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Rise in Young Girls Seeking Risky Genital Surgery

By Solicitor, Clinical Negligence

I was deeply disturbed by a BBC investigation that revealed girls as young as nine are seeking surgery to alter the appearance of their genitals.

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In 2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS. More than 150 of the girls were under 15.

Labiaplasty is a surgical procedure that involves shortening or reshaping the lips of the vagina. The majority of these surgeries are done by private cosmetic surgeons on women over 18.

The growing number of girls - especially those under 18 years old - being referred for cosmetic reasons rather than medical reasons, suggests that many women are unaware of the additional risks and scarring they may experience in the future as a result of the surgery.

Dr Naomi Crouch, who chairs the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology, told the BBC she had yet to see a girl who needed the operation and believed labiaplasty should only be carried out on those who have a medical abnormality.

"I find it very hard to believe there are 150 girls with a medical abnormality which means they needed an operation on their labia," she said.

Surgery for cosmetic rather than medical reasons is not permitted by the NHS, which implies some girls may be overstating their physical symptoms in order to receive the surgery.

The growing number of girls - especially those under 18 years old - being referred for cosmetic reasons rather than medical reasons, suggests that many women are unaware of the additional risks and scarring they may experience in the future as a result of the surgery.

Dr Crouch went on to draw disturbing parallels between labiaplasty and female genital mutilation (FGM), which is illegal in the UK. She said: "The law says we shouldn't perform these operations on developing bodies for cultural reasons. Current Western culture is to have very small lips, tucked inside. I see this as the same thing".

I am currently instructed by a client who entered into a private arrangement with a consultant plastic surgeon following concerns over the length of both labia, which caused her to suffer pain during sexual intercourse. Having undergone the labiaplasty procedure, she suffered wound dehiscence, asymmetry and bleeding as well as a lump under the clitoris.

The surgeon agreed to perform revision surgery. As a result of the surgeon’s substandard level of care and treatment, my client suffered a distorted vulva and lost all clitoral sensation. She will require graft surgery to restore the appearance of her vulva, although it is very unlikely it will return to “normal”.

 

A Call For Education

Our culture of social media and its harmful depictions of so-called perfection may be one cause of the rising number of girls requesting the procedure. It mustn’t be underestimated how exposure to such imagery may impact upon impressionable teens.

In some cases it may be said that the images girls are being exposed to through pornography and social media can develop a warped perception of how genitals should look.

The answer in many of these cases may be education. By providing children with an insight into this issue they will be better equipped in knowing girls should not compare themselves to adult women.

During adolescence the labia are still growing. While surgery may seem a solution for asymmetrical or prominent inner lips, it will probably result in scarring. Most importantly, girls should learn that they are not the only ones struggling with concerns regarding body image, and that talking about it may help them to cope as their bodies change and develop.

 

 

Advice For Anyone Considering Labiaplasty

Some people are unaware that there are serious consequences for women in the long-term as a result of this procedure if performed with the unnecessary skill and expertise. There are additional complications associated with this procedure including urological problems.

If you are considering labiaplasty for cosmetic reasons, it is important that you ensure the medical practitioner is insured and qualified to conduct such a technical procedure.

In 2016 the General Medical Council announced new rules in a bid to tighten up regulation and remove rogue surgeons from the UK’s cosmetic surgery industry. These rules include outlawing supermarket-style promotions such as the ‘Buy one procedure, get one free’ offers and making sure patients are given adequate time and information before making such an important decision about their bodies.

It is very important that women understand the risks associated with these especially technical procedures and if they do undergo these procedures, that they understand there is legal support out there for them where something has gone wrong.

Indeed, a healthcare professional must see that all measures are made to ensure a prospective patient makes a fully-informed decision before undergoing any kind of cosmetic surgery. This means providing them with an exhaustive list of any risks and lasting effects of a procedure. A patient must also have sufficient time to think through the decision and not feel pressured into surgery that they may regret in years to come.

It is very important that women understand the risks associated with these especially technical procedures and if they do undergo these procedures, that they understand there is legal support out there for them where something has gone wrong.

For a free consultation about a clinical or medical negligence compensation claim call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.

Shikha Maini is a clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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