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Is Labiaplasty Modern Female Genital Mutilation?

Is Labiaplasty Modern Female Genital Mutilation?

A designer vagina. But at what price?

When someone mentions the words ‘female genital mutilation’, my mind immediately jumps to ancient cultures performing a primitive ritual with a rusty scalpel on a dirty bed; the young girl lying on it frightened and un-anaesthetised. Whilst this (sadly) does happen even today, another form of tampering is being ignored.

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When it comes to women, the Western world has always been an advocate of cosmetic change. In the fifteenth century, women painted moles on their faces and wore sky-high wigs. In the Victorian era, women laced themselves into excruciatingly tight corsets, which proved dangerous enough to move their internal organs around. Fiddling with our appearances in unnatural ways is not a new thing.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen the rise and rise of plastic surgery. New noses, butts, breasts, and botox have become a staple for many women. And I usually have no problem with this. A friend of mine recently got a boob job and her self-confidence has gone through the roof.

However, one cosmetic surgery trend I’m unabashedly not a fan of, is infiltrating beauty culture at an alarming rate, and for all the wrong reasons. In Australia, the official numbers of women undergoing the procedure have tripled in just over a decade.

In the UK, the numbers rose by 80 per cent between 2013 and 2014.

Enter the phenomenon of the labiaplasty; a procedure in which a woman’s labia minora are sliced, diced, and changed to adhere to a perceived standard of pretty, which has eerily emerged alongside Australian legislation enforcing the censorship of the vagina. Current Australian law states female genitalia depicted in pornographic photography (read: adult magazines and websites) must only show ‘discreet genital detail’, and be ‘healed to a single crease’. In addition to this; according to the Office of Film and Literature Classification in Australia, any hint of labia and/or natural wetness means the woman is ‘sexually excited’ and ‘showing too much sexual detail’. This is regardless of the fact most women are naturally moist without arousal.


The reason pornography magazines are so stringent in their enforcement of these laws is to qualify for Classification 2; no plastic bag around it on delivery, and distribution in all states. If placed in Classification 1, magazines must be hidden inside plastic upon sale, and will not be distributed in Queensland, severely affecting sales.

The message behind these unnecessarily complex laws is clear: male genitalia is condoned and can exist just as it is, while the appearance of female genitalia is offensive enough that it warrants editing.

Censorship laws in Australia are connected to a global culture of stifling female sexuality. In the UK, sexual acts showing menstrual blood and female ejaculation must not be shown in pornographic films. A reworking of Canada’s censorship laws in 1992 introduced restrictions any behaviour that was ‘degrading and dehumanising towards women’, resulting in a national crackdown on on lesbian porn. The reason? Apparently, sex between two women is always ‘dehumanising’, whereas heterosexual sex featuring a woman – often violently – penetrated by a man, is not.

Even in Japan, similar laws are prevalent; sexual violence is A-okay in pornography, but explicitly depicting female genitalia? Don’t even think about it.

The common denominator in each set of laws is very evident. A women’s labia is obscene, but every bump, hair, vein, wrinkle, and detail of the male penis, is acceptable.

This persistent shaming of the female body has led to an increasing number of women taking extreme measures. The labiaplasty process itself involves a woman’s vulva systematically re-jigged to imitate the non-existent inner lips of the designer vaginas seen in porn. It is for no other reason than to ‘improve’ the appearance of a woman’s private parts. Many argue it gives women the same confidence boost acquired with breast implants, but the frequently reported side effects of painful intercourse and urination the unnecessary procedure leaves women permanently scarred with, beg to differ.

Increasingly, women are defined by their sexuality. The push for this to change is gaining momentum, but the dynamic still remains. As such, shame around sexuality is rampant among women. The extreme measure of changing the appearance of your vagina, the symbol of your sexual self, is indicative of a last ditch effort to correct any minuscule perceived fault with our social currency: our appearance.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) and outspoken anti-FGM advocate, Nimco Ali publicly likened the ideology of the labiaplasty to her own horrific experience in a recent speech, stating the principle behind FGM is similar; creating problems with the female genitalia that do not exist. As Ali says, “Don’t create symptoms.”

If you choose to have a labiaplasty, I’m not going pass judgment. Your body is your body. However, I would ask you to carefully consider what it means to make this choice, and the motivation behind it. Having your vagina criticized by a partner does not justify cosmetic surgery. What you’ve seen in porn flicks is not a normalized standard of sexual perfection.

In order to cease defining our self-worth by sexual allure, shouldn’t we look to adhere to our own standards of beauty, rather than the ones thrust upon us?


Images via and

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