New Zealanders are said to be enthusiastic adopters of new technology and processes related to grooming and there appears to be no exception when it comes to female cosmetic genital surgery.

Female cosmetic genital surgery is an overarching term that can relate to a number of different procedures performed on the female genitalia. The practice is thought to be on the rise in New Zealand based on statistics collected in overseas cultures similar to ours; however, substantial local research is yet to be conducted.

University of Otago department of public health senior lecturer Dr Hera Cook says research conducted in America indicates people who were early adopters of other grooming practices, such as pubic hair removal, are more likely to have cosmetic genital surgery.

“What we’re finding is that the number of cosmetic surgeries that white women are getting is disproportionate to the percentage of white women in the population as a whole.”

According to DermNet NZ, the incidence of vulvoplasty (augmentation or, more frequently, reduction of the external female genitalia) has increased dramatically over the last two decades in high-income Western countries. Statistics released by the Australian Government in 2014 reported a 105 per cent increase in Medicare claims for vulvoplasty and labiaplasty (reduction of the labia) from 2008 to 2013.

Female cosmetic genital surgery is not illegal in New Zealand, although another branch of surgical genital alteration, female genital mutilation, or FGM, is. FGM became a crime in 1996, around the same time that women began opting to have cosmetic genital surgeries, and is illegal regardless of the patient’s age and whether she elects to have the procedure herself.

There are several lines between the two subsections of genital alteration, Cook says; the clearest of which is that female genital mutilation is often performed on children, while cosmetic surgery is usually performed on adults.

“The other thing about FGM is it encompasses a very wide spectrum of operations. Sometimes it’s really quite small alterations and sometimes it’s alterations that make it difficult for the women to menstruate, or not possible for her to have a child without having the scarring that resulted from the FGM cut open. When we look at labiaplasties, we’re looking at something that would be at the very mild end of female genital circumcision,” she says.

“The problem with FGM is obviously we want to respect other cultures and in our own culture the difficulty is we want to respect women’s choices.

“What we want is a society in which women feel comfortable and can enjoy their sexuality and their bodies and in both cases you’ve got incorrect information given to women about their bodies.”

Cook believes the rise in prevalence of female cosmetic genital surgery represents a rising number of women who see their genitals as an object for other people to look at, rather than a part of their body through which they experience sexual responses.

“We know that this relates to other kinds of body disorders, from anorexia to all the kinds of issues around body dysmorphic disorder,” she says.

“Concern and anxiety about appearance affects cognitive function, it affects women’s academic achievement; it affects women’s confidence, and confidence affects a whole lot of aspects of life.”

Cook would like to see a reduction in the numbers of female cosmetic genital surgeries performed, but says this would require a significant shift in society’s views on female sexuality. While she believes we need to challenge the practice, she does not see any practical need to make these operations illegal.

However, Cook says it is important not to reject the women who have elected to undertake these operations.

“Women are not saying they’re having cosmetic surgery because they want their bodies to look like Kim Kardashian or they want their bodies to be perfect. They’re saying actually that they have parts of their bodies that they’re uncomfortable about, that they think there’s something wrong with them and they’re just trying to get their bodies back to a point where they see them as normal.”

Dr Hera Cook is a historian of sexuality and sexual practices and is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, Wellington.

Source: Health Central


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