I don’t mean to get all riled about what other people do with the their genitalia. Fur? No fur? Dye it funny colours or not. Totally up to you. Let many flowers bloom, etc etc.
But I do get suspicious of the social pressures to conform to narrow norms, especially so when it’s surgery rather than hair removal or labia paint we’re talking about.
Why do I end up having people email me stories about this stuff? (Thanks blog reader SB) Because it’s often cycling that’s given as a justification for labial trimming. And yes you read that right, cycling.
CBC’s story on the increase in labiaplasty is typical. It begins with the story of a woman and her bike.
Carrie Anne is a triathlete in her 40’s, biking for 8 to 10 hours at a time but limited by the discomfort caused by the length of her labia. (Due to sensitivity issues and to protect her identity Carrie Anne is a fictitious name.) Thinking it was normal, she lived with it for years until finally getting a labiaplasty, a surgery that ‘trims’ the labia minora or inner labia, the external parts of the female genitalia.
“I was very uncomfortable,” Carrie Anne said. She told CBC’s The Current that the surgery is fantastic. “I just feel much more …it sounds maybe weird to say, but attractive.”
I’ve written before about sensitive girl bits and cycling. But except in extreme cases I don’t think the best answer is to cut them off. Experiment with different saddles and buy good bike shorts first.
What’s the surgery all about?
From the CBC: “Labiaplasty, commonly known as the ‘Toronto Trim’, takes about 30 minutes and surgeons say complications like bleeding and infection are minimal, with patients driving themselves home the same day. It costs between $4,000 to $6,000.”
Aside from the expense, pain, and the risks of surgery, what could be wrong with a little labiaplasty?
First, I’m suspicious of the claim that it’s a rise in popularity of cycling, rather than the spread of the porn star labia aesthetic, that’s fueling the demand for labial cosmetic surgery. It sounds a bit too close to the idea that women’s bodies aren’t suited to bicycling. I thought we’d left the 1890s behind.
Second, and much more seriously, the interests of long term labial comfort may not be best served by cutting and trimming.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told the CBC that they don’t perform the surgery because they say there’s no valid reason for it and there is risk of harm.
Labia provide protection and sexual comfort through stretch,” says Blake. “People don’t realize that labia shrink during menopause. Women are having this surgery done when they are young but we have no long term data on it. We have no idea what’s going to happen to these women during menopause.”
I’m not saying there are no women for whom this surgery makes sense. I am wondering about the motivation that is convergence on a single ideal of beauty. And I definitely worry about surgery as a route to cycling comfort when a pair of good cycling shorts might solve problem.
See the vulva love lovely website for feminist vulva art celebrating body diversity.