30 years ago women had pubic hair, pornography was something on the back shelves of newsagents, and for the most part vulvas were kept under wraps.
Fast-forward to a new era with minimalistic pubic hair and g-strings smaller than dental floss and suddenly everything is on display.
Who knows how much thought previous generations gave labia but labiaplasty, the trimming of excess, unwanted labial flesh is a surgery that has gone from non-existent to the top three body surgeries requested by women. Although some procedures are required for medical reasons, majority of them are purely aesthetic.
It seems women are giving their vaginal appearance a lot of thought. Particularly after they have had vaginal births, and believe they no longer look or feel the same.
Cosmetic surgeon from Melbourne’s Me Clinic, Doctor Ashley Granot, has witnessed this meteoric rise in the last five to 10 years.
“Something large goes through that area, stretching it to Billy-o, so what happens is the labia gets stretched out. If they’re lucky it goes back to where it was, but it doesn’t really go back to where it was,” says Granot. “For many people it is not of great material, but for some people? Maybe a husband says something? It feels different? It looks different?”
Naturally, partners play a great role in our confidence, but also what we see as ‘normal’ in the media or porn industry also plays a part.
“Unfortunately what happens in the media is women are depicted as if they don’t have an inner labia, so women feel a loss of confidence or motivation to have sex if they appear different,” says Granot.
Relationship therapist and sexologist, Isiah McKimmie, speaks with many female clients who feel self-conscious about the appearance of their vulva, which negatively impacts their sex life. She believes that bringing vulvas out of the dark is a great place to start.
“I've found that by educating women about the range of what ‘normal’ actually is and showing them some of the books I have displaying a variety of vulvas they become much more confident about how they look,” Isiah says. “Some of my clients have even changed their minds about wanting surgery when they have a better understanding.”
Vaginal appearance diversity is not something openly discussed, but if insecurities are driving us to such lengths as surgery, perhaps it’s time we started.
“Genitals, like bodies, come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. It is possible to love your body and feel confident at any size and regardless of the shape of your genitals,” continues Isiah.
General practitioner, Doctor Magdalena Simonis, is a women’s health specialist who has spent many years working with vaginas and has seen the tapestry of appearance diversity that is out there. In fact, she helped to create a reference library for women to understand this diversity themselves.
“We have the Labia Library that is born out of research and Women’s Health Victoria. The two key areas we thought needed to be addressed was women’s lack of knowledge and their vulnerability,” says Doctor Simonis.
By giving access to images of real life vulvas to women, we are empowering them to understand that ‘normal’ is a very broad term.
The labia forms part of our primordial phallus and is enriched with nerve endings, trimming this skin may result in more than your bargain for.
“The so-called research [into surgery] isn’t evidence based research. A lot of it is anecdotal research from surgeons who are promoting their own business,” tells Doctor Simonis. “How are they five years down the track? How are they if they give birth? Are there issues of scarring? Is there reduced sensitivity? Reduced lubrication? What happens as the vagina atrophies as we reach menopause? What are the impacts down there down the track?”
We have the technology to make aesthetic changes if we desire them, but surgery should never be undertaken without great thought and research.