Sometimes, I’m not sure about what is wise to share about myself and what isn’t, especially since when I say things on my website or twitter or facebook, my words go out to a lot of people, many of whom I don’t even know. Hi people I know and don’t know! (Picture me, waving wildly.) This post may become TMI. However, it is TMI about my sweet vulva, so you may or may not want to read it.
Anyway, a subject has come up in a couple places in the last three days that I’ve been tempted to really discuss, but the thing that holds me back is that I don’t like talking about certain aspects of myself. I know this may be shocking to some of you who are used to me saying pretty much anything the moment I think it, but there are a few things that I don’t talk about. This is one of those precious few things. So what has been such a big deal that I’m suddenly concerned about what people will think? Labiaplasty!
I have actually considered this surgery. When I first had the idea presented to me, though, it wasn’t at the peak of the current movement like so many others, instead, it was at my first ObGyn appointment. I was 19, I was terrified, I had never willingly shown any intimate part of my body to a man before and what is his suggestion after all of these other concerns? Surgery.
Now, my labia are not freaks. They are, however, asymmetrical and they’re larger than average. I do not have a couple of monstrous growths protruding from my crotch like some prehensile tendrils getting ready to grab you. I also have another problem that isn’t entirely related, but worth mentioning only because it has been a concern discussed alongside the possibility of labiaplasty when doctors have decided it was time, yet again, for the girlparts owner’s manual discussions that we women get to have about once a year. My girl parts aren’t exactly laid out like they should be. I have a tilted cervix (something that is a bit common) and my urethra has a minor flaw. This flaw isn’t horrific, either, except that it makes me prone to getting frequent urinary tract infections. I get those a lot. They hurt, it isn’t fun. As a result of all of this, discussions about surgery on my crotch has been a frequent theme to my doctors appointments.
Out of all the Gynecologists that have surveyed my Netherlands in my adult life, two out of five have suggested that my labia are too large. Five out of five have suggested I be attentive to my urethra and three out of five have suggested that, eventually, I will have to have reconstructive surgery on my urethra. Of course, when these conversations happen, while things are all cool and calm on the outside, in my head I’m going, “THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT PUTTING A KNIFE ON MY GIRL PARTS!!!! AHHHHH!!!!!”
So here’s a weird fact about me. My job relies heavily on what my body looks like. My job relies on my pussy! My job relies on my vulva, but, I’m extremely self conscious about it. People see my vulva on a regular basis, yet, I worry about it a lot.
This doesn’t mean that I’m unnecessarily concerned. There’s a vast difference between having a medical problem, like with my urethra, and having a vanity problem, like with my labia. That doesn’t make the problem with my labia any less of a problem, for me, though.
Let me tell a little story about something that happened as a result of my labia:
As mentioned before, my labia are not outside the realm of normal, they’re just larger than average. That happens, sometimes. Because of this, I dislike wearing underwear. The next important element of the story for you to be aware of is that I like to wear fishnets. I’ve been sporting fishnets for, oh, five or six years, now. I think they’re fun. One day, I went to a party with friends while wearing, not just any pair of fishnets, but one of my fancy pairs. These were known as threadbare fishnets. That is to say, instead of being the kind of fishnets you are used to seeing, with large, dark lines against someone’s skin, these fishnets were made of fine, stretchy threads. These threads are thinner than even the thread that I most often use in my sewing machine. The effect of these fishnets was interesting because, due to the pattern, if you looked at my legs as I stood up, my legs looked normal, but if you looked at my legs at an angle, they looked really fat. It was an odd optical illusion that entertained myself and a friend of mine for at least a little bit of time that night.
The major part of the story, though, didn’t happen until after the party. Once I got home, I was still all glammed up in my fishnets, my mini-skirt (with built-in shorts) and some shiny top. I invited my friend inside for a small chat and I, feeling like the floor was a better place for me, sat comfortably on the floor and talked and stretched my legs. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a horrible sensation on my labia, like it was simultaneously being bitten and pulled at the same time. I instantly knew what was happening. My threadbare fishnets were trying to EAT MY LABIA!.
