Designer Parts: Inside the Strange, Fascinating World of Vaginoplasty

Why are some women spending upwards of $10,000 for complete "vaginal rejuvenation"? A visit to one plastic surgeon for a evaluation and sizing

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Dr. Ronald Blatt squats on the stool between the fuzzy pink stirrups propping up my legs. As I brace for the gynecologist to start poking around with his lubricated, latex encased paws, my eyes dart from a garage sale castaway of a seascape painting to an anatomy chart then back to the sole odd aspect of this setup: a mirror positioned so I can see my lady parts alongside Blatt's pink necktie-adorned head. Thank goodness I remembered to trim.

But the doctor I'm straddling isn't about to inspect my ovaries or administer a routine pap smear test. Blatt runs the Manhattan Center for Vaginal Surgery, and he's preparing to assess my vaginal tightness and to demonstrate how he might alter my labia.

I scheduled this complimentary consultation under the guise of wanting "to understand my options." Secretly, I want to explore why a growing number of women are modifying a body part so few can see by undergoing the elective surgeries in which Blatt specializes: vaginoplasty (removal of excess lining and tightening of surrounding tissue and muscles) and labiaplasty (reshaping of the labia minora, and sometimes the labia majora and/or clitoral hood). The former is often pursued by women who believe their capacity to enjoy sex is compromised by a loose vagina, which can be the result of a congenital condition -- as it was for Lucy Mancini in a Godfather plot point neglected by Francis Ford Coppola for the screen -- or childbirth. I'm especially interested in the latter, which is typically endured for purely cosmetic reasons. Although statistics on these operations are difficult to come by since most are performed by OB/GYN's rather than plastic surgeons, it is believed that the number of women having them is increasing rapidly -- some estimate by fivefold over the last decade. Perhaps most interestingly, an August 2011 study in the British Journal of Medicine showed that 40 percent of women who inquired about genital reconstruction reported the desire to go through with it even after being informed that their labia were normal.

"That looks like a porn star," I say, as it occurs to me how strange it is that our medical diagrams don't depict variations in human anatomy.

Many point to the prevalence and accessibility of pornography as the fuel behind this "designer vagina" craze. Although relationship expert Rachel Sussman hasn't encountered the matter discussed openly in her practice, she asserts that "pornography has made women a lot more uncomfortable with their bodies" and "too much porn will affect a sex life."

Are we children of the Internet so bewitched by the taut nether regions of the Playboy bunnies and porn stars we masturbate to that we can't accept anything else in reality? Is the emphasis on cultivating genital Shangri-Las a predictable extension of our body-obsessed culture, in which breast and lip augmentations are embraced as wholeheartedly as fad diets, Spanx, and skincare regimens? Either way, is it cause for concern that more and more women are pursuing aesthetic perfection from head to hooha?

Like a lot of girls, for a long time my vagina was the only one I knew. Inspired by the "straddle your mirrors" method of embracing femininity portrayed in Fried Green Tomatoes, I first checked myself out with mom's compact around age 10. But unlike boys, whose external genitalia make for brazen locker room comparisons, young girls are left to wonder whether our privates look like others'. By now, of course, I've seen my share of porn, so I know I'm not a carbon copy of Jenna Jameson or Sasha Grey down there. Maybe because I've been blessed with a series of kind boyfriends and a shortfall of "camel toe" exposing clothes, my vagina has never caused me much insecurity. Until today.

"One. Two," Blatt says. So far, his right pointer and middle fingers are inside me. "I'm going to press down now," he warns. And when my vaginal wall succumbs to the resistance, he adds his left index finger to the mix.

Medical degree or not, it's unnerving to expose oneself to a stranger -- especially one charged with evaluating your eligibility for vaginal plastic surgery. Mental math doesn't help. Within 26 years of practicing, I calculate that Blatt has amassed an index of thousands of vaginas against which he can measure mine. Why didn't I cram for this with daily Kegel exercises? How big or small are my labia and clitoral hood compared with my best friends'? Where do I fall on The Vaginal Spectrum? And does it matter?

"So not real loose, but there's room for tightening," Blatt concludes.

Relieved to know I don't have one of the five- or six-finger vaginas the doctor earlier mentioned, I ask: "Could you get it down so just two fingers fit comfortably?"

"That's what we do," he assures.

"And that's better for me and my boyfriend, right?"

"Generally," he says, though hesitant to guarantee enhanced sexual pleasure.

"Fifty-nine hundred bucks for a tighter vagina," I muse. Internally, I consider what else I might buy with that kind of disposable income if I actually had it. Fifty hour-long hot stone massages! A dozen tickets to The Book of Mormon! A lifetime supply of Bazooka gum!

Presented by

Melanie Berliet

Mélanie Berliet is a writer/producer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York, Vanity FairElle, CosmopolitanSelf, Esquire, and McSweeney’s. She worked as a consulting producer on MTV's The Buried Life.

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