Health

What Is Labiaplasty and Why Would You Need It?

If there’s one thing people with vaginas are used to, it’s being told that something on their body needs fixing. So it should be no surprise that labiaplasty is something that lots of people are curious about.

Seriously, Google labiaplasty and you’ll get over a million search results (including this one, probably). So, we wanted to clear things up for you by covering a few common questions about the procedure, like: What is labiaplasty? How much does labiaplasty cost? And, most importantly, does anyone actually need labiaplasty?

What is labiaplasty?

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), labiaplasty refers to a procedure that reduces the length of the labia minora. If you need a quick refresher, the vulva refers to the external genitalia surrounding the vagina (which refers to the internal organ). The vulva includes your labia, of which you have two sets. The labia majora are the outer lips that grow hair, and the labia minora are tucked inside those, putting them closer to all the greatness that is your clitoris, urethra, and vaginal opening. Labiaplasty typically is performed on the labia minora.

According to the most recent statistics from the ASPS, 10,246 people got labiaplasty in 2018 by ASPS-member surgeons. That’s down a bit from 2016, when 12,666 people got labiaplasty.

Who might want to get labiaplasty?

While plastic surgery is and should be a personal choice, many doctors are hesitant to perform labiaplasty unless it’s actually medically necessary, since surgery always comes with potential risks and complications. “I tell patients that your labia are like your earlobes—they’re all different shapes and sizes,” Maura Quinlan, M.D., an ob/gyn with Northwestern Medical Group, tells SELF. “We really don’t want to cut away at normal anatomy.”

That point is worth repeating: labia come in all different shapes, sizes, lengths, and colors. Their beauty lies in their variation, and there’s basically no way to go wrong. It’s completely normal for your labia to look different from what you see online, on your partner, or even from one side to the other.

There isn’t any kind of medical guide that dictates a standard length for labia, Suzanne Fenske, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Mount Sinai Health System, tells SELF. However, she says, many doctors consider labia minora to be excessively long, aka hypertrophic, if they’re more than 5 or 6 centimeters in length when gently stretched out (that’s about 2 inches).

But again, there is a ton of potential variation with labia. Even having labia minora that surpass that benchmark doesn’t mean you need labiaplasty.

Labiaplasties for medical reasons are about how your labia minora impact your life, not how the lips look, Dr. Quinlan says. Depending on their length, your labia minora can cause pain during sex if they get tucked into the vagina. They can also cause irritation or discomfort while wearing underwear or a swimsuit, being physically active, or even walking around and doing regular daily activities, Dr. Fenske says. If your labia minora aren’t disrupting your life like this, ob/gyns and gynecologic surgeons will be hesitant to recommend surgery. The only exception is if you have some sort of abnormality on the labia, like a melanoma.

Cosmetic labiaplasty procedures, on the other hand, are usually about wanting your labia minora to look a certain way (typically shorter and more “tucked in” between the labia majora). When Dr. Quinlan has patients who ask about labiaplasty, she counsels them on the basics and encourages them to look up The Great Wall of Vagina, an art installation in the United Kingdom that features plaster casts of different women’s vaginas. “There are so many normal variations in shape and size—sometimes I think it really helps for women to see that,” she says.

What can you expect from a labiaplasty procedure?

Labiaplasty is considered an outpatient procedure (meaning you don’t stay at the hospital overnight afterward), and it can be done under general anesthesia or a mix of local anesthesia and sedation, according to the ASPS.

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