As many of you may already know, there are two kinds of being eaten alive in this world: There’s the good kind, that some of us can’t get often enough, involving gentle play and an orgasm or two, and there is the bad kind, the kind involving woman-eating violent fishnets. I shrieked. I can’t describe what it must have sounded like, because I wasn’t really listening to myself. I also quickly stood up, which I immediately discovered was a bad move. See, when I was sitting, the fishnets were stretched out farther because my legs were spread. Thus, the gaps between the threads were larger. However, when I stood up, my legs were brought together, the gaps were smaller, which made them CLOSE around my LABIA. I’m pretty sure that my shrieking got louder, but I still wasn’t listening to myself, so I couldn’t really tell you for sure. At this point, I did the one thing that anyone might do when they’re being eaten alive by woman-eating leggings. I tore at them. Right in front of my friend, I reached under my skirt, up through the shorts leg, hooked my finger into one of the fishnet holes and ripped. Then I did it again. After a third rip, my labia was finally free and I was reduced from the shrieking-panicking victim of a fishnet attack to the whiny heap on the floor, trying not to cry. In case you must know, my friend still loves me, but she doesn’t love me enough to ban me from my fishnets.
So, not only are my labia big enough that I’ve heard doctors question them, they’re fat enough that a pair of fishnets considered them to be dinner.
This issue doesn’t stop there, though. I was just using all the previous rambling to lead up to something else. This:
The link for this video was posted on facebook by my friend, Heidi Anderson.* She’s had to kind of struggle with this issue and I’ve been mostly making little comments and sitting on the sidelines without jumping in with what I know because, well, it is tough to be objective when your own junk is involved, you know?
If you have the time, watch the video. I don’t want to be accused of distorting what someone said because someone misunderstands what was said. If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ll quote the important parts below so I can properly respond to them, but I’m not going to type the whole transcript to the video (that’s pretty time-consuming). All the quote boxes below are statements made in the video:
I just want you to know, you do not need labiaplasty!
Firstly, I really dislike it when total strangers tell me what I do and don’t need. How could anyone other than myself, my doctor and maybe the few guys I’ve had sex with even know if I need labiaplasty? What if my labia were so large that they were uncomfortable? They aren’t, but given the experiences that I’ve had and my one bad fishnets experience, I can totally see how other people might have problems with discomfort. Several other girls I know have shared experiences where their large labia caused hygiene issues. It wasn’t that they were unclean, it was that the extra folds of skin around their vulva creates reservoirs for fluids to collect in. Fluids collecting in a single area on our bodies for even just a couple hours can cause problems with smell, irritation and possibly an increased chance for infection.
It’s called labiaplasty. Does that sound fun?
“Copulation” sounds like some sort of bizarre surgical procedure, but I have heard lots of rumors that it is very fun. Something having a specific name doesn’t make it fun or not fun. Something being fun or not fun is also not an indication of if it is important or not.
Scar tissue forms after there’s been an incision and can be very painful when, um, you give birth and it rips.
This would be an understandable concern if a woman intends to give birth after her labiaplasty, but it is also a concern that she should discuss with her doctor. We do need to hold doctors accountable for this risk, and encourage them to make sure to mention it to their patients. If her concerns about her body still outweigh this possible consequence, then it is unreasonable to use it as a complaint against her decision to fix something she sees as wrong with her body.
All vulvas are beautiful!
Tell that to the people who are born girls but want to be boys. To them, their vulvas are a mistake. Every body may be beautiful, but we’re not always beautiful because every one of our body parts is beautiful. Sometimes, being comfortable in our own skin means making our own skin conform to the standard we set. For some, that’s as simple as putting our hair into a ponytail; for others, they may want a change that is more dramatic.
Furthermore, while I appreciate the desire to make everyone feel comfortable with their body, it is also important for people to know when something is wrong. Thus, we should probably acknowledge things that might make a vulva less than beautiful. There are many medical conditions that can affect how a vulva looks and functions. Many of these conditions will happen to most adult women. It is important to recognize beauty in ourselves, but not at the expense of possibly ignoring other important issues that women may face regarding their health. That includes women who may be more prone to infections due to some anatomical problem. Knowing this makes me very uncomfortable with the popularity of declaring that every vulva is beautiful. I’d suggest changing the theme to ‘every wanted vulva is beautiful,’ but that would defeat the purpose of the video and it feels like I’m stealing a campaign slogan from Pro-Choice rallies.
