The Vagina Dialogue

The female anatomy is regularly misconstrued and some people don’t fully understand women’s bodies. Jess Mercer explains more.

One of the earliest artistic depictions of female genitalia was the Venus of Hohle Fels, a sculpture made from the ivory tusk of a mammoth, whose roots date back to the prehistoric era where vulvas were some of the earliest works of prehistoric art. Yet the mystery of the clitoris did not become clear until 2009.

The vagina has always stirred controversy. The mere depiction of it did – and arguably still does – cause offence and astonishment in society since it was acknowledged as a part of the female anatomy. To this day, ‘cunt’ is the most shocking of  expletives that could be yelled by a fourth year high school student at the back of the bus. It is small wonder that a woman’s relationship with her own vagina is often fraught with at best, embarrassment and at worst, shame. The majority of this shame is deeply rooted in cultural representations of female genitalia. Unfortunately, most of these representations are limited to the dark corners of the video rental store and the internet, post-Paris Hilton.

Indeed, the porn industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to the unrealistic standards of women’s bodies, but its representation of the vagina is arguably the primary reason why women have been turning to surgical solutions in order to conform to these narrow standards. Not only are most pornographic depictions of the vagina completely hairless, but even the close-up visuals of the female labia are uniform to a certain shape and size. Just as women seek breast and buttock augmentations to adhere to pornographic ideals, many young women are seeking labiaplasty to conform to a distorted ideal.

Dr. Will Anderson is a reconstructive plastic surgeon at The Edinburgh Clinic and has previously performed labiaplasty on a number of patients, all of whom have claimed different reasons for their decision.

“[The desire for surgery] usually comes from functional issues relating to labia being excessively long, so that they become awkward with underwear or certain activities, like horseriding. It can also cause a problem with intercourse.”

Anderson also articulates the more superficial justifications that his patients bring forward. “Another issue is asymmetry, which can make women self-conscious. With the widely available images of female genitalia that there are on the internet, it’s certainly possible for women to get an inaccurate impression of what is normal for genitalia.”

The vernacular used to describe why women have the surgery is worrying at best, begging the question why the surgery is necessary at all. Dr. Anderson estimates that most of his patients are women in their twenties who find it physically uncomfortable and who “know something can be done about it.”

“But what can be considered normal is so broad. Most women will claim that they want the surgery for functional reasons, but there may be an element of concern that they want it to look better, or less bulgy in a swimsuit.” When asked whether there is a male equivalent to labiaplasty, Dr Anderson revealed that he has had enquiries about operations involving “lifting the scrotum”, a procedure that has recently been dubbed “Scrotox”.

Yet it still seems that it is women for whom the pressure is highest. It is women who are judged far more harshly. Women’s relationships their vaginas are the most intimate one they have with their bodies. So why is it often so strained? Women’s sexuality cannot continue to be controlled by standards set by dated, grainy video footage where the sex is not even that good. The only person who women should be aiming to please is themselves.

 

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