Watching a seven-minute video documenting labiaplasty surgery could change a woman’s perception of her own body and influence whether she will undergo labiaplasty surgery in the bid for genitalia perfection, according to Flinders University research.
The study, published in Body Image: An International Journal of Research last month, measured whether 136 Australian women aged 18 to 49 understood what ‘normal’ female genitalia was supposed to look like and what airbrushed images, commonly used in pornography, appeared to be.
Flinders University Clinical Psychology PhD candidate Gemma Sharp said the study concluded that more education is essential for all women to understand what genitlia normality is so that they can make informed choices about the need for labiaplasty surgery.
"Media representations of female genitalia in pornography have to be airbrushed owing to nudity guidelines set by the Australian government."
“There is very little discussion of female genitalia in society,” says Ms Sharp.
“It is still taboo. Any discussion, in general, about the topic is helpful because women should feel comfortable about themselves,” says Ms Sharp.
Most participants in the study also reported that, after watching the video, they would advise friends against undergoing a labiaplasty due to a perceived abnormality.
Ms Sharp says this is because prior to education, most women don’t know what ‘normal’ female genitalia looks like and those who do, usually have an unrealistic expectation based on airbrushed images.
“Media representations of female genitalia in pornography have to be airbrushed owing to nudity guidelines set by the Australian government.
“So it’s important for women to know that these images have been airbrushed.”
Labiaplasty is a plastic surgery procedure performed to surgically alter or reduce the labia minora, the inner lips of the vagina.
While some labiaplasties are performed for medical reasons, most are for cosmetic purposes.
According to Australian Medicare statistics, the number of women who have had a labiaplasty has more than tripled since the year 2000, rising from 444 women in 2000 to 1,427 in 2014.
However, Ms Sharp says, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of women are having labiaplasties performed through the private sector, which does not release data on this issue.
“We don't have the statistics for women who have a labiaplasty privately in Australia but it is believed to be several times the Medicare/public system numbers.”
Ms Sharp adds that research shows that Australian women from their late teens to 40s are having labiasurgeries: “not just young women”.
In the USA, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) found that the number of labiaplasties increased 49 per cent from 2013 to 2014 with 5,070 in 2013 to 7,535 in 2014.”
“I’m not against labiaplasties. We know that many people are usually satisfied after they have them.
“What we are trying to do is make sure that the people who have labiaplasties have all the information possible available to them.”
The researchers used a short video, produced for the Hungry Beast TV series, which explained the digital removal of labial tissue in soft-core pornography.
Education would increase women’s understanding about what is in the media and the appearance of normal female genitalia.
After the participants had watched the video, their perceptions of normal female genital appearance were measured by presenting them with six photographs of female genitals and asking them to measure them on a scale of 1 to 5 for normality.
They found participants who viewed the video provided higher normality ratings. The researchers concluded that education would increase women’s understanding about what is in the media and the appearance of normal female genitalia.
“Through our study we hope we can contribute to women having a better understanding of their bodies so that whatever decision they make is an informed one.”
Ms Sharp says she hopes her research results will be used to inform sex education programs across the nation, for girls and young women.
“If they are aware of ‘normal’ genital development, then hopefully they will be more understanding when they see genital changes happening to themselves and they won’t be concerned with their own appearance.
“They will realise it is a normal part of development. It’s a heads up [for young girls] that there are unrealistic depictions in the media of women and that they don’t match those images, that’s okay.
“The fact this video is freely available and is only seven minutes long means it’s easy to implement.”