While having coffee recently with a group of close friends, we began talking about cosmetic surgery, a topic of conversation that is increasingly common now that we are in our 40s.
A friend confessed that she had “overdone it with Botox at first,” but said she now uses it more sparingly. Another calmly admitted that she now feels that her breast augmentation has made her cleavage too voluminous for her slim figure.
“It’s okay for you,” says another. “You haven’t done any of that.”
I smile, but don’t respond. If only they knew; I had cosmetic surgery five years ago and never told anyone.
You might wonder why, considering that while cosmetic operations used to be taboo, today it seems like everyone has put a patch of filler on their forehead or shaped their thighs with liposuction.
However, there is one type of cosmetic adjustment that remains prohibited: surgery to improve the appearance of the genitals.
That is precisely the procedure they did to me, at 37 years old, and it seems that I am not the only one.
Rising trend: Labiaplasty (surgery to reduce the internal or external folds of the female vulva) is one of the fastest growing cosmetic surgeries.
Labiaplasty (surgery to reduce the internal or external folds of the female vulva) is one of the fastest growing cosmetic surgeries. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), 194,086 labiaplasty procedures were performed in 2022. This is a 46 percent increase over the previous four years, and the numbers continue to rise.
My surgeon, a gynecologist with 30 years’ experience based in central London, tells me: “I have performed lip reduction surgery on hundreds of women, but no one talks about it.”
This rise in labiaplasty has been linked to the prevalence of pornography and the tendency of women to give up all body hair, with extreme hair removal exposing every inch of previously hidden body parts. Celebrities such as Gemma Collins have shared intimate details of their lifting and rejuvenation procedures. Thanks to them, labiaplasty is seen by some as a silly and unnecessary ‘Barbie’ surgery for impressionable young women, just looking to impress their potential lovers.
However, this does not represent my experience at all. I spent ten long years agonizing over the appearance of my lips before making the decision to go under the knife.
In my early 20s, I felt that the inner folds of my genitals (my labia minora) had become swollen and I could see them protruding from my outer lips. When I rode my bike, which I did regularly, they felt uncomfortable and sore.
I was fine with the rest of my body, even if my breasts are a little small and my butt could be firmer. I didn’t feel any other need for surgery except on my private parts.
What might surprise you, however, is that my desperate need to “fix myself” there was not motivated by fear that men would be repulsed by it. In fact, I never felt self-conscious while making love; I often felt like a goddess in the bedroom and had a full and active sex life throughout my 20s and 30s, with several long-term partners.
Men never judged my body. Rather, they were totally accepting of all my curves and seemed delighted to be intimate with me and me with them.
Rather, what fueled my worry was the terrible habit of comparing myself to other women. Watching them in the showers at the local pool, I could see that her lips seemed perfectly hidden. What would they think, I thought, of mine if they happened to look?
Look at any swimsuit or underwear advertisement and the female pubic area is represented by a gentle curve. And my private parts were by no means soft.
So I googled “lip surgery” (something I had heard about but didn’t fully understand) and finally plucked up the courage to consult a private consultant on Harley Street.
I was nervous about talking about this for the first time (it seemed too private and embarrassing to talk about with friends or family), but I didn’t have to worry.
The doctor performed a simple physical exam, which took less time than a Pap smear, and consisted of simply looking at and gently examining my vulva. Without making me feel like a weirdo, he agreed that my lips were visibly enlarged. The cause, he said, could possibly be my bicycle: I traveled to and from my office every day and cycled all over London, probably covering about ten miles a day. However, generally speaking, apart from the changes caused by childbirth, a woman’s lips will not change in size once she has finished puberty.
While the doctor emphasized that there is nothing “normal” when it comes to our genitals, he also felt that, in his surgical opinion, I was an appropriate candidate for labiaplasty.
He then drew some diagrams and showed me the 5mm of excess tissue he would remove. The cost, including medication and private hospital fees, would be £2,750. Possible risk factors, as with all types of surgery, included excessive bleeding, infection and possible loss of sensation or nerve damage.
He also offered me a session with a psychotherapist to discuss any wider body image issues, which I declined.
Honestly, I had no other complexes or doubts about the operation: it was becoming a kind of hatred and I didn’t want to hate a part of my body so closely linked to my sense of femininity.
The surgeon got me an appointment just five weeks later, but I didn’t tell anyone what I was about to do. Instead, I told my new partner that I wanted to wait before starting to have sex, and he agreed to be patient.
In the end, my surgery was surprisingly easy. Performed under general anesthesia, it was the most common form of labiaplasty: trimming the inner lips so that they are hidden within the outer lips, or labia majora.
The excess tissue was removed using a technique called diathermy, which uses high-frequency electrical currents to remove tissue, thereby minimizing bleeding and inflammation.
It took less than an hour. I regained consciousness without feeling any pain and was sent to the bathroom. I was afraid of what I would find, but to my surprise, all I could see were clean spots on both sides, with a little swelling. My lips didn’t protrude at all. I took a taxi home a few hours later and lay on the couch for the rest of the day, working on my laptop.
They had recommended that I use sanitary pads, but I was bleeding very little. I also wasn’t supposed to shower for three days or bathe for a week. Ice packs helped with the pulsations and witch hazel compresses with the itchy spots. After a few days I was on my feet and after fifteen days I felt completely recovered.
Sexual intercourse is not recommended for four to six weeks after surgery, but by the fourth week he was completely healed. I waited six weeks to have sex with my new partner, and that wait time only increased the anticipation for both of us.
My sensation during sex was not affected; In any case, there is greater sensitivity. There are no visible scars either. And of course it was exciting to experience this with a new man.
Now, my fiancé, we welcomed a baby girl two years ago and labiaplasty had no impact on my pregnancy or delivery.
My partner still doesn’t know about my surgery and I never plan to tell him; I’m afraid that if he knew, he might become obsessed with her, making it more of a problem than necessary.
Of course, surgery in such a delicate area is not something to rush. It is essential to find a doctor qualified in genital surgery; I chose an experienced gynecologist, not a cosmetic surgeon.
You should discuss all aspects of the procedure and also check out testimonials from previous patients online. A skilled surgeon will trim the labia without affecting the clitoris and surrounding area.
Because I did my own homework, I am one of the estimated 90 percent of patients who are satisfied with their labiaplasty. I feel more organized and more comfortable.
However, while I am very glad I underwent the procedure, I pity any woman who does this simply to please a man.
I know some people might feel the same way about me, thinking that such a procedure is unnecessary or frivolous. However, I consider it a “corrective” rather than a “cosmetic” surgery, like removing a tumor or an unsightly mole.
Simply put, I did it for myself: I felt my vulva was ugly and now it’s pretty. I am very happy to say that I now adore it as much as any other part of me.