Women considering labial reduction surgery tend to be more open about their emotional motivations in online communities, according to recent research.
The study also found that functional motivations are discussed more often on the websites of surgery providers.
More women are having labial reduction surgery (labiaplasty) nowadays, but their motivations for doing so can be difficult to pinpoint. Previous data have mainly come from medical record reviews and patient surveys.
However, women might not feel comfortable telling the complete truth in these contexts. Some women might stress functional motivations over emotional ones in order to be accepted for surgery and have the procedure covered by medical insurance. Also, women might feel awkward discussing their situation with a healthcare provider.
This study, which focused on reduction of the labia minora, considered women’s motivations in both anonymous online communities and surgery providers’ websites. It also examined how age and nationality might be involved in women’s decisions.
Dr. Sandra Zwier of the University of Amsterdam authored the study. She analyzed posts from 78 women who participated in online community forums about labia reduction surgery. Not all women revealed their ages. However those who did ranged in age from 12 to 61 years. The forums were based in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and the United States.
Dr. Zwier also looked at the websites of 40 providers of labial reduction surgery located in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States.
In the online communities, 43% of the women said their motivations were only emotional (e.g., feeling “freakish” or ashamed of their labia). Sixteen percent reported functional motivations (e.g., problems with sex, exercise, or clothing) and 41% mentioned a combination of emotional and functional reasons.
Older women (ages 24 and above) were more likely to be motivated by sexual difficulties compared to their younger counterparts. Otherwise, there were no significant differences among age groups. There were also no differences based on nationality.
Emotional motivations were widely mentioned on the providers’ websites, although they were emphasized more in the online communities.
However, functional discomfort was mentioned more frequently on the providers’ websites than in the online communities. These websites were also more likely to mention how surgery could improve function.
Dr. Zwier noted that while there appeared to be no differences based on women’s nationalities, the study included only women from Western countries and that “female genital surgery can obviously have a very different meaning across cultural and religious contexts.”
She also pointed out that the media and surgery providers have been criticized in the past for “inciting negative associations with larger labia and encouraging women to seek labia reduction surgery.” However, she explained that the providers’ websites she analyzed were more likely to mention functional motivations, which are considered less controversial. They were also “more reserved” in discussing the emotional and sexual aspects.
Being aware of women’s reasons for considering labial reduction surgery and the platforms used to receive information could help providers communicate with their patients, she added.
The study was published online in January in the open access journal Sexual Medicine.
Zwier, Sandra, PhD
“ ‘What Motivates Her’: Motivations for Considering Labial Reduction Surgery as Recounted on Women’s Online Communities and Surgeons’ Websites”
(Full-text. First published online: January 25, 2014)