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HannahMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 21-Nov-13 12:31:22

Why are women so unhappy with their fanjos?

Gynaecologists say that cosmetic labial reduction requests have risen fivefold over the last decade, with women increasingly dissatisfied with the appearance of their vulvas. Mumsnet blogger Sonya Cisco is concerned.

Sonya Cisco

The Ramblings of a Formerly Rock'n'roll Mum

Posted on: Thu 21-Nov-13 12:31:22


Lead photo

"At this rate we will all be aiming for a smooth plastic shell - a Barbiefied version of genitalia."

The news that the number of labiaplasties carried out on the NHS has risen fivefold in the last ten years - with many more carried out in private clinics - is a bit grim, isn't it? It's got me thinking about my relationship with my own .. well, I am not sure if vagina is the right term here, as this is more about the whole genital area, labia and all.

I haven't even settled on a name I am happy with for 'down there'. We had a discussion on Twitter once about names for our 'front bottoms' and more specifically what we teach our daughters to call them. Willy is such a normal everyday word, but its female equivalent, fanny, still seems to quite unfairly hold some shock value when uttered by a tiny person.

A quick poll came up with a wide range of terminology in use - foo-foos, minis, fanjos, tail (I know, weird!) and the one that made me laugh the most - Frobo (short for front bottom, one assumes). Frobo sounds like it could be Bilbo's brother, and in light of Lily Allen's recent ownership of her 'baggy pussy', and after 3 children of my own, Frobo Baggins would be an appropriate name indeed.

Now it seems that not only do we have to deal with what to call our vulval area, (a bit Spock for me that one), we also have to worry about how attractive it is.

The rise can be attributed not only to the usual commodification of women's bodies in the media, but to the widening influence of porn, and in particular with porn's obsession with full depilation - the better to reveal, in full anatomical detail, the ins and outs of the matter.

Personally, I have not spent a great deal of time studying my own, um, Frobo - or anyone else's for that matter. I know some people have a predilection for getting to know their own bodies, but I even refused a mirror to look at mine in childbirth, and I can honestly say I have never really given its attractiveness a great deal of thought.

I’ve never had any complaints from visitors to my personal passion parlour. I occasionally have a mow of the lady garden, but a vajazzle is beyond my limited capacity for caring about vaginal beauty - let alone laser therapy to tighten the flaps, and give it a youthful appearance. At this rate we will all be aiming for a smooth plastic shell - a Barbiefied version of genitalia - rather than the softer, furrier folds that nature has given us.

According to The Royal College of Obs and Gynae, the rise can be attributed not only to the usual commodification of women's bodies in the media, but to the widening influence of porn, and in particular with porn’s obsession with full depilation - the better to reveal, in full anatomical detail, the ins and outs of the matter.

How depressing. I'm the mother of a teenager - I can already see the effect the media has on her desire to be seen as attractive within the narrow confines set by the unelected overlords of the beauty myth. It is bad enough that she is told to worry about whether she has a thigh gap or this seasons eyebrow shape; I certainly don't want her concerning herself about the aesthetics of her labia as well, because she's scared that her bits don't match what her peers see in the porn they watch. I hope she and her girlfriends manage to resist the pressure to conform.

Of course, your vagina, your business. If it makes you happy, laser away (though anyone coming near mine with a glowing probe will get swiftly packed off with an accusation of attempted alien abduction). When I die, I hope I am remembered for how I loved and what I did, not just for having an exceptionally beautiful muff.

Anyway, can't stay and chat, am off to get my arsehole bleached in my never ending pursuit of perfection. That is a lie, am actually going to eat cake: I can't even see my arsehole from here - insert cheap gag about my ex-husband - so I certainly don't care what colour it is.

By Sonya Cisco

Twitter: @SonyaCisco

Onefewernow Sat 23-Nov-13 10:49:58

Great post Hannah.

Zoelosingweight Sat 23-Nov-13 08:34:27

"Jewelling Fanjos" really made me laugh. Thank you for that - genius

IHadADreamThatWasNotAllADream Fri 22-Nov-13 21:21:53

Reliable as ever Gussie thanks.

mercibucket Fri 22-Nov-13 20:08:35

I like your post
and I like your name, gussiegrips grin

gussiegrips Fri 22-Nov-13 19:25:44

There's two threads to this thread.

1. a medical need, from whatever cause, which is rightly treated on the NHS.
2.a privately commissioned surgical procedures to address an issue which may not have a clear medical root.

I don't think it's particularly worrying that there's been a huge spike in the numbers of people having genital surgery on the NHS. Indeed, I think it's marvellous - these are women who need help, have sought help and been given help. That's a good thing. The bad thing is that previously, women didn't know help was available and simply had their lives blighted.