There are as many vulvas in the universe as there are stars in the sky or snowflakes in the winter.
Forgive me for being pedantic, but, no, there aren’t.
You can get Tee Corrine’s ‘Cunt Coloring Book’ …
I feel conflicted. Part of my head is wondering if there’s a penis coloring book, too, and if I can get that along with the ‘Cunt Coloring Book.” Part of my head wants this book just because it is a book full of crotch. Part of my head thinks the other parts of my head are weird and really wants to move out of this obviously crowded apartment in my skull.
The video also discussed Betty Dodson, who is worth discussing another time, but probably not really here. I dislike the use of her as a tool in this video’s discussion. Without the ability to lay out all of the facts about labiaplasty to Dodson herself and allowing her to respond, it is unfair to even mention her in this context at all. That being said, I still want to address this comment:
… rather than hide her body for the rest of her life, and rather than cut off pieces of her body, she went on a journey of self-discovery toward self-love. And it’s really important to think about that. To think about that, you know, you can either go down the road, down the road of self-hate and self-loathing, or go toward self-love.
I dislike how this part of the video implies that modifying one’s body is a statement of self-hate. If someone has a problem with their body, it doesn’t mean that they hate themselves. If I feel like I’m fat and I exercise more to fix that problem, I don’t hate myself and wanting to fix that problem isn’t a testament of hate. Likewise, if I feel like I want to decorate myself and get a tattoo, getting a tattoo doesn’t mean that I hate my body. If I have a scar on my side and I think it is ugly, getting it removed is not a statement of self-hate. If I shave my vulva and armpits, it doesn’t mean I hate myself. If my friend gets breast implants, that doesn’t mean she hates herself. If someone gets their labia reduced in size, this doesn’t mean that they hate themselves. All of these examples are people’s way of improving themselves. Just because other people don’t approve, doesn’t mean that these people hate themselves. Saying that it is about self-hate is a destructive statement! If you’re concerned that people hate themselves, why would you make a statement that might make them feel guilty for changing themselves? That’s absurd! To me, these statements are hurtful to my peers and, if I choose to change myself, to me as well. I can understand the body-positive theme, but I can only identify with it if it truly is a body-positive theme, not if it is a body-positive theme that is exclusive because people don’t like a certain type of modification.
You know, a lot of the time, when we think about where have we seen images of women’s vulvas, it’s pretty much only in either doctored, digital images, that have been altered or photoshopped, or, it might be pornography. And, the people that are in pornography, they may be beautiful, but they’re selected for framing a certain, stereotypical look, of a very young, pre-pubescent vulva.
If your video isn’t already enough to scare people into thinking like you do, the good old pedophile scare will surely do the trick! No, mainstream porn is not trying to frame a pre-pubescent vulva. Being in the adult entertainment industry, this is one of the most irritating claims that we have to deal with. People don’t want my vulva because it looks like a child’s. People want my vulva because 1) it is attached to me and 2) it happens to be a vulva. Furthermore, do you know what vulvas in mainstream porn look like? Anatomical drawings of vulvas! That’s right, just head on over to your Gynecologist’s office and ask to see their anatomical posters. You know what you’ll find? The same thing that you find in porn. I’m pretty sure doctors aren’t trying to portray pre-pubescent vulvas, either. There isn’t really isn’t evidence for the pre-pubescent claim about porn (and shaving, since that’s usually where you see the pre-pubescent claims made, in discussions about shaving), it was just something that someone said and everyone who had a complaint against porn latched onto it and didn’t let go. It wasn’t bad enough to shame people for considering modifying their bodies, must we also make people feel guilty over porn because someone said the porn stars are intended to look like children? And what about women who really do, just by nature of how genetics work, have vulvas that look young, is it really necessary to make them feel uncomfortable? Isn’t it just as bad to make someone feel guilty for that as it is to make someone feel guilty for having large labia or some other variation in their snatch?
There are all different kinds of vulvas, …
This is true, and I’m not going to argue against that. It is true that people shouldn’t worry if their vulva doesn’t match what they see in porn. Their vulva should have the same basic parts as they might see on a poster in a doctor’s office, but they also shouldn’t worry if their proportions are not the same, unless the level of disproportion is causing a problem.
