Weigh Your Options Carefully for Genital Cosmetic Surgery
The appearance of the human body varies greatly from person to person; there is no "normal." But inescapable beauty standards and a culture of competition can make us insecure about all aspects of our bodies, including our genitals.
To address this perceived need, people including nonsurgical physicians and holistic health practitioners offer aesthetic procedures or genital cosmetic surgery they may not be fully trained to complete. A board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist would likely have better knowledge, but patients may not know the technical distinctions to look for and unwittingly put themselves at higher risk.
Before you commit to any kind of genital cosmetic surgery, you must thoroughly research your provider, the realistic expectations of all possible outcomes, and the seriousness of the risk of health complications you may be facing. Importantly, you should embark on this procedure for yourself and yourself alone.
The motivation to change your genital appearance
Alexander Zuriarrain, M.D., a quadruple-board-certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery, based in Miami, said a multitude of motivations prompt people to undergo genital rejuvenation.
"Some of them are related to attempting to enhance the function of the genital region," Zuriarrain said. "Other procedures are motivated by aesthetics. For example, surgery is performed to reduce the excess skin of the labia minora. This is one of the most common procedures performed nowadays for [vaginal] rejuvenation."
An article published by the National Center for Health Research said both advocates and critics agree that the popularity of these procedures is caused by a desire for heightened sexual pleasure and more youthful-looking genitals in line with mainstream beauty ideals.
"Some doctors claim the demand for genital plastic surgery is being driven by pornography, now more readily available than ever on the internet and television," the article explained. "Another important factor in many women's decision to have genital reconstruction surgeries is pressure from their partners."
For a larger-looking penis, show more of it
"For men, there are several treatments available for erection improvements, sensation improvements and size increase," said Olga Bachilo, M.D., a plastic surgeon based in Houston. "Among those are shockwave therapy using acoustic sound waves, a shot using the patient's own blood and plasma, and [a chair] using electromagnetic energy."
More invasive procedures include injections and surgery, Bachilo added.
Some men may bleach the skin of the penis to change the color, Zuriarrain said. Others may get Botox for smoothing the scrotal area.
For size enhancement, some men choose to inject fat or hyaluronic acid fillers into the penis or seek testicular implants. Enlargement procedures may involve cutting the ligaments connecting the base of the penis to the pelvis to allow more of the penis to be uncovered, making the penis look larger rather than changing its size.
Each of these procedures come with potentially serious risks and side effects that you should discuss with your surgeon. The individual cost-benefit balance varies between each patient.
Rejuvenating the labia
Cosmetic treatments for the labia area include skin-tightening treatments, radiofrequency, microneedling with radiofrequency and lasers.
"Botox can be used to smooth out labia majora wrinkles," Bachilo said. "Labia majora can also be rejuvenated and plumped up with hyaluronic acid fillers or fat injections. Labia majora deflates with aging, and large labia minora and labia majora can be surgically reduced. Also, surgical vaginoplasty and perineoplasty can be done to tighten the vaginal canal and reduce the vaginal opening, especially after a woman has large babies or a poorly repaired episiotomy."
If you like the way your genitals look and feel, it's OK to leave them alone even if they don't fit society's beauty standards. But being comfortable in your skin matters a lot for self-confidence during intimate times, so if vaginal rejuvenation gets you there, more power to you.
However, note that health risks, such as pain in the affected area, may impede intimacy. Have an honest discussion with your partner about who this surgery benefits. If you're seeking surgery to benefit your partner, the unfairly weighted negative effects could later impact your relationship dynamic.
Who? And how much?
According to the Enrich Clinic in Australia, vaginal rejuvenation procedures can be performed on people if they are not pregnant, have had a recent normal Pap smear, have no vaginal infections, have no urinary tract infections and don't have undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding. Vaginal rejuvenation has no age restrictions, but each medical organization and facility has different regulations on what is required for people younger than 18.
Treatment plans vary based on procedure and location. For example, at the Women's Wellness Institute of Dallas, costs for vaginal rejuvenation range from $1,000 to $12,000 and include the surgeon's fee, anesthesia fee, facility fee and all pre- and post-op appointments. In contrast, labiaplasty procedures at Labiaplasty NYC in New York start at $4,500.
For penis rejuvenation, almost anyone is a candidate since most procedures take place outside the body. However, if you have any blood-clotting disorders or are prone to infection, more intense procedures requiring surgery might not be recommended. Always check with your doctor before going under the knife.
The cost of the only penis enlargement surgery approved by the Food and Drug Administration for commercial use ranges from $16,000 to $25,000 over your lifetime and includes the initial implant as well as any follow-up care and maintenance.
Most insurance companies do not cover genital rejuvenation procedures because they are considered elective and cosmetic procedures. If you can prove a procedure serves mostly medical purposes, you can petition your insurance company to cover the cost of the rejuvenation.
The risks of genital rejuvenation
Noninvasive procedures carry little to no risk, Bachilo said, but risks for surgical procedures include scar tissue formation, infection, bleeding, possible damage to surrounding structures and potential for painful intercourse.
"Injections carry small risks, mainly bruising, bleeding, discomfort, potential infection and lumpiness, especially with fillers," Bachilo said. "Many surgical procedures can be performed under local anesthesia, thus, also minimizing risks."
Overall, there is a very low risk of permanent damage or injury to the vaginal tissue, specifically, with rejuvenation procedures, according to Zuriarrain.
"It's always important to see a board-certified physician with expertise in vaginal rejuvenation as well as male rejuvenation surgeries," he added.
According to the National Center for Health Research, most procedures now advertised as "vaginal rejuvenation" use lasers, not surgery.
"Like any other cosmetic procedure, results can be excellent or disastrous," the center's article reads. "Laser-based vaginal rejuvenation is still relatively new and these are not approved by the FDA. In fact, in July of 2018, the FDA issued a warning against these devices, stating that the lasers and other energy-based devices 'have serious risks and don't have adequate evidence to support their use' for cosmetic procedures."
Penis rejuvenation can involve a combination of both external procedures and surgery, and unlike vaginal rejuvenation, the FDA has approved some techniques. The surgical procedures carry the same risks as other surgeries, like bruising, infection, bleeding and soreness around the incision. Bleaching, lasering and other therapies have less risk, but it's always important to see a licensed and board-certified practitioner for any of these procedures.
The benefits of genital rejuvenation
The main benefit people want from treatments is an improved look for their genitals, the same way people who get facials expect their face to look improved. Obviously, there's no formula for what makes someone feel comfortable and sexy in their own skin. Whether you get genital cosmetic surgery or not, the decision is yours and yours alone.
However, for anyone considering genital rejuvenation for any reason, having all of the necessary information is crucial. Just as the decision to get genital rejuvenation shouldn't be made solely based on unrealistic beauty standards, the decision to not do it shouldn't be based on shame and lack of information about your options and health risks.
"I believe that social media has definitely contributed to the widespread understanding that genital rejuvenation is possible," Zuriarrain explained. "Many women are very nervous to come to a plastic surgeon to discuss their genitalia. They feel ashamed and are very embarrassed. The fact that society now understands that it is absolutely normal for women to desire a more attractive genital appearance has led to more women being open and exploring their options."