A recent study published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology edition of the online journal BMJ Open has shown a disturbing amount of inaccurate and misleading information regarding the growing trend of “designer vaginas.” This term refers to female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) procedures, such as altering the shape of the labia, for women who wish to change the way their genitals look. In this study, researchers searched online for private providers of FGCS services and examined the top 5 UK and U.S. websites found. Their goal was to determine the breadth, depth, and quality of information provided by examining 16 information categories, including the types of procedures offered, success rates, and risks involved. In studying these websites, researchers identified 72 different procedures offered, although a lack of standard terminology made it difficult to determine an exact number.
The websites studied seemed to prey on women’s unfounded fears about the appearance or cleanliness of the vagina. Three of the websites claimed that labial surgery prevents infection and reduces odor, while other sites suggested that labial reduction makes the vagina “sleeker” and “more appealing.” Several of the websites even promised an increase in sexual pleasure following cosmetic surgery. However, the researchers dismiss these claims, stating that they are unsubstantiated and that there are no well-planned long-term studies on the outcomes of FGCS procedures. Only two of the websites included success rates, which ranged from 95% to 100%, although there was no information about what defined success. While all ten of the websites included information about risks, they were significantly downplayed, and four of the websites failed to specifically list any. Another disturbing finding was the failure of all the websites studied to include a lower age limit for these types of procedures (Science Blog).
Although this a small study, it demonstrates the shortcomings of the information currently being offered by private providers of FGCS procedures. The authors highlight the importance of creating a set of guidelines regarding FGCS procedures, and improving the standards of providing information so that women can make fully informed and safe decisions.