Complaining about your labia being too big is kind of like complaining that your dick’s too big.
This is completely untrue. Not only do labia and penises have completely different functions, a penis that is too big is not considered ‘ugly.’ The video was intended to make women feel more comfortable with their vulva (though, I don’t like the approach), even if it didn’t match a standard of beauty because someone, somewhere, decided that large labia are ugly and because some people seem to think that’s the only reason possible for a labiaplasty. Furthermore, if a penis is too big, there’s not much of a solution that doesn’t make it dysfunctional. If labia really are too big and someone rationally decides they need to have their labia reduced in size, then there are options for them that a person with a large penis doesn’t have.
I think that consumer culture makes a lot of money off of telling us that there are things that we can buy that will make us feel better about ourselves.
Making money off of something doesn’t make it innately evil. Also, there are things we can buy that make us feel better about ourselves. The wisdom in the purchase does not lie on if there is someone making money off of it or not, it is in if what we think we know about what we’re buying is really true. I feel better about myself after I take a shower with soap and water. Just because people make money off of the water for my shower and my soap, doesn’t mean that they’re bad. Of course, they’re motivated by money, but that is also not necessarily a great and evil thing, in itself. If someone makes money off of me addressing a medical issue, that, also, doesn’t mean that the person making money is evil for making money. It is only evil if I am deceived when I spend money for something that doesn’t accomplish what it claimed. That isn’t to say that greedy people don’t do evil things, that’s a whole other matter. There are greedy people who have done evil things that were made easier through capitalistic government (I say ‘capitalistic’ and not ‘capitalist’ because of the hazy nature of the definition of ‘capitalist’), this does not mean, though, that all economic decisions within a capitalistic society where decisions can be consumer-based are bad.
I feel it is important to point out that at the beginning of this video, there was a pitch for some websites. This is all well and good, but one of those sites has the specific purpose of selling things related to sex. This video, itself, is created along with the opportunity to sell things to make people feel better about themselves.
If you don’t love your body, that’s ok, but, you’re not going to love it any more if you start cutting pieces of it off.
This is not necessarily true. In reality, how happy someone is with the outcome of any procedure has more to do with their reasoning for the procedure and surrounding conditions. Studies on breast augmentation patients have shown a more positive attitude about their breasts post-surgery (the part that mentions the post-op breast attitudes is about half way down the page, most of the article highlights other issues with cosmetic surgery, which affects this discussion in both directions). The same study says that about half of those women still show signs of being aware of how their breasts look (as in, they still check themselves in the mirror and try to enhance the look of their breasts using their clothes), but the study doesn’t compare that number to behaviors of the general population (I wonder how many people who have tattoos check out how their tats look in the mirror). However, another study showed that people who have Body Dysmorphic Disorder don’t often have an improved body image when they undergo cosmetic surgery. Sadly, people have taken this study and related studies and ran with them, not recognizing that Body Dysmorphic Disorder only accounts for a certain percentage of cosmetic surgery patients. In other words, applying the results of that study to the general public is not just absurd, it is bad science. When we turn this issue over and look at it from the other side, we find this study, which shows us that body image issues have little influence on decisions about plastic surgery. In other words, people’s reasons for getting cosmetic surgeries are not because they hate themselves, somehow. There still needs to be more study in this area, but what we have so far seems to say that it is quite possible that cosmetic surgery can and does make some people feel better about their bodies, but that it might not have a positive effect on people who have severe body image issues related to conditions like Body Dysmorphic Disorder (and they don’t make up the largest portion of people obtaining cosmetic surgery).
There are major, major risks.
I will note that while the video says that, they only highlight one major risk that isn’t a concern for other cosmetic procedures. The risk they mention, the scar tissue, is only a concern if the woman gives birth to a child and it can be addressed easily through doctor-patient communication.**
At the 6:48 point in the video, there is the most awesome part of this video, ever. If that section was all that this video contained, I would think it was wonderful. I love that woman simply because she transformed from being all about one concern (that she needed more information about) to focusing on what really is a more important thing for women and that is open and honest and consensual sexual behavior. I don’t want to type out the transcript here because I really want you to go watch it. She lists a bunch of things that you can do with a vulva.
