Vaginal dissatisfaction exposes a lack of diversity in sex education

I’m still trying to scoop my jaw off of my keyboard after viewing this documentary, The Perfect Vagina, in which UK-based writer Lisa Rogers delves into the world of vaginal cosmetic surgery.

Primarily following an adolescent girl and two mothers who are dissatisfied with the shape and size of their vaginas, she documents the frighteningly popular operation known as labiaplasty, a surgical procedure to reduce and/or reshape the labia minora and/or labia majora.

Although the practice of labiaplasty and other surgeries, often lumped under the umbrella of ”vaginal rejuvenation”, are gaining more media hype, they’re certainly not as pronounced as, say, breast augmentation. But this is certainly not a trend to ignore, as more and more women are seeking “designer vaginas.”

While there’s no single culprit for this fascination with vaginal aesthetics, a recent Ms. Magazine article raises the issue that sex education materials don’t show pictures of genitalia, leaving female students to rely on the distorted images of the media to see if their vaginas measure up.

A recent New York Times feature, “Teaching Good Sex,” agrees that sex education materials need to teach young people, among many things, “what real genitals look like.” The images most teens are exposed to come from the porn industry, creating a phenomenon researchers at King’s College London call the “pornification” of modern culture. These images, fully shaved and uniform in shape and size, leave no room for natural and normal variance. And, there’s nothing but trouble when the media is left to dictate what “normal” looks like.

True to form, the porn industry survives by victimizing, devaluing, and reducing women to sexual objects, whilst making them feel abnormal and unattractive — the perfect setup for a new wave of cosmetic extremism to “fix” the manufactured problem.

Sheesh. What’s left? Images of “sexy” internal organs? Surgical procedures for liver-enhancement to win back that firmly toned pre-binge-drinking shape?

It might be difficult to imagine why anyone would go to such an extreme measure as labiaplasty, but as with other forms of cosmetic surgery that don’t treat actual physical discomfort, the hope for improved self-esteem and the allure of of sex appeal seem to be the driving factors which lead some women to fork out an estimated cost of $3,500-$8,000 USD.

Even more alarming are the rates at which the procedure is increasing. Although current data isn’t readily available, in 2009, The British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology revealed that there had been an almost 70% increase in the number of women having labiaplasty from the previous year.

Thankfully, more people are beginning to speak out about this issue. A Brighton-based sculptor created the Great Wall of Vagina, an installation to visually represent the diversity in vaginal shape and size; the European Women’s Lobby hosted a “Muff March Against Labiaplasty” in the UK; and there’s a petition at SignOn.org to monitor and evaluate female genital cosmetic procedures, given that “surgeons are not required to explain real genital diversity or report actual surgical consequences.”

For some women, as noted in the film, exposure to “real” images of female genetalia is enough to remind them that the ideal is simply a false construction. But what about the women and young girls who aren’t exposed to images of diversity, who aren’t told to think for themselves and stand up against any person or industry that tells them they fall short of the beauty standard?

Let’s take this as a reminder that our work is never done — that we must remain vigilant to empower our next generation of girls to resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image.


5 thoughts on “Vaginal dissatisfaction exposes a lack of diversity in sex education

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  1. Great entry Joy. Definitely going to check out that documentary! It’s troubling how pornography skews body image but also sexuality itself. You might want to check out this book Pornland, if you havent already.

  2. This article really struck home with me. I’ve always been ashamed of myself down there because I thought I wasn’t “normal.” It’s a horrible, awful insecurity. Not to mention it would negatively affect my relationships. Thank you for being so bold and honest! (I loved the Great Wall.)

  3. Wow. Great coverage of this topic. It is especially disturbing that the media continues to exploit every single body part on a woman, feeding into their insecurity and trying to appeal to the desire to “perfect” every inch of our physical selves. Incredible. The next thing we know, we’ll be attempting to attain designer toenail beds or elbows.

  4. Following the King’s College London link was a dissappointment:

    So because porn is more available – sick women might take a look and suffer the consequences?
    Sorry guys but if you compare porn and fashion then fashion is a clear winner in stylizing us. In porn everything goes as kink have no boundaries.

    “We haven’t completed the research, but there is suspicion that this is related to much greater access to porn, so it is easier for women to compare themselves to actresses who may have had it done. This is to do with the increasing sexualisation of society – it’s the last part of the body to be changed.”

    Ups, so you haven’t done the research yet. But you are suspicious of porn. Good you’re a doctor or I might have to doubt it’s science.

    The “last part” sentence is just a matter of lacking imagination and fashion history. There’s still a lot of fashion to be made out of say our bone shapes. What a picture: shaping our bodies like in the computer games. Women with an extra half meter lean legs towering with wasp waist and zeppeliner cup sizes over men muscular like bulls on short legs.

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