Private answer

Deirdre Reynolds asks if the porn industry is driving the growing demand for perfect vaginas.

Private answer

FIRST Brazilian waxing, then vajazzling and now plastic surgery for prettier privates.

Just when you thought it was safe to uncross your legs, cosmetic vaginal surgery is soaring here according to the latest statistics, with one clinic reporting a 5,000% increase in bookings.

Meanwhile, feminist author Naomi Wolf ’s new book, Vagina: A New Biography — which explores the link between a woman’s vagina and her brain — is set to get women thinking about their’s too.

Better known as ‘cosmetic gynaecology’ in the States, vaginal rejuvenation procedures include:

¦ labiaplasty (trimming or removing inner labia)

¦ vaginoplasty (tightening the vagina) and

¦ hymenoplasty (“revirgination”).

And just like Katie Price, who famously revealed her plans to get her “fanny done” for ex-husband Peter Andre, it seems hundreds of Irish women are also braving eyewatering nip tuck down there.

“It does seem to me to be connected to the trend toward hairless women’s genitals in that it is definitely influenced by a porn aesthetic,” says Wolf, who also wrote The Beauty Myth.

“In my new book, I interviewed a surgeon who specialises in vaginal surgery who says that women sometimes hand him pages torn out of porn magazines to show what they want.”

At River Medical in Dublin, Clane and Waterford, labiaplasty is up a mind-boggling 5,000% in the past decade.

When consultant plastic surgeon Dr Labros Chatzis first began performing labiaplasty in Ireland he helped approximately one woman a year. Now he sees one a week.

Just don’t mention the words ‘designer vagina’.

“There is a misconception that labiaplasty is purely cosmetic,” says Dr Chatzis. “But it’s less of a cosmetic procedure that a nose job.

“Women don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I don’t like the way I look down there’. Many are experiencing serious problems. It’s not just the sheer size that’s the problem, but the symmetry.

“Can you imagine one [labium] that is three times bigger than the other? It can cause immense physical and psychological problems.”

Labiaplasty takes about an hour and a half and costs approximately €4,500.

In Ireland, like all cosmetic surgery, it is generally not covered by health insurance “unless it is deemed to be medically necessary due to an acute medical requirement such as post-trauma reconstruction,” says a spokesperson for Aviva Health Insurance. For women who’ve suffered agonising genital tears however, the investment is worth every cent, says Dr Chatzis.

“With labiaplasty, you basically trim the labia minora (inner labia), taking care to avoid the clitoral area,” he says.

“The purpose of the labia major (outer labia) is to protect the inner labia, made of mucosa, and the purpose of both labia is to protect the vaginal opening. In cases where the inner labia is much bigger than the outer labia, then they’re not protected.

“So you have something that should not be exposed, fully exposed, which can cause friction, discomfort and infection when having sex, playing sports or just wearing jeans.”

In theory, women can walk in off the street for cosmetic gynaecology — which also includes the G-Shot, an injection of collagen into the G-spot said to heighten sexual pleasure.

In practice, most are referred by their GPs or word of mouth, says Aisling Holly of The Hospital Group — which has clinics in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Belfast.

“Women are not as shy of talking about what they’ve had done,” says managing director Holly. “Cosmetic vaginal surgery has become much more accepted, especially post-pregnancy.

“We used to have a huge 18-25 breast augmentation market, now we get a lot more over-35s investing in themselves with double procedures, such as a tummy tuck and breast lift or vaginoplasty and labiaplasty.

“Most women who’ve been through childbirth twice or three times tend to benefit from a procedure like vaginoplasty.

“This year alone we’ve had 50 patients for labiaplasty (€5,000) in Ireland and referred 15 more to our clinic in Britain for vaginoplasty (€4,000) and hymen restitching (€3,000).”

When it comes to their genitals, women are more than likely to be informed by their other half ’s porn collection, usually featuring girls with barely-there labias — a type of labiaplasty dubbed ‘the Barbie’ in LA because of its smooth look.

“The number of women watching porn today is huge,” says psychotherapist David Kavanagh of Avalon Relationship Consultants. “Either because they want to watch it or they feel under pressure to do so by their partner. What they’re seeing is women with particular shaped genitals, which they now believe to be ‘perfect’ — and that’s a major problem.

“The way society discusses sexuality is very male-oriented,” he adds.

“Whether for better or worse, the porn industry has given women preconceptions of what they should look like,” admits Aisling Holly of The Hospital Group. “You do get some very controlling husbands who want to control the size and shape of their partner. We’ve had women come in for a breast augmentation consultation where the partner does all the talking, like, ‘I want her to be a DD’.

“We always bring women in for two consultations so they are psychologically and physically suitable for surgery, and that the results will match their expectations.”

In Britain, the first study of 33 women seeking labiaplasty (whose average age was 23), found they all had normal-sized labia and less than 10% had significant asymmetry for which surgery would be appropriate.

Nonetheless, 40% of them still wanted the operation “to improve appearance” of their nether regions, according to the results published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

“The overwhelming majority of women who think that there is something wrong with their labia have completely normal labia and the porn trend — which features surgically altered women (altered to look, creepily, more like little girls) is part of the distortions in their perception of themselves,” says Naomi Wolf.

“We have to make people understand that the vagina, just like other parts of the body, comes in various shapes and sizes,” says Dr Labros Chatzis of River Medical. “There isn’t any standard size for a nose, breast or penis — so why should there be for a labia?

“My rejection rate [for labiaplasty] is about 30%,” he says. “If a woman’s labia is in the range that is considered normal — if the problem is in their mind, then I will say to them very politely that I don’t think they need the procedure and refuse to do it.”

Elsewhere, ‘clitoroplexy’ (clitoral hood reduction for aesthetic or sexual reasons) has drawn uncomfortable parallels to ‘cliterodectomy’ (partial or total removal of the clitoris) — defined as female genital mutilation by the World Health Organisation — carried out for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.

So why do women let a scalpel near their most sensitive parts? “Down there is no different to the face in how it ages,” says Aisling Holly. “It sags and can be uncomfortable, so why not? Just because you’ve had a family, it doesn’t mean your sex life should be over.”

“Women have a right to enjoy sex,” agrees relationship expert David Kavanagh. “So if women want to have an operation to tighten their vagina to give them back a sense of sexual pleasure that childbirth may have taken away, I think that’s a positive step.”

Down under

We asked four women if they were happy with their vagina:

¦ Jennifer, 29, no children: “I get a Brazilian bikini wax and use tampons, so I have a fairly good idea of what my vagina looks like up close. It’s not exactly my best feature, but from what I can tell it looks normal enough, so I wouldn’t consider plastic surgery.”

¦ Maria, 26, no children: “I used to think that my labia was much bigger than everyone else’s — it gets even bigger during sex. Then I Googled labiaplasty to see what it was about. Now I don’t think mine is so bad, and my boyfriend doesn’t have any complaints either.”

¦ Niamh, 31, pregnant with first child: “At seven months pregnant, my stomach is so big now that I can’t see down there even if I wanted to. I’m not too bothered by what my vagina looks like. The only people who ever see it are my husband and obstetrician/gynaecologist.”

¦ Sinead, 33, one child six months old: “Since having my first child in February, things have definitely changed down there. I’ve been doing my pelvic floor exercises, but I don’t see any point in having cosmetic surgery to tighten things up as I’d like to have more children down the line.”

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