We don't teach our kids about their bodies very well. If I were in charge of the world I'd give every girl a hand mirror during The Talk About Periods and tell her to go and familiarise herself with her own anatomy.

Do you know what your undercarriage looks like? As in, have you ever had a look?

Have you any wee lumps and bumps that have always been there?
Do you know where your urethra is? Which one of your labia is bigger? Did it all look different if you've had a baby? If you know what your normal is, then you'll spot something that's changed - but, for reasons which are beyond me, women often behave as if nether regions are shaped like Barbie's.

So, if the upsurge in private cosmetic labiaplasty gets media coverage and helps women who fear there is something wrong with their bits to take their fanny to a medic, well, that's a good thing. A very good thing.

What's NOT a good thing is the number of young women having bits of their bodies chopped off in the name of aesthetics. The number of plastic surgeons making a lot of money with dubious ethics. And, the way that porn exposure has given young people weird ideas about sex - vulvas are neat and tidy, penises are like menhirs and a normal sexual encounter involves at least three people and a whip. Mostly, though, the way that sex ed still isn't hitting the mark, and that we are all fairly ignorant about what is NORMAL in our pants.

That really pisses me off. There's nothing demure about ignorance.

Doinmummy Fri 22-Nov-13 16:01:24

My very abusive ex said I was ugly 'down there' and because my inner labia are different sizes it meant I'd had too many sexual partners. I did have a bit of a complex for a long time after I'd kicked his arse out and I would have contemplated surgery to please him.

I'm now in a better place and realise he was a knob.

HellsBellsnBucketsofBlood Fri 22-Nov-13 12:52:51

I can entirely understand people having an operation if they have real concerns/issues. I once took a picture of mine - because I was 4 weeks post childbirth and I was concerned that the tearing might have made it look all wrong. If it had been 'not right', I'd have been to the doctor and trying to get it sorted - else I wouldn't have felt very confident sexually (which for me tends to bleed into general confidence).

If it is necessary - then I have no issue with it. If someone is doing it only because they want to have a * like [insert pornstar name], then that would be sad.

I doubt many people would do it for the latter reason though. More likley is that it is now possible for some women to have issues sorted out that in years gone by they would have had to suffer with in perpetuity.

MinesAPintOfTea Fri 22-Nov-13 12:31:11

But the linked article doesn't talk about women being unhappy, its about how surgeons should ensure its definitely necessary, document this and avoid performing the surgery on under 18s as they are still developing.

Maybe there is some research that the fivefold increase in NHS operations is due to women being unhappy due to societal influence (rather than discomfort) but this just seems to be an assumption the blogger has made. The first thing the debate needs is to have a decent look at why women are choosing surgery. According to the paper linked:
" the primary motivation for some women requesting labiaplasty is concern about genital appearance" (emphasis mine)

The reasons behind the surgery (physical discomfort, cosmetic, etc) is not collected so its very hard to judge what is causing women to choose surgery.

AmberLeaf Fri 22-Nov-13 11:46:14

But Cunty, the post started by mentioning the fivefold increase in NHS ops of this kind.

I expect that some of the private ops are for 'genuine' reasons too.

CuntyBunty Fri 22-Nov-13 09:25:32

I think the key to this is in the title: "unhappy", rather than medical reasons for labioplasty. I had rather hoped that this wouldn't have needed to have been spelt out.

IHadADreamThatWasNotAllADream Fri 22-Nov-13 06:51:48

Which is a more likely explanation for the rise in NHS labiaplasty?
A) deluded physically normal women watching porn and wanting to look like Barbie have started going to GP to ask for surgery and are told "oh sure - we'll book you in for a trim"
B) women who have an actual problem - either congenital or due to injury have become aware (through the Internet and Embarrassing Bodies) that treatment is possible and have decided to ask for (or in some cases fight for) surgery, which the NHS has decided is medically necessary

There is a wide range of normal variation, but just as some willies actually require circumcision and some mouths have tongue tie, some fanjos are just not right.

Private, purely cosmetic operations are a cause for concern, if only because of the worry that they are underselling the severity of the operation and the side effects. But I won't believe that the rise in NHS treatment is caused by pathological psychological factors unless I see actual evidence.

MinesAPintOfTea Fri 22-Nov-13 05:00:59

I'm quite disappointed that MN have promoted this piece bemoaning choices women are making without any obvious analysis into why they are making these choices. Especially as the nhs is funding this surgery and they try to avoid purely cosmetic surgery and only offer treatments for conditions causing pain etc.

YellowTulips Thu 21-Nov-13 23:55:54

So sad this even warrants a post.

NoComet Thu 21-Nov-13 23:13:41

but I certainly wouldn't judge anyone who had surgery because they were in pain.

A dear friends DM had breast reduction surgery (using whip lash compensation money), she said it changed her life. Both her neck pain and bad back improved enormously.

