Image via Creative Commons.
If you’re not familiar with the hottest new genital-based surgery, vagina rejuvenation, aka vaginal tightening, is a two-part cosmetic surgery comprised of vaginoplasty and labiaplasty. The process works by using a laser to remove excess skin and tighten the vaginal canal and opening, while also reshaping the labia. It costs around $3,000 Canadian to go through with such a vagina overhaul, and it’s often used to reconstruct the vaginas of women who have been genitally mutilated or suffered major burns to their private parts. When performed on patients like these, vaginal tightening is a phenomenal surgery that has the potential to give women back their lives. However in recent years, more Canadian women are opting to have their vaginas sliced apart for aesthetic improvement, increasing self-confidence or, most commonly, for better sex—either for themselves or their significant other.
Unsurprisingly, this vaginal surgery trend is worrying doctors. In fact, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) will be discussing concerns over genital cosmetic surgery during their Annual Clinic and Scientific Conference next week.
The problem is that there is no scientific data to prove claims of an enhanced sex life, which is one of the main selling points for the procedure, according to plastic surgery websites. In fact, experts are beginning to find that vaginal tightening tends to have no long-term effect on sexual pleasure. Some insist the surgery can even lessen sexual pleasure.
Dr. Cleve Ziegler is a gynecologist at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital. He travelled to California nearly 10 years ago to certify himself to perform vaginal tightening surgeries. In 2010, he presented his data on the surgery, finding that there was no significant advantage to vaginal tightening. He subsequently discontinued performing the surgery. He is not the first, nor the last gynecologist to come to the conclusion that, as he puts it, “surgery to tighten a woman up rarely makes her sex life that much better.”
Dr. Jim Pfaus is a sexual behaviour psychologist who worked with Naomi Wolf on Vagina: A New Biography—a societal, physiological and psychological look into properly understanding the female mind and body. He’s done extensive research on vaginal tightening, and explained to me that there are serious risks involved in this procedure, which can cause bleeding, clotting, rectal, and bladder damage (to name a few). Plus, there’s also a chance that the procedure can cause nerve damage to the clitoris.
“Sexual pleasure is, most importantly, in the brain,” explains Pfaus. “So when you damage a nerve along its route to the brain, there’s a change in feeling. When nerve damage occurs in the vagina, it can’t be made up anywhere else.”
Add to that the risk of scar tissue—which actually has a numbing effect—and the possibility of the vagina becoming too tight so that it causes pain during intercourse, and you’re left with pretty much the opposite of the intended effect.
That’s not to say that women haven’t benefitted from the procedure. Both Dr. Pfaus and Dr. Ziegler have seen success stories, but warn that they are rare and cognitive.
“Some women will feel more sexual because instead of having a gaping vagina, they feel like they’re snug. But the most important sex organ is your head, not your vagina.” Dr. Ziegler explains. Of the five patients Dr. Ziegler performed the surgery on, only one saw substantial sexual improvement.
As Dr. Pfaus explains, “women can see a short term increase in sexual pleasure but it’s all mental.” He explains that the arousal and increased sexual pleasure can be temporary. “When a woman’s sexual partner looks at her and compliments her new vagina or describes how her new, tight vagina feels, it raises the woman’s self-esteem.”
Dr. Zeigler has since stopped performing the procedure, concluding that with the lack of proven benefit, it just amounted to giving women “designer vaginas.”
Unfortunately the only completed study we have on this cosmetic surgery is that of plastic surgeons Dr. Miklos and Dr. Moore who released a study on May 27 stating that there was substantial evidence that vaginal tightening increases sexual pleasure. The study followed 78 women before and for six months after their surgery finding sexual improvement in all but three. Those three saw no change, but there was no decrease in sexual pleasure at all. Here’s the problem: a study about plastic surgery by plastic surgeons is the moral equivalent of an environmental study rejecting climate change funded by an oil company. It’s unreliable, unethical, and has the potential to do harm.
We live in a society that encourages women to uphold an unrealistic ideal of physical perfection. The fact that the images women are trying to replicate are Photoshopped is not new information, but it’s information that is often ignored. Vaginal rejuvenation takes these ideals to a dangerous, labia-laser-beaming level. Like all surgeries, risks are involved—and like most plastic surgeries in their early stages, a lack of scientific evidence makes them controversial.
Vaginal rejuvenation is not merely superficial. It also hocks the false promise of increased feeling in the vagina. People trust their doctors, and obviously some women are taking their plastic surgeons’ advice at face value, undergoing a costly and unnecessary surgery while being misled into becoming the ‘perfect woman’ only to find that, in many cases, they are doing more harm than good.
Considering the price and risks of vaginal tightening, wouldn’t it be safer and more cost efficient to just work out the vaginal muscles? As Dr. Pfaus explains: “if you combine kegel exercises with a workout like yoga or Pilates, you’ll naturally tighten your vagina to the point that you’ll be able to squirt on command or any of those other things you see women do. All women are capable of it, but vaginal rejuvenation can’t do that for you.”