Labiaplasty is one of the fastest-growing forms of surgery. But do you really need it? Leading gynaecologist Dr Ahmed Ismail explains that all vaginas are different and unless yours is causing you pain or discomfort, it’s perfect as it is. Please note, this story contains graphic images, and below, editor Anna Magee explains why
Editor’s note: When I read about a 49 per cent rise in labiplasty in the US between 2013 and 2014, I was not only astounded but a little saddened too. What’s fueling this rush toward changing a part of ourselves that can not only bring a baby into the world but deliver mind-blowing orgasms? What piece of machinery can achieve that? Is the accessibility of pornography behind the rise? Is it surgeons themselves encouraging us to chase an idea of the perfect vagina in the same way some of us chase the ideal of the perfect body? Certainly, labiaplasty as a procedure is promoted repeatedly by cosmetic surgeon’s PR companies and I often receive press releases claiming that Dr X can help improve a woman’s confidence by reconfiguring her down there. But why should we feel insecure about our vaginas? I’ve certainly never had anyone tell me mine is anything but beautiful (and it doesn’t look like most porn stars’!) It’s since made me wonder ‘Is my vagina normal?’ ‘Does it look and function the way a vagina should?’ But nowhere online – outside the vast pornography industry – could I find a picture of a real healthy vagina. So I decided to ask a gynaecologist the question of ‘what makes a vagina normal?’ and to be brave in publishing images of real vaginas (I ummed and ahhed about this for a long time). It’s not meant to shock or upset you but to simply show an image of something real and dispel the idea that a vagina should look a certain way. I hope I’ve done the right thing. Write and tell me what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org. Now Dr Harley Street gynaecologist Dr Ahmed Ismail, answers my question. He says:
With so much emphasis in the media on perfecting one’s body, celebrities’ bodies and so on, many women are becoming increasingly self-analytical of their own bodies, questioning their ‘normality’ and comparing themselves unnecessarily to others when in fact their bodies are perfectly normal and healthy. One question that women regularly ask me is ‘Is my vagina normal?’
1. There’s no such thing as the perfect-looking vagina
It is important to clarify that every woman’s vagina is different. There is no such thing as one size, shape or colour fits all; and there is no ideal. The vulva and vagina are parts of the human body which, in a similar way to human’s other body parts including their nose, thighs, buttocks, breasts and so on, will present a variation amongst individuals. Here are three examples:
There is no such thing as one size, shape or colour fits all; and there is no ideal.
The size of the vulva, its shape, length, colour, size and thickness are all variable among women. Some are pink, some pale white, some dark brown. Sometimes they are fatter, sometimes they are thin. Sometimes, the length of the vulva extends to the upper part of the inner thigh, and other times it will extend much lower. All are normal.
Sometimes, the length of the vulva extends to the upper part of the inner thigh, and other times it will extend lower. All are normal.
The forehead of the clitori can also vary. For some women, it is wrinkled and long, for others it is smooth and short.
The colour and shape of the labia can also differ. For some women, the edges appear similar in colour to the rest of the labia, whereas, in other women their lips (in both the labia majora or outer lips and the labia minora or inner lips) can show some darker discolouration, highlighting the edge of the labia. Similarly, sometimes the length of the labia minora is longer than the labia majora and vice-versa.
2. Unless you’re in pain, you probably don’t need a labiaplasty
Women in fact pay particular attention to their labia, and I am often asked ‘what is the ‘normal length’? The simple answer is that there is no right or wrong length. It is personal preference as what may appear to be beautiful to one person may not be aesthetically pleasing to another. It is also relative to cultural variations.
As long as the area is clean, healthy and comfortable for the woman, it is perfectly normal. That said there is a pathological (medically problematic) length in which a woman’s labia may be so long that it interferes with her clothing (for example, when wearing tight swimming costumes or cycling shorts) or causes her to experience discomfort or pain during sex from pulling. In these cases, we can perform a labia reduction.
If you are considering a labia reduction, it needs to be performed with the maximum care and by an experienced gynaecologist
At The London Gynaecology Clinic, we have an extremely high success rate in this area; however it is important to mention that, if you are considering a labia reduction, it needs to be performed with the maximum care and by an experienced gynaecologist for good end results.
3. Your vagina will change with age
Throughout your life, your body will experience different physiological and hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, birth and menopause and naturally the vagina and vulva will change. This is natural but it can be improved by certain gynaecological cosmetic interventions if it’s upsetting you.
My advice is this: unless you notice an abnormality, don’t be over-analytical towards your vagina.
As with over-examination of any part of your body, the labia will change over time due to loss of elasticity and collagen. My advice is this: unless you notice an abnormality, don’t be over-analytical towards your vagina. Always look at it from a glance, rather than at close range and feel confident about yourself.
4. Don’t compare yours with other women’s
Over the years of my experience of examining patients of all nationalities worldwide all vaginas are different. However, there are some very clear ethnic shape-related vulva and vaginal variations. Therefore, if a woman from China for example tries to compare her vulva with that of an Eastern European woman, she will definitely see a big difference between herself and others.
Treating patients from every part of the planet and all ethnicities, I can categorically say that they are all different
With this in mind, ethnic variations mean that the word ‘pretty’ is relative will not apply to vaginas in the same way for all ethnic groups. Eastern European people may think that Chinese women’s vaginas are too tight and small; whereas Chinese people may think that Russian women’s vaginas and vulvas are too big. Therefore, it is unfair for women to compare their vagina to other women of different age groups, ethnicities, or even to their own vagina at an earlier stage of life. It will not be the same but that does not mean that it isn’t perfectly healthy, normal and aesthetically pleasing.
5. If it’s clean and healthy, it’s perfect
Overall, having specialized in the field of gynaecology and obstetrics for over 25 years, treating patients from every part of the planet and all ethnicities, I can categorically say that vaginas are all different, with some specific general shape of certain ethnic groups. There is no right or wrong shape, size or colour; except if we examine and detect abnormality or the woman herself finds that she is not pleased with what she has. If this is the case, it is possible for an experienced gynaecologist to advise on changes.
There is no right or wrong shape, size or colour; except if we examine and detect abnormality
I have seen many women patients who have requested a labia reduction or increased clitori exposure to remove the skin covering it and, most of the time, the examination was very clear: her vagina is absolutely normal and there is no reason for her to be concerned. Some women still insist on a labia reduction even if it appears to be normal.
If it makes her feel more comfortable and confident within herself, we will perform them on patients’ requests. However, it is important to note that this is due to the woman’s own personal vaginal preferences, in a similar way to if she requested a rhinoplasty (nose job) or breast reduction.
As long as your vagina is clean and healthy, feel confident about yourself and your vagina. It is perfect.
Dr. Ahmed Ismail is one of the world’s most respected Gynaecology and Obstetrics Consultants, specialising in fertility. As the Founder of Queens Gynaecology Clinic (Harley Street) and The London Gynaecology Clinic (75-6 Wimpole Street), Dr. Ismail regularly comments on health issues in The House of Lords and is on the British Panel of Experts in Gynaecology and Obstetrics; the British Panel of Lead Physicians.
For more live information on Dr. Ismail follow his Twitter:@doctoraismail