That it should be necessary for leading gynaecologists to stipulate that no labial-reduction surgery should be carried out on the NHS, except in rare cases of clinical necessity, raises as many questions as it answers.
The number of such procedures conducted has shot up fivefold over the past decade in the health service alone. The tally of private operations is likely to be higher still. Yet there are few circumstances in which labial surgery is required, and even then, the evidence of its effectiveness is limited. Patients’ concerns are, it appears, almost entirely cosmetic.
This newspaper instinctively supports the individual’s right to choose, particularly when it comes to their own body. What we do not support is taxpayers’ footing the bill. The strictures outlined by two high-level doctors’ groups yesterday are, then, to be welcomed. Not only are there to be no more labial-reduction procedures on the NHS; the option should not be offered to under-18s in any event, in either the health service or private practice.
The matter does not end there, though. First, there is a question for the NHS about why these rulings are needed at all. It is difficult to justify the provision of any cosmetic procedure where there is no clinical need and no disfigurement to remedy. In cases of female-genital surgery, where the healthiness of the patients’ motivations must be questionable, it is trickier still.
For those who can pay for it, there will still be plenty of opportunities in the private sector. The tragedy, of course, is that so many should feel they need to. That women are still routinely pressured to consider their appearance above all things is no revelation. What is so disturbing is that the situation appears to be getting worse rather than better.
Ubiquitous (often surgically modified) internet pornography is leaving some women with a grossly distorted relationship with their own bodies. Pernicious advertising of labiaplasty as a risk-free “lifestyle choice” by disreputable cosmetic surgeons at once compounds and exploits the problem. Rules on NHS procedures are a good start. But those governing the marketing of cosmetic procedures also need review.