What Is Labiaplasty and Why Would You Need It?

If there’s one thing vaginal people are used to, it’s that they are told that something on their body needs to be fixed. It is therefore not surprising that labiaplasty is something that interests many people.

Seriously, Google labiaplasty and you will get over a million search results (including this one, probably). So we wanted to clarify things for you by covering some common questions about the procedure, such as: What is labiaplasty? How much does labiaplasty cost? And, more importantly, does anyone really need a labiaplasty?

What is labiaplasty?

According to American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), labiaplasty refers to a procedure that reduces the length of the labia minora. If you need a quick refresh, the vulva refers to the external genitals surrounding the vagina (which refers to the internal organ). The vulva includes your lips, of which you have two sets. The labia majora are the external lips which make the hair grow, and the labia minora are tucked inside these, bringing them closer to all the size that is your clitoris, your urethra and your vaginal opening. Labiaplasty is generally performed on the labia minora.

According to latest ASPS statistics, 10,246 people underwent labiaplasty in 2018 by surgeons who are members of the ASPS. This is slightly down from 2016 when 12,666 people underwent labiaplasty.

Who could want to get a labiaplasty?

Although plastic surgery is and should be a personal choice, many doctors are reluctant to perform a labiaplasty unless it is actually medically necessary, since surgery always carries potential risks and complications. “I tell patients that your lips are like your ear lobes – they are all different shapes and sizes,” said Maura Quinlan, M.D., obstetrician / gynecologist at Northwestern Medical Group. “We really don’t want to cut to normal anatomy.”

This point is worth repeating: lips come in different shapes, sizes, lengths and colors. Their beauty lies in their variation, and there is basically no way to go wrong. It is perfectly normal for your lips to be different from what you see online, on your partner, or even from side to side.

There is no type of medical guide that dictates standard lip length, says Suzanne Fenske, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Health System. However, she says, many doctors consider the labia minora to be excessively long, that is, hypertrophic, if they are more than 5 or 6 centimeters long when they are slightly stretched (about 2 inches).

But again, there is a ton of potential variation with the lips. Even having labia minora that exceeds this benchmark doesn’t mean you need a labiaplasty.

Labiaplasties for medical reasons concern the impact of your labia minora on your life, not the appearance of the lips, explains Dr Quinlan. Depending on their length, your labia minora can cause pain during sex if they get stuck in the vagina. They can also cause irritation or discomfort when wearing underwear or a swimsuit, being physically active or even walking around and doing regular daily activities, says Dr. Fenske. If your labia minora doesn’t disrupt your life in this way, gynecologists and gynecologist surgeons will be hesitant to recommend surgery. The only exception is if you have some sort of abnormality on your lips, such as melanoma.

Cosmetic labiaplasty procedures, on the other hand, usually involve wanting your labia minora to look certain (generally shorter and more “tucked in” between the labia majora). When Dr. Quinlan has patients asking questions about labiaplasty, she advises them on the basics and encourages them to look up The Great Wall of Vagina, an artistic installation in the United Kingdom which presents plaster casts of different female vaginas. “There are so many normal variations in shape and size – sometimes I think it really helps women see this,” she says.

What can you expect from a labiaplasty procedure?

Labiaplasty is considered an outpatient procedure (meaning you don’t stay in the hospital overnight), and it can be done under general anesthesia or a mixture of local anesthesia and sedation, depending on the ASPS.

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