Nobody should make money off of your fears and self-hate.
That really depends on what your fears are about. Making money off of your self-hate would be a concern, but I already addressed the problem with equating labiaplasty with self-hate and I still think people should be ashamed of creating that association. Fears, though? There are entirely healthy reasons to spend money on protecting yourself from things you’re afraid of. In reality, that is something we should examine on a case by case basis. If I’m afraid of dying because I’m at risk for diabetes, it is entirely reasonable for me to spend money on things that will help me keep my body under control as long as I’m making sound, informed decisions. It is totally healthy, too, for me to buy condoms if I’m concerned about getting pregnant or a disease. There are fears that we should address and it is not immoral for others to make some money off of those fears if they’re offering me a way to avoid the thing I’m afraid of. Sometimes, those fears may be related to body image. It is wrong to demonize that and, as a result, risk excluding those who may make choices that are incongruent with some standard for decisions that someone sets because they dislike that people have an option for changing their body through surgery.
If there’s someone in your life who’s asking you to do this, you really need to consider what their role in your life is, because, they’re asking you to put your body at risk to have less sensitivity in one of your most sensitive areas. And, really, are they loving you for who you are? If they ask you to do this to cut off your labia, what else are they gonna ask you to do? When will it end?
Hello, slippery slope fallacy!
If someone is suggesting this surgery to a friend or loved one, it seems more rational to consider why the surgery is being suggested. When the surgery has been suggested to me, for example, it was because the doctors were concerned about discomfort. In reality, when considering a procedure like this, it is the health of the vulva and person as a whole that needs to be examined. Just because someone mentions this surgery doesn’t mean that they lack consideration for how sensitive you are for sex, sometimes there are other concerns that are worth considering. Also, I’ve looked pretty hard and not found a single study that has stated that other people are a major influence for this surgery other than a few that mention that girls who opt for this surgery are more frequently uncomfortable showing their vulva to their partner. I show off my vulva for part of my living and *I’m* uncomfortable showing my vulva to my partner (when I have one). That isn’t uncommon and that doesn’t mean that my partner or anyone else’s partner is pimping out this surgery to vulnerable women around the world. I’m not sure I understand why this part of the video commentary was included.
The risk of loss of sensation is not an entirely wrong thing to discuss. Sometimes, though, too much sensitivity in an area really can be a bad thing. Labia being sensitive was why getting mine pinched in my fishnets was so painful. It was a funny moment, in retrospect, but certainly not enjoyable. If someone’s labia are causing them discomfort, it is certainly the case that they should feel free to consider the cost and benefit of this procedure. It should be completely acceptable for them to weigh out the possibilities and some women are probably going to prefer losing some of their sensation so they’re not uncomfortable all the time because their labia gets caught in their jeans or something. Also, it isn’t as if they are completely cutting out all the nerve endings that they have in their vulva. I think that if we’re going to discuss and consider this procedure, it should be clear to the patient as well as the doctor what is gained and what is lost. Are they going to lose orgasms to this procedure? That’s unlikely unless the labia were their primary means of obtaining orgasm. Will they lose sensation? Yes, they probably will. Is it worth losing that sensation to make them more comfortable in some other way? That’s up to the patient to consider, not for everyone to campaign against and demonize.
I have no intention of getting a labiaplasty anytime soon. They’re expensive and I can tell by my own work that my labia function just fine. After 13 years, my urethra is in basically the same condition, so it doesn’t look like that will be operated on anytime soon, either. For now, my vulva is safe. If I decide that I want to change that someday, though, it will certainly be an informed decision and I hope that anyone else considering labiaplasty or any other medical decision, will also make sure that their decisions are well-informed and suitable for their own situation.
**Also note: I tried to find a plastic surgeon to ask a related question about solving this problem. Because different types of scars produce different mobility in the affected regions, I have to wonder if the cut and closure type could be altered in this procedure in order to make the affected region stretchier. Would it be possible to create a wavy incision (and, thus, closure) that could allow for more flexibility in the labia after the procedure? In my head, it would work almost like creating a curved cut and zig-zag stitch on stretchy fabric to keep from losing the fabric’s flexibility. I could be wrong, though, so I would really, really, really like some input from a cosmetic surgeon on this.