Emily Gavaldon says she’s never felt comfortable with her lips. Her right lip, she told Yahoo Life, was ‘much bigger’ than her left, which made her feel ‘ashamed’ and ’embarrassed’ – even though her gynecologist insisted she was ‘perfectly fine’ well” and that her vulva was “normal”.
“I was always upset with the way my lips looked,” the 23-year-old Colorado native explains. “I slipped it in when I was wearing a bathing suit and never let my boyfriend look in there. Later, in my late teens, it started to affect my sex life tremendously. I was so afraid to reveal myself to anyone.
It wasn’t until she went to beauty school and spoke with one of her peers that she heard about labiaplasty, a plastic surgery procedure that alters the internal folds of skin that are part of the vulva called the labia minora and, less commonly, the hairy outer layer called the labia majora. Gavaldon’s peer did the procedure herself, which led Gavaldon to do her own research. She remembers thinking, “I don’t have to live with this forever?
“Hearing how embarrassed she was about her lips made me feel a little better, like I wasn’t alone or the only one feeling this,” she admits.
Gavaldon went to a plastic surgeon for a consultation. A week later, she underwent labiaplasty – a procedure that made her feel like a “whole new woman”. She says the pain was “manageable” except for urinating, which was difficult because of her stitches.
“Once I was given my before and after photos, tears rolled down my face and I couldn’t thank the doctor and staff enough. They did an amazing job,” she says.
What is labiaplasty?
According to Dr. Gordon K. Lee, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon and Professor of Surgery at Stanford Medicine, the labiaplasty itself can be a fairly simple procedure that can be performed under local rather than general anesthesia, depending on pain tolerance. of the patient.
“Usually the area is numbed with an injection of local anesthetic,” Lee told Yahoo Life. “The extra skin is then removed. There are different techniques and ways to do it,” namely the cut method (the extra tissue is cut and then sewn) and the wedge method (a triangular wedge is removed and the scar is hidden). He adds: “Patients can usually go home the same day.”
Lee notes that patients are advised not to do anything strenuous for about four to six weeks, including intercourse, “because anything that would force the stitches could obviously open the wound.” But he says most patients can return to office-type desk work within “a matter of days”.
Why do women undergo labiaplasty?
Labiaplasty is on the rise. Nearly 19,000 labiaplasty procedures were performed in 2021, up 36% from 2020, according to statistics from the National Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Database. It’s a trend that worries the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2017, especially given the rise in the number of teens interested in the procedure.
Some blame pornography, saying it plays a role in getting people to have surgery. But several porn workers claim that there is not a single idealized look on the lips in the industry. And a 2016 study found that only a few women cited the appearance of genitalia in pornography as the reason they sought labiaplasty. Instead, the reasons they gave included seeing “before” photos on surgeons’ websites, which may lead women to undergo labiaplasty for strictly cosmetic reasons due to the misbelief that there is something wrong with their genitals, as well as negative comments about their appearance of his own labia and physical discomfort.
The increase in tight clothing — particularly when it comes to exercise leggings — has also become a factor when it comes to patients seeking labiaplasty, Lee notes.
“Sometimes you can look in that area and see this extra tissue sticking out, which can make people embarrassed,” he says. “Some people like to wear tight clothes in the gym, especially when you have people doing yoga and Pilates. This fashion trend is also driving surgery because as young women wear tighter clothes , this area is more exposed.
For Zully Azuero, a 23-year-old living in Chicago, it wasn’t about aesthetics. She says the physical discomfort caused by her lips was affecting her “everyday life”.
“My left lips were bigger than my right lips, and it irritated me when I sat down, wore jeans, or wore certain underwear,” she told Yahoo Life, adding that ‘She would regularly get yeast infections and urinary tract infections. The irritation worsened, she says, in 2020, when she sat for long hours doing a desk job. Azuero was first introduced to labiaplasty by her gynecologist in 2022, who recommended the procedure.
“To be honest, I always wanted this done, I just didn’t know it was a thing,” she says.
Azuero underwent labiaplasty on an outpatient basis. “The recovery was difficult at first,” she recalls. “The first week was the most painful. I had to abstain from physical activities for four to six weeks. I couldn’t have sex for six weeks. It stung when I had to go to the bathroom,” adding that it was difficult to sit still for long periods of time and she was unable to return to work for four days.
Still, she says, “I would totally recommend this procedure to anyone who finds themselves in the position I once was in. It’s life changing and I feel so much more comfortable with what I wear in my life. daily.”
Like Azuero, McKayla, who lives in Indianapolis and asked that her last name be withheld, says she wanted the surgery because she exercised every day and felt physically ill at the easy.
“I always struggled with my lips and the fact that they were just extra long — my right was longer than my left,” she told Yahoo Life. “It was still coming out, and it was just super uncomfortable. I should return it.
McKayla opted to have the procedure under general anesthesia. “It was a pretty easy surgery, mostly because I was so excited to have it and to fix this,” she says. “I didn’t really care how much pain it would cause, but it wasn’t very painful.”
What are the potential risks of labiaplasty?
As with any type of surgery, labiaplasty is not without its risks – which can include bleeding, removal of too much or too little tissue, infection, scarring and loss of sensation – especially when it is not performed. is not performed by an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon. .
It’s something 36-year-old San Francisco resident Jessica Pin knows firsthand. Pin was a teenager when she found photos of labia online – her first real introduction to seeing other vulvas. She realized that her labia minora were hanging lower than those in a photo she had seen. It was the first time she thought maybe she wasn’t “normal” and started searching other photos to find pictures of vulvas that looked more like hers. Instead, she says, she found several images from medical textbooks in which the labia minora were barely visible.
Pin went to her mother’s gynecologist, who reassured her that she was perfectly “normal”. But she didn’t believe it. Pin says she didn’t realize that having the inner lips of the vulva protruding beyond the outer lips is actually completely normal and quite common. About 50% of women have labia minora longer than their labia majora.
When Pin was 18, she told her father, a plastic surgeon, that she was experiencing pain in her labia minora. He put her in touch with an obstetrician surgeon at a hospital, who performed a labiaplasty. However, Pin claims her surgeon, who she says was not trained to perform the procedure, “amputated” her labia minora, along with a clitoral hood reduction, which removes excess skin surrounding the clitoris. – all without his consent.
The surgery, Pin says, severely affected her sexual function, including her ability to achieve orgasm — potential risks she was unaware of at the time. After what she went through, Pin became a full-time campaigner for better vulvar anatomy education and training standards for vulvar surgeries. “I’m not advocating banning labiaplasty,” she says. “I advocate for informed consent and a standard of due diligence.”
According to Lee, patients should be informed of the risks of over-resection, that is, the removal of too much tissue, which can be deforming. “Injuring the clitoral nerves is a complication that should not occur if performed by an experienced plastic surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery,” he says. “That’s because the nerves that go to the clitoris shouldn’t be injured during routine labiaplasty.”
Like any surgery, “there are still risks,” says Lee, “and so patients really need to educate themselves and make sure it’s right for them and that they’re going to see someone who knows what they’re doing. “.
It’s also important for women to consider their reasons for having labiaplasty, Lee says. “And you want to be sure that a patient is doing this for themselves, and not for someone else like their partner.”
Most of Lee’s patients seek labiaplasty after experiencing pain or discomfort during exercise or intercourse. However, for those who want the procedure strictly for cosmetic reasons, he says it’s important to understand that vulvas naturally come in a range of different shapes and sizes.
“I think it’s very helpful to know that there are many different types of normals” when it comes to vulvas, Lee says. “Not everyone’s lips look exactly alike.”
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