*Trigger warning. FTND note: Many readers may find sensitive information in the following article to be triggering.*

A few years ago, we had an unexpected and—as you can imagine—interesting conversation with an esthetician specializing in body hair removal. She shared with us what she said was the most reoccurring conversation among her female clients during bikini/Brazilian services: “Does it look normal down there? Am I normal?”

She admitted she was always slightly disturbed by the inquiry; curious why 1) women of all ages were unsure, and otherwise uninformed, of the “normalities” of their genitalia, and 2) why they were consulting their esthetician rather than—maybe—a medical professional of their obvious concerns. Regardless, she explained, she was happy to respond: “Yep. As far as I can tell, you’re totally normal.”

Pursuing “Perfection”

We don’t think it’s a stretch to assume both males and females have this moment—if not moments—when they question their bodies, and maybe even harshly compare themselves against perfection that’s displayed on most every public surface: billboards, magazine covers, TV, movies. We’ll even go so far as to say that both males and females occasionally consider ways to alter perceived imperfections (i.e. dieting, steroids, etc.).

However, of the two, females are offered and more likely to elect for the most extreme measures to reach “perfection” (i.e. breast augmentation, lip injections, liposuction, etc.). So it may or may not be surprising to learn of the most recent cosmetic trend among women and girls: elective genital reconstruction surgery. [2]

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“It used to be there were parts of girls’ bodies that were not exposed to public opinion,” sex-education author and advocate Dr. Emily Nagoski was quoted saying in Time Magazine this May. “There’s hardly any body part left that girls are allowed to be not critical of.” [1]

Welcome to the world of porn-inspired body dysmorphia.

Labiaplasty 101

“Designer vaginas”—as they’re called, are a real and rising trend. Don’t Google it, just trust us.

From 2013 to 2016 the rate of labiaplasty—a plastic surgery performed to alter the appearance of the labia, the inner and outer folds of the vagina—increased by 112.5%. Not only that, but the total number of patients 18 years and younger increased from 158 in 2013 to 559 in 2016— a 253.8% increase in just three years.

In fact, until 2013, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) didn’t even bother gathering data on labiaplasty patients as the numbers were so insignificant. The ASAPS noted, “Labiaplasty, once a niche procedure, is becoming mainstream, with a 23.2% increase in 2016 [from 2015] and with 36% of all plastic surgeons now offering the procedure in their practices.” [2][3]

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Essentially, what was once an uncommon series of procedures used for extreme or rare cases of vaginal reconstruction have become an elective cosmetic trend among young/maturing girls. And not even just teenage-young girls, but even among prepubescent children as young as nine years old. [4]

But—here’s the real kicker—chances are, most of these patients are what our esthetician-friend would deem “totally normal.”

The Hidden Culprit? Porn.

It is a well supported fact that genitalia are as naturally variant as faces, fingerprints and snowflakes—no two are alike. That is to say that there really can’t be a model of “perfection” for female private parts, nor can perceived “imperfections” be indications of real abnormality unless otherwise diagnosed by a doctor. And medical professionals are baffled by this idea that we would see this drastic of an increase in vaginal abnormalities, trending so steadily over the past few years. [4] In fact, in 2016 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released new guidelines to counsel young girls through their requests to receive labiaplasty—guidelines created to strictly avoid the procedure unless determined medically essential. [5]

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So what’s going on here? Why this sudden concern with the symmetry and surgical manipulation of female genitals? Again, it may or may not be surprising to learn that almost every researcher and medical professional questioning this growing trend is pointing at least one finger at sexualized media and pornography. Here are a few expert quotes:

“Some experts fear that pornography and images viewed through social media are leading young girls to have unrealistic perceptions of how their genitals should look.” [6]

“She [Paquita de Zulueta, a general practitioner] blames the unrealistic images girls are being exposed to through pornography and social media.” [6]

“Popular media accounts assert that an enormous number of women undergo labiaplasty, and that the popularity of the procedure is driven by penetration of pornography or its aesthetics into the mainstream media landscape (Drysdale, 2010; Jacob, 2013; Newton, 2012).” [7]

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After combing the internet for statistical evidence that pornography has indeed directly influenced the increase in labiaplasty procedures, the majority of conducted research says no—pornography is not a direct, reliable factor. However, a lot of this research preceded 2013 (the magic year when the ASAPS witnessed an astronomical increase in labiaplasty procedures,) and furthermore, “pornography” has proven to be a tricky variable.

