We’ve gotten to the stage where we’re a little more comfortable talking about all things vagina and vulva-related. Yes, of course, we have a long way to go, but at least we’re getting used to the conversation.
Part of that has been around the rise of vaginal rejuvenation and labiaplasty procedures. With celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and some of the Real Housewives and Kardashians talking about their vaginal rejuvenation procedures and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reporting a 500 percent increase in labiaplasties over the past five years, people are willing to shell out money to look and feel better down there.
But what’s the difference between the two? Are they purely cosmetic, or are there actual health benefits too? We spoke with a number of experts to find out.
The term “vaginal rejuvenation” refers to either a surgical procedure or radio frequency or laser procedure that restores the vaginal canal, Dr. Patricia A. Wallace, an OB-GYN board certified in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery with The Advanced Center for Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery in Mission Viejo, California, tells SheKnows.
The aim of vaginal rejuvenation is to make the vagina feel and look younger and healthier again, as aging, childbirth and other conditions can cause the vagina to lose its flexibility, firmness and tone, Dr. Yen Tran, an OB-GYN at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows.
And according to Dr. Susan G. Murrmann, an OB-GYN with the McDonald + Murrmann Center for Wellness & Health in Germantown, Tennessee, vaginal rejuvenation corrects “tissue structural” problems related to vaginal laxity, painful intercourse, incontinence and menopausal symptoms that include painful intercourse and dryness.
“The goal is to tighten the vagina’s walls and opening by either using cream, laser and/or cosmetics surgery in the vagina,” she explains. “This is done to make the vagina tighter by removing excess skin and lifting the bladder neck and bladder and rectum up, thus restoring it to its usual location.”
People with vaginas seek vaginal rejuvenation for vaginal relaxation, reduced sensation during intimacy, vaginal dryness and sexual dysfunction following childbirth, Wallace explains.
If a patient approached Wallace asking about vaginal rejuvenation, she says she would first take a thorough history regarding childbirth, sexual function and concerns.
“I usually recommend conservative measures before surgery, such as pelvic physical therapy, Thermiva — a temperature-controlled radio-frequency treatment that stimulates collagen, blood flow, sensation and restores the health and vitality of the internal and external tissues,” she explains.
Another option is the MonaLisa Touch, which uses a combination of heat and fractional ablation to promote regrowth and thickening of vaginal tissue, according to research published in 2016 in the journal Menopause. There are a variety of other vaginal rejuvenation procedures, including FemiLift, IntimaLase, Ultra Femme 360 and Viveve, each with their own strengths and drawbacks to discuss with your doctor.
If there is significant relaxation of the vaginal walls on exam, she says that outpatient surgery is able to restore the vagina with minimal discomfort and about six weeks limiting physical activities, including sex.
Labiaplasty is the surgical reduction your inner vaginal lips — also known as the labia minora, OB-GYN Dr. Pari Ghodsi tells SheKnows. Normal labia minora can vary in size, shape and appearance; asymmetry is common, as is your labia minora protruding from your labia majora [outer lips].
According to Tran, people opt for labiaplasty to make their vulva look and feel younger after being impacted by aging, childbirth, congenital issues, accidents, impairment and other conditions.
However, some doctors caution against getting labiaplasty for cosmetic purposes.
“I do not recommend labiaplasty for cosmetic reasons, but I do recommend it in situations when a woman has chronic physical discomfort from her labia,” Ghodsi stresses. “When this discomfort occurs with exercise, sex or tight-fitting clothing, it is something that can be considered, but only after nonsurgical measures are considered.”
According to Wallace, labiaplasty of the labia minora can be done either via laser or surgical repair as an outpatient procedure with minimal pain, and healing time is about two weeks.
Dr. John G. Hunter, a clinical professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of the Labiaplasty Center NYC, tells SheKnows that labiaplasty is requested for reduction of inner lips about 90 percent of the time. Alteration of the clitoral hood is frequently performed at the time of inner lip reduction, he adds.
Nonsurgical options can include supportive underwear, arrangement of the labia during exercise, certain moisturizers and the use of formfitting clothing, Ghodsi says. If a patient is in constant pain and their labia situation isn’t easily corrected, “then, and only then, should surgery be considered, but please do not consider it for cosmetic reasons,” she adds.
Should you consider it?
The thing is, it’s up to you what you want to do with your own body. If you’re feeling physical pain or discomfort because of your labia or vagina and one of these procedures will help, go for it. If you’re doing it solely for cosmetic reasons or to “keep it tight” for a partner, maybe think a little more about whether it’s actually necessary.
Vaginas, vulvas and labia come in all different shapes, sizes, colors and degrees of tightness. Despite the rise of the so-called “designer vagina,” unless this is something that will make you feel better, it should by no means be the new beauty standard.
Having said that, we frequently disregard people who have given birth and/or gone through menopause as nonsexual beings, which is simply not true. For those people with vaginas who do want to have less painful penetrative sex and decide to opt for vaginal rejuvenation, it should be seen in the same vein as people with a penis who use Viagra.
You deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin — vaginal or otherwise — and if you think you could benefit from vaginal reconstruction or labiaplasty, talk to your doctor about it.