London: A research charity has launched an animated film with the aim to encourage debates about the surge of women seeking “designer vaginas”.
The film called ‘Centrefold’, funded by the Wellcome Trust, features three women discussing how labiaplasty - the surgical reduction of the inner labia - has affected them.
Last year more than 2000 labiaplasties were carried out on the NHS, and in the last five years there has been a fivefold increase.
Experts believe that the total number is likely to be much higher when considering the unregulated private sector, where the surgery costs upwards of 3,000 pounds.
Despite the increase in labiaplasty, there are no universal NHS guidelines on the size and shape of normal female genitalia.
Researchers have said that there is little known knowledge about the long term effects and are concerned that women are not receiving enough psychological support before opting for surgery.
Many NHS trusts consider the surgery a low clinical priority procedure and will not routinely fund it.
Dr Lih-Mei Liao, a consultant clinical psychologist at University College London Hospitals, said that women seeking labiaplasty need more opportunity to discuss their concerns.
“Worries about the labia are quintessentially psychological. When a woman says she is worried about her labia, surgeons may hear the word ‘labia’ and operate, I hear the word ‘worry’,” the BBC quoted Liao as saying.
“It’s difficult when surgery is being advertised as a straight forward solution. It makes it hard for these women to engage psychologically with what’s going on,” she said.
She added that psychologists “simply aren’t being accessed as surgery is being presented as the obvious solution”.
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons is calling for mandatory psychological screening before cosmetic surgery. It said a recent report found that routine psychological checks were carried out in fewer than 35 percent of clinics.
Dr Liao believes that a woman’s anxiety or dissatisfaction with certain areas of her life may manifest itself as body image concerns.
“Surgery may have its place, but it needs to be seen as an extreme solution,” she added.
Consultant gynaecologist Dr Sarah Creighton said her clinic sees girls as young as 11 years old seeking surgery.
She found that although a small percentage of women do have abnormal labia, in the majority of cases those with concerns had what she would consider a normal sized labia.
The trend for more extreme pubic grooming leaves the labia more exposed - something which has contributed to more women seeking surgery, Dr Creighton said.