The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, upon compiling statistics for their 2013 annual report, made a note of a surprising trend in a particular cosmetic procedure. The ASAPS pointed out that the number of labiaplasty surgeries performed across the country that year had significantly increased – to the tune of 44 percent over the previous year. The number of procedures increased again in 2014 by 49 percent, and once again in 2015. The popularity of this procedure is increasing for a number of reasons with patients citing motivations based on aesthetics, function, and health.
Labiaplasty, also known as labia minora reduction, is a cosmetic procedure that surgically alters or contours the skin folds that surrounds the vulva. The procedure can also be done with a laser. This alteration can be performed on the labia minora, or inner fold or the labia majora, or outer fold.
Many women who choose labiaplasty do so in order to repair the damage that happens as a result of natural childbirth. During a vaginal birth, the labia can stretch, elongate or tear. While many women heal normally after delivery and report no issues, some patients report labial pain or discomfort, even after their wounds are healed. This pain or discomfort can cause sexual dysfunction in some individuals and may make certain activities like exercising or running uncomfortable. Other patients report that their condition makes wearing certain types of clothing painful or difficult, because of irritation. Irritation can cause recurring health issues like yeast or bacterial infections. Patients also complain that their damaged labia may be visible through clothing, like bathing suits or workout gear, which may result in the patient feeling embarrassed or self-conscious.
Doctor Mona Alquali, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.O.G, is an ob-gyn who sees women in her Clinton, Iowa, practice who have questions about their labia and labiaplasty options post-partum. "Many women come in after they’ve healed from childbirth, a little frustrated and disappointed because they thought everything would ‘go back to normal,'" she explains. "They might not have had an issue after their first child, or their friends or sisters didn’t have any labial issues after their deliveries so that they may feel frustrated, isolated or a bit embarrassed."
While many women have labial issues after childbirth, some women just have issues with the natural construction of their labia. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 30 percent of the female population who underwent a gynecological exam had signs of labial hypertrophy. Labial hypertrophy is the medical term for a naturally occurring condition in which the labia is enlarged. Labial hypertrophy can impact the labia majora but typically occurs in the labia minora. The cause of naturally occurring of labial hypertrophy is unknown.
Patients with naturally occurring labial hypertrophy often feel the same way as women who have suffered labial damage as a result of childbirth. They share similar complaints regarding sexual dysfunction, irritation, and self-consciousness.
Patients who seek labiaplasty for their condition should discuss their options first with their gynecologists according to Alquali. "Because of the location of the area to be treated, patients should discuss the procedure with their gynecologists to talk about the risks involved, follow-up care to minimize risks of infection, and the procedure itself," she says.
Alquali performs labiaplasty in her clinic and sees an increase in the number of women requesting the procedure. "Many women are asking about labiaplasty as a result of finally being fed up with being uncomfortable and living with it."
The procedure is an outpatient surgery typically performed in the clinic or practice, requiring only a local anesthetic. Patients should expect about a week of downtime and a full recovery within in three months.