Do I Need a Labiaplasty? Labial Reconstruction Explained

29 April 2020    by - Dr Demetri C Panayi

It is not uncommon for women to be concerned about the appearance of their genitalia, and a question many gynaecologists get asked is “does my vagina look normal?”. Although the female genitalia comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, some women find that they are not happy with the appearance of their labia.

The labia are the flaps of skin on each side of the opening of the vagina. No two are the same; some are short, some are long, some are asymmetrical, which means that there is no “normal” or “abnormal” looking labia. Nevertheless, distorted, large, or uneven labia can cause discomfort or pain, as well as self-confidence issues, all of which can affect a woman’s quality of life. In such cases, labial reconstruction surgery might be recommended.

Continue reading as we discuss what a labiaplasty entails and the type of patient who typically undergoes this procedure.

What is Labiaplasty?

Also known as labial reconstruction, reduction, or rejuvenation, a labiaplasty is a surgical procedure carried out to change the appearance, shape, or size of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips) and/or the labia majora (the outer vaginal lips).

The goal of this type of procedure is to correct any functional problems that a person may be experiencing, as well as creating a more aesthetically pleasing labia.

Why Undergo a Labiaplasty?

There are several reasons as to why a woman might wish to undergo labiaplasty. For some people, it is purely cosmetic, as a woman may be unhappy with the appearance of her labia. The labia may be particularly enlarged, distorted or asymmetric, which, in most cases, does not cause any medical problems. It can, however, create self-esteem issues and make a woman feel unattractive, which may lead to a lack of interest in sex and affect their intimate relationships.

It is important to note that wanting a labiaplasty for cosmetic reasons alone does not warrant NHS coverage. In exceptional circumstances, the surgery may be offered on the NHS, but only for medical reasons.

Labial reconstruction surgery may be advised for women experiencing discomfort due to enlarged or distorted labia, which could be catching on their clothing, making having sex or inserting tampons painful, or preventing them from doing exercise or sitting down comfortably. In some circumstances, a woman may not be able to wear the clothes she wants to due to the size of the labia. All of these would be considered medical reasons for labiaplasty.

The labia can also be damaged during childbirth, which can cause tearing, stretching, scarring or gaps. The altered appearance of the labia may leave a woman feeling unhappy or self-conscious, which may, again, affect her intimate relationships.

In some cases, ageing can also change the way the labia looks, as it loses its tone and elasticity and often increases in size.

How is Labiaplasty Carried Out?

A labiaplasty is a relatively quick surgical procedure, which involves reshaping or decreasing the size of the vaginal lips. Unwanted tissue is removed using a scalpel or a laser and the incisions are closed with dissolvable stitches.

The procedure is performed under either general anaesthetic or local anaesthetic with sedation and lasts between 1-2 hours, depending on the patient. Patients can normally go home on the same day, but they will be required to follow the specific aftercare advice provided.

What is the Aftercare and Recovery for Labiaplasty Like?

Typically, patients will need to take up to two weeks off work to recover. The area is likely to be swollen and sore following surgery, making going to the toilet uncomfortable, however, over-the-counter painkillers can help to alleviate some of the pain.

To prevent rubbing and irritation, loose underwear should be worn, and patients should use sanitary pads instead of tampons for the first few weeks. Strenuous activities and exercise should be avoided for the first few weeks. Sex should be avoided for six weeks.

Do I Need a Labiaplasty?

If you are becoming increasingly unhappy with the appearance of your labia, or if it is causing you daily discomfort or pain, then it might be time to discuss the issue with your GP or gynaecologist.

While undergoing labial reconstructive surgery is not a decision to be taken lightly, the procedure can be life-changing for many women, helping them to live happier lives. Most patients who undergo surgery no longer experience the irritation and pain they had previously, as well as feeling more satisfied with the appearance of their genitalia afterwards.

A labiaplasty should not be carried out on girls under the age of 18, as the labia often continues to develop after puberty and into young adulthood.

Labiaplasty is not to be confused with vaginoplasty, which is the procedure carried out to tighten the vagina. Some women choose to undergo both procedures together, particularly following a traumatic childbirth.

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