As more and more women opt to undergo labiaplasty, a surgical procedure to reduce the size of the labia minora, there's been a corresponding increase in conversation about why the procedure has become so popular. Indeed, statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) earlier this month shows booming rates of women having the procedure, with labiaplasties up 16% in 2015.
But the pursuit of the perfect vulva isn't always solely about women's desire to look good in yoga pants. In a recent thread on /r/TwoXChromosomes, one Reddit user highlighted one of the very real ways labia size can negatively impact some women's quality of life, bringing up a side of the labiaplasty debate that's not often discussed: physical discomfort.
"They are actually, truly and honestly long enough to get caught in my underwear," user Sigourney_ wrote. "I know I'm not just 'being self conscious' about them — they're large enough to be uncomfortable on a consistent basis."
Adding that the structure of her vulva has made it near impossible to achieve sexual pleasure with a partner, Sigourney_ added she would "literally cut the stupid fucking things off with scissors if I didn't know it'd hurt so damn much."
But even though Sigourney_'s reasons for hating her labia largely had to do with them causing her discomfort, her post also reflected on how beauty standards can have a damaging influence on women's feelings about their genitals.
"Every guy I've been with since my ex and I split hasn't known 'how' to handle my lady bits, because I have a gigantic fucking hideous redundant labia," she wrote. "I literally asked my mom when I was 11 if I used to be a boy and she had my testicles removed and that was why I had such a big 'sac' between my legs."
Several users on the thread responded by noting that there's no such thing as a "perfect" or even "normal" labia, a fact that has inspired body-positive sites like the Labia Library, which is dedicated to showing that labia can come in all shapes and sizes, "just like any other part of the body."
Other users suggested labiaplasty as an option, noting that the surgery can correct some of the issues Sigourney_ raised, though not the deep sense of self-loathing apparent in the original post. As one user put it, while labiaplasty could certainly help Sigourney_ deal with the physical irritation of having a larger labia, "there will still be psychological scars to address."
"There's no reason to think your labia is ugly or that you are undeserving of intimate sexual contact because of your labia," the user wrote. "Personal insecurities aside, your labia is getting in the way of daily, non-sexual life, so there's no reason to reflect any further on your true motives, labiaplasty will help you."
"There's no reason to think your labia is ugly or that you are undeserving of intimate sexual contact."
Naturally, there are those who disagree, namely men who took to the thread to share their opinions about what makes for desirable labia.
"I'll be honest — I'm a guy and I prefer smaller/neater looking labia (though I'd never admit so publicly)," one user wrote. "But it's just a preference, like hair color, height, body shape, etc. People don't have to meet every preference to be sexy to someone else. Nobody is perfect."
Unfortunately, that type of comment reflects one of the major reasons why women choose to undergo labiaplasty: because of the influence of unrealistic beauty standards, or fear of judgment from their partners. As sources like the New York Post have claimed, a significant number of women have labiaplasty solely out of concern for how their vulvas look in their Lululemon leggings. That claim is backed by a 2008 study, which determined that nearly 37% of women undergo the procedure solely for aesthetic reasons.
That said, there are plenty of other, non-aesthetic reasons why a growing number of women are opting to go under the knife, as Sigourney_'s story proves. Morgan Jerkins, who wrote a piece for Fusion about undergoing the procedure, said that comfort was her primary concern. "I wanted comfort and an absence of pain, and I was confident that those pleasantries would make me feel more comfortable in my body," Jerkins wrote. "And perhaps this confidence would flourish outward and make me more alluring."
For Jerkins, undergoing labiaplasty clearly helped her feel more comfortable with her body, which is undoubtedly a good thing. Unfortunately, in a society that not only polices women's bodies, but sets often-unachievable standards for every inch of them, feeling more comfortable with smaller labia can't be totally divorced from aesthetic concerns. The reality is that, for many women, looking good and feeling good are often interchangeable.