Are You Considering Labiaplasty?

What you should know about this delicate operation

woman talking to doctor
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A labiaplasty is a surgical procedure done to reshape a woman's labia minora—the inner "lips" of the vulva. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the number of women seeking to alter the appearance of their labia has been increasing since the organization began keeping track in 2015. The 2016 ASPS statistics report showed a 39 percent increase in the number of labiaplasties performed that year.

News reports about the growing popularity of labiaplasty might have you believe women are having it done for cosmetic reasons, based on a desire to conform to what they've come to believe is normal or more attractive. This likely is far from the main reason most labiaplasties are performed, however.

In a very small study published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal in 2016, in which 14 women who'd undergone a labiaplasty were asked what had motivated them to have the surgery, some did mention improved appearance or sexual well-being, but issues of physical comfort were just as common. And in fact, the ASPS reports that most women who have the procedure, which is fairly straightforward and simple, choose to do so for practical reasons.

Why Have a Labiaplasty?

Labia size and shape is as individual as eye color, and the range of what's "normal" is wide and deep. However, when a woman's labia are especially elongated, the excess tissue can cause discomfort or get in the way of normal function.

An athlete whose labia is long may find that the tissue sticks to her leg during physical activity, for example. Labial tissue that protrudes can make sitting on a bicycle seat uncomfortable.

And yes, there are women who decide to have a labiaplasty for aesthetic reasons, but they're rarely influenced by some supposed beauty norms, according to the ASPS.

Some who view their inner labia as abnormally long may feel self-conscious about the outward appearance of their genitalia, causing them emotional or psychological distress during sex or while wearing a thong or swimsuit. The labia can be obvious in tight-fitting yoga pants as well.

What to Expect From Surgery

To do a labiaplasty, a surgeon simply trims the excess tissue to allow the lips of the labia minora to sit tucked neatly within the labia majora—the outer lips of the vulva. It can be done under local or general anesthesia and recovery typically is swift and uncomplicated. Pain medication is usually required afterward, but usually only for a few days and for most women recovery is swift and uncomplicated.

The ASPS recommends taking a week off from work to relax and heal from labiaplasty, wearing loose, comfortable pants, and a mini-pad to absorb minor bleeding. If you have this procedure, your doctor also may instruct you not to use tampons during your first period afterward. Within a month you should be back to your normal activities.

Sources:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "Stats Show Labiaplasty is Becoming More Popular." April 25, 2017.

Sharp, Gemma, MSc, et. al. "Motivations, Expectations, and Experiences of Labiaplasty: A Qualitative Study." Aesthetic Surgery Journal. 2016, Vol 36(8) 920–928.