More women want 'designer vagina'
Doctors and women's groups are concerned at the increasing number girls and women - some as young as 12 - requesting cosmetic genital surgery.
One Melbourne gynaecologist said the social pressure on women to be ''normal'' started early, with school-aged girls often coming in with their mothers seeking help.
Dr Sonia Grover said young girls were concerned with looking different and often requested labiaplasties, a procedure to change the size and shape of the external coverings of the vagina. ''These requests come from lack of understanding of what is considered normal and this found across all ages groups of both men and women,'' she said.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists vice president Ajay Rane said the trend was informed by a culture based on being physically perfect.
''The promotion of the 'designer vagina' and other genital myths often pressure the most vulnerable in our community to seek unnecessary surgery,'' Professor Rane said.
''It is greatly concerning that more of these women are seeking to alter their genitals for purely cosmetic reasons.''
According to Medicare, the number of Australian women seeking genital surgery has more than doubled in a decade. To help combat this problem Women's Health Victoria will launch an education campaign in the new year urging women to make informed decisions.
In a presentation to the First National Sexual and Reproductive Health Conference in Melbourne on Tuesday, Women's Health Victoria executive director Rita Butera argued that media images of altered female genitalia were causing some women to have unrealistic ideals of what is normal.
''There is this cultural ideal that a woman's vagina needs to be small, neat, discreet and tucked away.'' Ms Butera said. ''But in reality there is a natural diversity in female genitalia which we wish to make women more aware of.''
According to figures from Medicare, the number of women undergoing vulvoplasty or labiaplasty in Australia has increased from 640 women in 2001 to more than 1500 women in 2011 - an increase of 140 per cent.
This significant jump in the number of women seeking these procedures, which peaks in those aged from 35 to 44, may not reflect the whole picture as many seek genital cosmetic surgery through the private health system.
While surgery may be necessary for clinical conditions, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists strongly discourages cosmetic procedures due to their inherent risks.
''The labia, vulva and clitoris are highly sensitive organs and any form of surgery in this area runs a high risk of hemorrhage, disfigurement, infection, scarring or an inability to have satisfactory sexual intercourse,'' Professor Rane said.
''This along with the potential for gross psychological trauma after the surgery means no surgery should be done without an enormous amount of counselling.''
- The Age