Girls Under 10 Are Now Asking For Vagina Surgery

Photo: Ashley Armitage
Young girls are increasingly seeking surgery on their vaginas – known as labiaplasty – because of concerns over how they look. In some cases, girls as young as nine are asking for the operation despite having no medical need for it.
The NHS says labiaplasty, which involves shortening or reshaping the lips of the vagina, shouldn’t be carried out on girls under 18. But more than 200 such girls had the surgery in 2015-16, with more than 150 of those under 15, according to NHS figures.
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Dr. Naomi Crouch, chair of the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology, said that while GPs are referring increasing numbers of young girls for the operation, she has never come across a girl who needed it for medical reasons.
"Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, 'I just hate it, I just want it removed,' and for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body – especially a part that's intimate – is very upsetting," she told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show.
Paquita de Zulueta, a GP with more than 30 years’ experience, also said she’d noticed a rise in girls being distressed by the appearance of their labia in the last few years, and blamed pornography and social media for peddling unrealistic images of female bodies. A survey of GPs published last year in BMJ Open also found that more young girls were inquiring about the procedure.
"I'm seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there's something wrong with their vulva – that they're the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust,” Dr. De Zulueta told the BBC. "Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It's very normal for the lips to protrude."
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One girl in her 20s, given the pseudonym Anna, told the BBC she considered having the surgery when she was 14 but later changed her mind – and was glad she did because she now realises she looks "totally normal".
"I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn't neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to be smaller. People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out," she said.
"I thought that was what everyone else looked like, because I hadn't seen any normal everyday [images] before then. I remember thinking, 'If there's surgery for it, then clearly I'm not the only one who wants this done, and maybe it won't be that big a deal'."
More needs to be done to educate girls from a young age that "just as we all look different in our faces – we all look different down there, and that's OK," Dr. De Zulueta added.
NHS England says it only carries out the procedure for clinical conditions – not cosmetic reasons which, Dr. De Zulueta said, leads girls to exaggerate their physical symptoms to get surgery. "There is awareness that they're more likely to get the operation if they say it's interfering with sex, with sport, they feel that will tick that box," she said.
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Dr. Crouch said she found it difficult to believe that "there are 150 girls with a medical abnormality which means they needed an operation on their labia," adding that labiaplasty should only be carried out in those circumstances.
She compared the procedure to female genital mutilation (FGM), which is illegal in the UK. "The law says we shouldn't perform these operations on developing bodies for cultural reasons. Current Western culture is to have very small lips, tucked inside. I see this as the same thing."
In the UK, most labiaplasties are carried out on women over 18 by private cosmetic surgeons for between £1,000-£3,000 (not including the cost of consultations or follow-up care).
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