Although it isn’t a new cosmetic surgery, so-called “vaginal rejuvenation” has become on of the most highly publicized procedures that more women are seeking out these days. The combination labiaplasty and vaginoplasty is meant to tighten genital muscles and diminish the appearance of the vulva, literally leaving less to look at — as in the opposite of a breast augmentation.
Despite the unpleasant (and many would argue unnecessary) process involved, “designer vaginas” are on the upswing; the UK alone has witnessed a five-fold increase in women going under the knife in just the last five years. In the United States, precise statistics are harder to gauge, as many patients pay out of pocket at private practices (often between $3,000 and $10,000) for the below-the-belt tucking and tightening. But the motivation behind these usually medically useless surgeries is clear. According to a 2011 review published by the International Society of Sexual Medicine, 87 percent of vaginal rejuvenation patients opt for the surgery for purely aesthetic reasons. And as demonstrated in the following brief timeline, it hasn’t taken much time at all for “designer vaginas” to go from being hush-hush to headline fodder.
1975: Dr. James Burt publishes his book “Surgery of Love” that describes how he performed non-consensual vaginoplasties and hoodectomies (removing the clitoral hood) on women to increase female sexual pleasure since vaginas are, in Burt’s words, “structurally inadequate for intercourse.”
1978: European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology publishes the first paper mentioning medical labiaplasty, “Benign Enlargement of the Labia Minora: Report of two cases.”
1984: Cosmetic vaginal surgery is mentioned in medical literature for the first time in the journal Plastic Reconstructive Surgery.
1989: Dr. Burt’s medical license is revoked after unwitting “Love Surgery” patients filed malpractice suits.
1996: Los Angeles cosmetic surgeon Dr. David Matlock performs his first Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation, which he later patents and trademarks.
1998 - 2000: Vaginoplasty and labiaplasty enter the mainstream with articles published about procedures in Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Salon, with headlines such as “Designer Vaginas.”
2005: Laguna Beach, Calif. plastic surgeon Dr. Red Alinsod invents “The Barbie,” a vaginoplasty procedure that Guernica magazine reports, “results in a ‘clamshell’ aesthetic: a smooth genital area, the outer labia appearing “sealed” together with no labia minora protrusion.”
2007: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issues a warning about the long-term safety of cosmetic vaginoplasties and labiaplasties: “Women should be informed about the lack of data supporting the efficacy of these procedures and their potential complications, including infection, altered sensation, dyspareunia, adhesions, and scarring.”
2009: 53,332 vaginal rejuvenation surgeries are performed in the United States, representing a 50 percent increase from 2008, according to an estimate from the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgeries. More than 60 percent are performed on women between 20 and 39 years old.
2011: British Journal of Medicine study found that 40 percent of women in its sample population wanted to go through with “genital reconstruction” even after being told that their labia were perfectly normal.
2012: The University College Hospital London reported 343 labiaplasties were performed on girls 14 and younger during the past six years. Whether they were for cosmetic or medical reasons was unclear, however.