Women will take to the streets of New York next week in what could be the start of a global protest movement against controversial cosmetic surgery operations for female genitals including “Laser vaginal Rejuvenation”, “Designer vaginoplasty” and “Cosmetic Labiaplasty”.

In response to an expanding g-nital cosmetic surgery industry in the US, a small group call the New View campaign will hold their first protest outside a surgery in New York on Monday, calling for more research into potential harms, which may include scarring, chronic pain, loss of sensation, and reduced er-tic pleasure.

While the operations are promoted with such claims as restoring that youthful “look and feel” and “enhancement of s-xual gratification“, according to the protestors straight-talking language the procedures can involve “partial or full amputation of, or injecting fat into, the labia”, and “cutting the muscles in and around the v-gina, stitching them back together and burning off the excess skin.”

Campaign spokesperson Dr Leonore Tiefer says these procedures would be labelled “female g-nital mutilation in other parts of the world”. Tiefer, a psychologist with a position at New York University told Crikey the cosmetic surgery industry is capitalising on women’s insecurities, and the growth of this new “body surveillance” could lead to more depression and s-xual problems.

While some of the newer laser based procedures are rare in Australia, the operation called labiaplasty — enlargement or reduction of the labia — is offered by many Australian cosmetic surgeons and advertised as costing up to $4,500.

Sydney cosmetic surgeon, Dr Colin Moore indicated to Crikey there was in his view, an important distinction between some of the newer laser-based procedures and older established operations such as labiaplasty and vaginoplasty, that he says have been listed on Medicare for a long time.

Moore says these procedures are done mostly for medical reasons, such as recurrent urinary infections and prolapse, though he noted labiaplasty was growing in popularity until the recent economic downturn.

Dr Leonore Tiefer sees a direct link between the growing popularity of Brazilian waxing and the trend towards cosmetic surgery of the genitals. “Once the message is communicated that your genitals are unacceptable, and you better work on them, it’s very hard to feel that you’ve done enough work,” she said.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently said the safety and effectiveness of new cosmetic genital procedures like “vaginal rejuvenation” and “designer vaginoplasty” had “not been documented.”

The college statement suggested any concern women have about their appearance may be alleviated by “a frank discussion of the wide range of normal genitalia and reassurance that the appearance of the external genitalia varies significantly from woman to woman”.

Peter Fray

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