Solo Thu 21-Nov-13 23:11:25

Yes. Rubbing and pulling around inside your knickers. Not nice. Not bad enough for me to request or undergo surgery to correct it, but for others worse off than me? it has to be and needs to be an option available for nothing on the NHS.

shouldnthavesaid Thu 21-Nov-13 22:58:33

And when I type sluts, slags, they are not words I would personally use but words I have seen bandied about online in relation to this issue!!

NoComet Thu 21-Nov-13 22:58:22

I'm not I have never given it much thought, beyond keeping it's forest inside the confines if my swimming costume.

shouldnthavesaid Thu 21-Nov-13 22:56:11

In terms of side effects , yes pain, very much so.. Not to mention one night in hospital, daily check ups and then having the stitches removed.. I was told its classed as major surgery and was warned about risks of bleeding and infection.. Although you get taught how to wash with salt water and that. I have no scar tissue that causes problems although was told that was a case of luck.. It's managed much the same, I was told, as surgery for vulvar cancers and post natal injuries. The nurses here had to treat me on post natal guidelines as they had no other experience.. It really is not that common as far as I know.. I am one of only two my gp has had in nearly thirty years and two continents.. Though I expect might be different in London etc, I'm up in North Scotland.

It's not a decision I expect anyone takes very lightly. It's an operation that I don't think I will ever fully cope with having had, and am awaiting a psychosexual counselling referral to come to terms with it all .. You just make the decision to do something to make things a bit easier, like with any operation..

Incidentally I'm one of the posters on the thread linked on here, lol... That was a while ago that I wrote that!

I think one of the things that people are so shocked about is the number of younger girls having this, but it can be a congenital issue and so maybe the parents think it's best to treat while the child is younger, as with circumcising wee boys who have problems? There are very very few parents and I dare say surgeons who would willingly subject to a child to vulval surgery for the sake of vanity..

shouldnthavesaid Thu 21-Nov-13 22:39:25

I had a labiaplasty two years ago on the NHS and it changed my life. Yes it was painful but compared to before , when I was using three creams, tablets, washes and having to cover the ends in cling film before I could walk without constant severe pain (and having to run into changing rooms or public toilets to adjust my self...)

I had to cope with GPs, two gynqaecologists, a registrar and all sorts telling me I was vain, self obsessed, time wasting, all sorts. At sixteen a doctor demanded to know if I had seen pornography as she said I must have if I wanted the operation..

My mum was told shortly after I was born that I had a labial deformity and would need surgery one day.

BUT no matter how many times I say it, people will always believe that this op is for slags, sluts etc and it bloody hurts to hear that.

I am all for helping young girls and I work with teenagers. I have counselled teenagers who are worried about the size of their labia and I understand about healthy variations.

BUT this can be and often is a medical procedure and I am a bit sick of reading about it in the media. It is something I feel I have to hide from people , my gynaecologist even told me I will hopefully never have to tell future sexual partners in case it alters their opinion of me.

That's wrong, surely.

So yes , let's educate girls and ladies about normal bits and normal variation but please remember this is a procedure carried out on people who are ill too. Calling for outright bans on the nhs , as I've seen these least few weeks is insane , if it weren't for my doctors and the surgery I would not be able to live the life I thankfully do!!

rant over, sorry...

gussiegrips Thu 21-Nov-13 21:24:34

doh. Forgot to do the link. It's probably because my brains have leaked into my big ole droopy labia. conference programme

gussiegrips Thu 21-Nov-13 21:23:21

Here's the programme for the American cosmetogynaecologist's conference...

Nothing on there about the politics, psychology, body dysmorphia, porn influence, FGM and ethics associated with these issues.

Nor does there seem to be anything about the cancers, infections or injuries that can lead to the need for this sort of treatment.


stickysausages Thu 21-Nov-13 21:08:50

Scar tissue is the main risk I think, certainly heard from people who regret the surgery

TheCrackFox Thu 21-Nov-13 20:44:12

I cannot imagine just how painful having bits of your labia hacked off must be. All to have marginally prettier fanny.

Unless there is a genuine medical need then the operation is totally unjustifiable. Moreover, you could permanently lose sensation or it could get infected and subsequently seriously ruin your sex life.

mercibucket Thu 21-Nov-13 20:44:06

in fact as this thread made me cross I googled

perhaps you would like to talk to these mumsnetters about their surgery and the reasons for it

I am sad about this thread tbh

mercibucket Thu 21-Nov-13 20:37:02

so this is nhs surgery

so why nhs? is it likely to be because they said they wanted a porn star vag? no

girls with longer inner labia know all about it before teenage years and any exposure to porn. they are noticed at primary age by their peers.

I expect they just didn't know until recently that there was any surgical solution

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