Reproductive Rights Prof Blog

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CUNY School of Law

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Monday, March 5, 2007

Designer Vaginas

In today's Washington Post, "Cosmetic Surgery's New Frontier":

Christopher A. Warner says he considers himself something of a maverick, a caring physician willing to challenge medical orthodoxy in order to help women.

What a hero.  Let's read on:

That's why the 39-year-old board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist recently opened the Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute of Washington in a red brick townhouse off Washington Circle. There, he is building a business as the first area physician to perform controversial procedures that use a laser to enhance sexual gratification by repairing tissue damaged by childbirth, to give women a "youthful aesthetic look" or to make those who are not appear to be virgins.

Umm... whose sexual gratification, exactly?

"The question I have is, is this being done for the benefit of the woman -- or someone else?" Young asked. Some women undergo the surgery, he said, because a man has told them, "Honey, you don't look like the girl in the movie.". . .

Critics and supporters of vaginal cosmetic surgery say the mainstreaming of graphic images, including pornography, is fueling demand.

Warner and Matlock say that patients frequently request "a nice sleek look" similar to images seen in Playboy magazine and on some cable TV channels. "Women tell us they want to look like they're 18 again," Matlock said....

There is little dispute that one procedure, known as hymenoplasty, is performed primarily for the impression it will make on men.

Yeah, that's what I thought.  But is it at least safe and effective, if not personally gratifying, for women?

One of the most vociferous critics is Thomas G. Stovall, a past president of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons. "There is absolutely zero scientific literature that supports . . . the notion that firing a laser of any kind will tighten [vaginal] muscles," said Stovall, who calls the surgery "a ripoff."

"Most sexual gratification has nothing to do with your vaginal muscle tone," said Stovall, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee at Memphis. "It's really a heresy promoting this. But sex sells."

Each laser procedure costs about $3,000 to $9,000, and many women undergo several simultaneously. These surgeries are also often performed with other cosmetic surgeries, such as liposuction. They are rarely covered by insurance.

Berman said she has treated about 15 women who have undergone vaginal procedures to improve their sex lives and developed complications such as painful intercourse.

St. Louis plastic surgeon V. Leroy Young, former chairman of the emerging trends task force of the plastic surgeons' society, said the hype surrounding these procedures underscores a lack of regulatory oversight. There is, Young noted, no counterpart to the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to surgery. Because of the Internet, he said, "much of this stuff can be developed and is almost immediately on the market."

Operating on or near sensitive vaginal tissue, Young added, is inherently risky and can cause scarring, nerve damage and decreased sensation.

What gets me is how self-righteous so many Americans are about the virginity obsessions of other cultures.  Please, let's take a close look at ourselves while we're at it.  Is this kind of surgery really such a far cry from female genital mutilation?   According to a story from last July in The Independent (UK), there's actually no difference:

The World Health Organisation defines female genital mutilation as: "All procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons."

In fact, a doctor in that article "accused Western plastic surgeons who perform cosmetic surgery on the vagina of undermining the battle against female circumcision in other parts of the world."  And that's not to mention all the other self-mutilation that American women willingly undergo.  One of the doctors featured in the Washington Post story proudly describes a patient who underwent "his 'Wonder Woman Makeover': several vaginal procedures, breast implants and a breast lift, abdominal liposuction and a 'Brazilian butt augmentation,' which involves reshaping the buttocks through a combination of liposuction and fat injections."  Can you say "double standard"?

See related posts on the Feminist Law Professors Blog: "Hymen Fatwa", Surgery to Make Female Private Parts Look More Like Barbie’s.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/reproductive_rights/2007/03/wa_post_cosmeti.html

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» Friday Round-Up: Carnival of the Feminists, The New Frontier in Cosmetic Surgery and Diva Duels from Our Bodies Our Blog
Carnival of the Feminists: The 33rd Carnival of the Feminists is up at The Greatest Blog You'll (Probably) Never Read. Another terrific, don't-miss mix. Of Books & Bodies: Before the word "vagina" became an issue, there was "scrotum." I had... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 10, 2007 6:07:02 PM

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