Labiaplasty from different perspectives

Triple J program The Hookup featured a discussion about labiaplasty last week from a number of perspectives: the surgeon, the researcher/psychologist, and from a woman who has had the surgery herself.

You can listen to the podcast here:


Discussion begins at 1:20:30

The taboo around female genitalia has grave consequences for women

An opinion piece by Cat Rodie published this week in Fairfax media suggests that the social and cultural taboos around female genitalia are contributing to young women and girls both not knowing about what their genitals should look like and being dissatisfied with their genital appearance.

“Girls get socialised not to talk about their genitalia. And then, when they need to talk about it (because they have a weird symptom or something has changed) they find that it’s too embarrassing… We need to normalise conversations about female genitalia so that we can start smashing through taboos”

You can read the article in full HERE



No really, please don’t glitter bomb your vagina.

I have been attempting to write about this for a while now, but every time I go to start, I come across yet another article either extolling or decrying the latest dubious product available to buy and put inside your vagina.

First it was the jade eggs, then the detox pearls, followed by the wasp nests.

In the last week or so, I have seen a stack of articles about a product called Passion Dust.

These “intimacy capsules” are filled with glitter and designed to be placed inside the vagina.

You can read about why gynaecologists are warning against putting glitter capsules in your vagina hereherehere, and here.

Essentially, as Canadian gynaecologist Dr. Jen Gunter observes in her blog post (linked above) there are two main concerns with regard to the glitter capsules. Firstly, the ingredients used to make both the capsule and the glitter are untested, and there is no way to verify whether they are safe and sterile. This is despite the claims made by the manufacturer. Secondly, if the glitter contains sugar, then there is a risk of it upsetting the balance of natural yeast in the vagina and therefore could lead to or exacerbate a yeast infection.

I have been thinking a lot about these products over the last while, trying to work out exactly what it is that bothers me about them. Aside from the potential health risks outlined above, I find something unsettling about the commercial aspect of selling vaginal “enhancement”, and why people think it’s ok to flog it for cash (I’m looking at you Goopy Paltrow).

Recently gizmodo published an article about how, despite having a policy prohibiting the sale of items that make medical claims, Etsy as a selling platform regularly violates it’s terms of service by selling products like the wasp nests (although the original product listing for “medicinal” wasp nests has now been removed).

It is also a problem of culture. Many such products are marketed to women for their “wellness” properties together with a capacity to enhance men’s pleasure, even though they carry potential health risks for women who use them. The glitter capsules here are a case in point, as are the wasp nests which are said to help “tighten” the vagina.

However, I don’t think that dubious products on their own, nor the people nor places that sell them are the only issues here. I started thinking about in what kind of universe I could be convinced that using ground wasp nests to treat (hypothetical) gynaecological issues would be a good idea?

And then it hit me.

Would I think that ground wasp nests were a good idea if I didn’t know much about my own anatomy? Or about how it worked?

Again, this made me think about how young people in particular learn about sexual and reproductive health matters (and about relationship and sexuality education). I thought about my own experiences. Where did I learn this stuff? Home (specifically from my mother), school, and friends (this was pre-internet, so I won’t count Google).

Realistically, none of these sources guarantee the provision of good information.

Researchers in Australia, the UK, and South Africa (among other countries) articulate the need for all young people to have access to modern, scientifically sound, and inclusive sex education. While I don’t remember anything I learned in school sex ed being particularly bad, I also don’t remember anything particularly good about it either – and there certainly wasn’t anything about detox pearls nor wasp nests (nor was there anything about what genitals could look like or should look like, but that’s a post for another time).

In sum, vaginal glitter bombing IS probably 2017’s stupidest genital-related trend.

So please don’t glitter bomb your vagina. Or your eyeballs.





Different doctors, different opinions?

When was the last time you googled a health issue looking for information? Or went looking for a health practitioner for a specific medical issue?

Since 2000, the Pew Research Centre in the US has been researching something they call The Social Life of Health Information. This project examines how people use the internet to look for and communicate about health information and medical issues. They estimate that about 7 out of 10 adults have searched online for information about a health issue.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that as recently as 2014 – 2015, 86% of all households in Australia had access to the internet at home. This report confirms that young people (aged 15 -17) are the biggest users of the internet in Australia (out of all internet users).

I think it is safe to suggest (without conducting an extensive literature review), that 1) people feel comfortable to look for health-related information online, and 2) that if most adults do this, then young people will also be doing this.

I spend a LOT of my PhD time looking at health-related information on the internet. One thing that has struck me as I have been researching female cosmetic genital surgery, are the differences you see between different sources of information online about the topic. You might expect to see differences in the quality of information you find, but what about differences in expert opinion on the subject?

Consider the following – a google search for female cosmetic genital surgery can net the following two webpages, one from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and one from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). I chose these two pages from the US because the professional associations are equivalent in nature and both consider themselves to be opinion leaders about FGCS.

Both pages are provided by the leading specialist medical membership organisations that provide training and accreditation to plastic surgeons and gynaecologists in the United States. Both organisations make a claim about having particular expertise about FGCS, but as you can see each offer startlingly different takes on the merits of these types of surgeries.

My point here, is that these two different medical specialities have very different opinions about FGCS and offer different (and sometimes conflicting) advice about these procedures, even when both specialities are considered experts and leaders in their field. I wonder how people (especially young people) negotiate such different expert opinions on the same topic? What does it mean for people when they are looking for health information or medical advice and the expert opinion is conflicting?

This example gets more interesting in relation to the difference in opinion between the two disciplines when it comes to teens and adolescents seeking FGCS. In response to an ACOG position statement released in 2016 which counsels doctors to take a very conservative and cautious approach to young women asking for FGCS, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons released a statement which asserts that aesthetic plastic surgeons “should be at the forefront in developing recommendations… in regard to adolescents inquiring about labiaplasty”, and assert their claim to expertise and opinion with regard to FGCS.

In this instance, is the wellbeing of young people caught up in a disciplinary difference of opinion?