Doctors call for end to state-funded 'designer vaginas' after huge rise in procedures 'driven by online porn'
- Number of labiaplasty procedures on NHS have risen five-fold in past decade
- In the past five years more than 250 girls under 14 have had it done
- Experts warn women are influenced by 'neat' genital appearance in porn
Thousands of women and girls have undergone procedures for 'designer vaginas' in the past five years because internet porn is distorting perceptions of what is normal, doctors have warned.
In the past decade, cases of genital cosmetic surgery have risen five-fold and more than 2,000 women are now having the procedure on the NHS each year.
Over the past five years more than 250 such procedures were performed on girls under the age of 14, NHS figures show.
Thousands of women and girls have undergone procedures for 'designer vaginas' in the past five years because internet porn is distorting perceptions of what is normal, doctors warned (picture posed by model)
But experts warned this was merely the 'tip of the iceberg' since private cosmetic surgeons are not required to contribute records for official figures.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) today proposed restrictions on the procedures in both NHS and private clinics.
The most common kind of female cosmetic surgery is labiaplasty, in which the size of the patient's labia minora is reduced. This can be done on legitimate medical grounds, as a treatment for women with concerns about hygiene, difficulties during sex, or discomfort duing exercise.
But Dame Suzi Leather, chairman of the Royal College's ethics committee, said the recent rise in cases had been 'fuelled in part by the mass media and inaccurate advertising'.
'Some women are requesting it solely for cosmetic reasons and these decisions are not always being made on an informed understanding of the normal variations that exist, but influenced by images from popular culture and the pornography industry,' she said.
'We need to inform women that everyone is unique and that variation in appearance is normal in the vast majority of cases.'
Thomas Baldwin, a philosopher who also sits on ethics committee, added: 'The misapprehension arises from the prominence of just one type of "neat" genital appearance, the type to be found prominently depicted in pornography.'
But complications from the surgery are common, with ruptures reported in a third of cases and NHS doctors reporting seeing women who have suffered complications caused by private-sector surgery.
There is also a lack of research into the long-term risks posed by labiaplasty, the report warns. Some women who have undergone the procedure can suffer damage to sexual function and discomfort when wearing tight clothes.
In the short term, risks can include bleeding and wound infection.
Labiaplasty: Complications from the surgery are common, with ruptures reported in a third of cases and NHS doctors reporting seeing women who have suffered complications caused by private-sector surgery
The RCOG's ethics committee warned that teenage girls could be undergoing unnecessary surgery that is anatomically not much different from female genital mutilation.
According to NHS figures cited by the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology (BritSPAG), 266 girls under the age of 14 had genital surgery between 2008 and 2012, which was carried out 'for unknown reasons and with unknown consequences'.
The society warned that undergoing labiaplasty surgery before puberty is complete can lead to long-term problems.
'The younger a girl begins her labiaplasty trajectory, the higher the number of operations over her lifetime and the greater the risk of scarring and sensitivity loss,' the report said.
'The younger a girl begins her labiaplasty trajectory, the higher the number of operations over her lifetime and the greater the risk of scarring and sensitivity loss'
Instead teenage girls should be told 'unambiguously' when they have normal genitals; those showing signs of psychological problems related to their body image should be directed to paediatric psychologists, it says.
Experts also said that surgery should not be conducted on the NHS unless it is a medical requirement and that private surgeons should give women information on the normal range of genital appearance.
Consultant plastic surgeon Paul Banwell, from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said he welcomed the new guidelines.
But he told the BBC that clinicians should be sensitive to potential problems.
'An asymmetrical labia can lead to functional problems as well as aesthetic problems. Over 50 per cent of my patients see me due to functional reasons,' he said.
'Only a small proportion are there for purely aesthetic reasons.'
However, he did concede that he had seen the number of patients requesting the procedure soar in recent years.
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