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Much like some men worry they’re too small, ahem, down there, an increasing number of women are insecure about their nether regions being too large.
Hundreds of women from Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere — some of them who admit they’ve considered surgery and have avoided going to the doctor because they’re too embarrassed about the way their vulva looks — have sought comfort through a new blog and project, aimed at alleviating this discomfort.
The vulva is the name of the external organs of the female genitals (including the clitoris and the labia), while the labia are just the lips.
Called the Large Labia Project, the blog aims to offer answers to concerned women who submit photos and questions anonymously.
“Many women have told me they feel empowered simply by being able to anonymously say to the world, ‘This is me, I’m normal,’ and see that they aren’t so different from many other women around them,” said Emma, 24, of Sydney, Australia, the creator of the website.
While some overcome their insecurities, more women are going under the knife to trim their long vulvas — known as labiaplasty or vaginal rejuvenation.
No Canadian statistics are available, but according to a 2011 study from the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, labia reduction surgeries have increased five fold over the past decade in the U.K.
Dr. Bruce Allan, a surgeon and gynecologist at the Allan Centre for Women in Calgary, said he performs five to 10 labiaplasties a month.
Allan said the surgery is becoming more mainstream.
“I’ve seen an increase in numbers. I think people are talking about it more. It used to be when women had (labiaplasty) they wouldn’t tell anyone. Now some of them tell their friends,” he said.
Typically, his patients are between the ages of 18-35 and pay $4,000-$8,000 for the procedure.
Allan said a surge in the number of women who shave their private parts has likely led to more people seeking surgery to tighten up areas that were once hidden.
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, in more than half a century of Playboy Magazine centrefolds, just 7% of the women had the inner lips of the vulva showing.
The Large Labia Project is just one of a handful of blogs that has surfaced in recent years to showcase the variety of vaginas. There are also books on the subject.
Wrenna Robertson, a former stripper for 18 years, said she was shocked by the shame her fellow exotic dancers and other women felt about their vulvas. So much so, she was encouraged to create the coffee table book, I’ll Show You Mine, which features life-sized photos of 60 Vancouver-area women’s genitals, along with their stories.
“Porn is really perpetuating the ideal of what a vulva should look like. But, of course that’s coupled with the fact that females don’t feel comfortable talking about these kinds of issues with each other,” Robertson said from her Victoria home.
Robertson said she is glad books and forums are helping women open up to discussing and sizing-up their sexual organs.
"In locker rooms, men's penises are always out there and exposed. You never have girls comparing, measuring their labias."