Girls as young as nine are seeking surgery on the NHS because they are troubled by the appearance of their genitals, according to a senior doctor.

Dr Naomi Crouch, a leading adolescent gynaecologist, said she was concerned that GPs were referring a rising number of children for the procedure.

“Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, ‘I just hate it, I just want it removed,’ and for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body – especially a part that’s intimate – is very upsetting,” she told the Victoria Derbyshire programme.

Dr Crouch believes the procedure has uncomfortable similarities to female genital mutilation (FGM), which is illegal in the UK.


Fact File: Labiaplasty

What is labiaplasty?

Labiaplasty is surgery to reduce the size of the labia minora – the skin either side of the vaginal opening.

Why do women seek labiaplasty?

Some women consider having labiaplasty because they don’t like the look of their labia, or because their labia causes discomfort.

How does the procedure work?

The procedure involves shortening or reshaping the vaginal lips. The unwanted tissue is cut away with a scalpel or possibly a laser, and the loose edge may be stitched up. The procedure usually takes about one to two hours and patients can go home the same day.

How much does it cost?

The surgery costs between £1,000-£3,000, plus the cost of any consultation or follow-up care. Occasionally, a labiaplasty may be carried out on the NHS if the vagina lips are abnormal, causing the woman distress or harming her health.

Who shouldn’t have it?

Labiaplasty should not be performed on girls younger than 18. Their labia may continue to grow and develop well beyond puberty, into early adulthood.

“The law says we shouldn’t perform these operations on developing bodies for cultural reasons. Current Western culture is to have very small lips, tucked inside. I see this as the same thing.”

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the operation should not be carried out until a girl had finished developing, after the age of 18. But in 2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS – 150 of them were under 15.

NHS England said it did not carry out the operation for cosmetic reasons, only for clinical reasons.

But Pacquita De Zulueta, a GP for 30 years, says some girls know they need to overstate their physical symptoms to get the surgery and blames the rise on unrealistic images girls are being exposed to through pornography and social media.

“I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva – that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust.”

She added: “Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It’s very normal for the lips to protrude.”

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