For instance, one study found that pornography use is not a reliable indicator of genital dissatisfaction among women leading to labiaplasty, but agreed that pornography could, in fact, alter a woman’s perception of “normal” due to highly edited images. Not to mention, the study did acknowledge self-objectification—”the commencement of viewing one’s self as an object due to the impressions of sexualized media”—as a reliable indicator of genital dissatisfaction leading to labiaplasty. [7] Are you seeing what we’re seeing as the common denominator for this invasive, painful, and generally unnecessary procedure?

Another Culprit? Lack of Education.

Another popular consideration for the increase in genital cosmetic surgery among younger and younger girls—one that may go hand-in-hand with the first: when children/teens don’t learn about their maturing bodies, parents essentially allow the porn industry to do the teaching for them. [1] Young girls are then left to interpret their own bodies as compared to the (again) Photoshopped, glamorized, sexualized images directed at them via social media.

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And when these girls become sexually active, they are not only interpreting their own observations and comparisons, but also those of their partners:

“Meanwhile, boys who use porn to learn about female genitals may recoil when they actually encounter them in real life, damaging a girl’s sexual self-worth,” wrote Rachel Simmons, author of Why More Teen Girls Are Getting Genital Surgery. “Not surprisingly, many girls come to believe there is something wrong with their bodies.” [1]

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And some—due to what may be one hundred different influences—are electing to surgically “correct” and permanently alter the most intimate parts of their bodies. And the trend is worth, not only more research, but a feasible alternative:

“There isn’t enough education,” Zulueta was quoted saying in a BBC article last month. “And it should start really quite young, explaining that there is a range and that—just as we all look different in our faces—we all look different down there, and that’s okay.” [6]

Why This Matters

The $97 billion dollar porn industry is influencing the rising generation to question the value of their bodies. And not only that, it’s influencing them to believe that they’re somehow not healthy or normal. The idealized and often surgically enhanced bodies in porn can cause viewers to feel inadequate, unattractive, and undesirable.

RelatedHow Porn Dehumanizes Women Through Sexual Objectification

We fight because no one should feel like they have to have a porn-performer body to be beautiful and wanted. As Fighters, we have to speak out about the truth, and keep speaking out that pornography is anything but harmless entertainment. Join us in fighting for the truth to be known: for both males and females, we deserve better than the exaggerated, edited lies that porn sells about the human body and healthy sexuality.

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What YOU Can Do

Don’t buy the lies that porn sells. SHARE this article and spread the word that pornography is anything but harmless entertainment.

Spark Conversations

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Citations

[1] Simmons, R. (2016, May 12 ). Why More Teen Girls Are Getting Genital Plastic Surgery. TIME Ideas. Retrieved July 18 , 2017, from http://time.com/4327126/teen-girls-implants-genital-plastic-surgery/
[2] 2016 Cosmetic Surgery National Data Bank Statistics. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/ASAPS-Stats2016.pdf
[3] 2013 Cosmetic Surgery National Data Bank statistics. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/Stats2013_4.pdf
[4] Young, S. (2017, July 3 ). Online Pornography Blamed As Girls ‘As Young As Nine’ Seek Vaginal Constructive Surgery, Doctors Reveal. Independent. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gynaecology-girls-aged-nine-vaginal-cosmetic-surgery-pornography-social-media-naomi-crouch-paquita-a7821186.html
[5] Breast and Labial Surgery in Adolescents. (2017, January). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Adolescent-Health-Care/Breast-and-Labial-Surgery-in-Adolescents
[6] Mackenzie, J. (2017, July 3). Vagina surgery ‘sought by girls as young as nine’ [Multimedia BBC Report]. Retrieved July 19, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-40410459
[7] Jones, B. A., Griffiths, K. M., & Bizumic, B. (2014). The role of pornography and mental health indicators in genital satisfaction and vulvar preference in a community sample. The curious case of the designer vagina. Genital satisfaction, pornography and self-objectification: an empirical investigation, 179.

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