, the director of Pediatric and Adolescent Ob/Gyn at MedStar Washington Hospital Center explains that there are also cases of some teenage girls getting labiaplasty due to chronic pain. One girl had to quit her school's basketball team because she experienced consistent pain and swelling in her labia. Her reasons for wanting the surgery were not at all cosmetic.