'Designer vagina' boom: Unnecessary, harmful operation not to be offered to girls under age of 18, say experts

The NHS carried out 2,000 labial reductions in 2010, but this could be just 'the tip of the iceberg' as private clinics do not have to record data

Female cosmetic genital surgery – so-called “designer vagina” operations – are almost always unnecessary, can be harmful, and should not be offered to girls under the age of 18, leading experts have said.

More and more women, including adolescents, are seeking the procedures because of a “distorted” image of what is normal presented in popular culture, pornography, and private clinic’s own advertisements, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) Ethics Committee said.

The number of labial reductions – the most common procedure – carried out by the NHS has increased five-fold in the past decade, with 2,000 performed in 2010. But this could be just “the tip of the iceberg” because private clinics do not have to record data, according to joint reports from RCOG and the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology (BritSPAG).

Experts said the procedures should not be offered to under-18s except in extremely rare circumstances where it was medically necessary, and should not be offered to anyone on the NHS without a clear medical justification.

Clinicians also need to do more to inform women about natural variations in genital appearance, said Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the RCOG Ethics Committee.

“Providing patients with a much more accurate range of what is normal will help them make more informed choices,” said. “If you are anxious about your genitals and you look things up on the internet you either come across advertisements for cosmetic surgery or you come across pornography. You don’t come across information on what normal, healthy vulvas can look like.”

There was also a lack of reliable evidence that such procedures have a positive outcome for women who report feeling discomfort when wearing tight clothes or during sex, experts said.

NHS figures do not show the reasons women sought out cosmetic genital surgery, nor what the outcome was. However, BritSPAG said there had been no increase in “incidence of labial pathology” that could account for the increased number of operations.

Dame Suzi said she was particularly concerned that girls under 18 were being offered the procedures, as the risks of complications are higher if surgery is performed before full genital development has been completed.

Between 2008 and 2012, 266 labial reductions were performed on girls under 14 in the NHS, according to official statistics. 

Paul Banwell, a consultant plastic surgeon and member of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said that the number of under 18s offered labiaplasty at his clinics was “very small” and said all patients were told their anatomy was normal. However, the operation could have “quality of life benefits”, he added.

“We have to be sensitive of the fact that, just as some ladies have large breasts and want smaller breasts, exactly the same thing can happen with the labia. There is a role for the operation and patients will benefit,” he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

    £25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

    £25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas