The XX Factor

Disneyfied Vaginas Questioned by Cranky British Researchers

The British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology recently published one of those “no duh” studies , this time indicating that it might not be the greatest idea in the world to have a plastic surgeon hack away at your genitals so you can look in the bedroom like a flat picture in Playboy post-airbrushing. This topic brings to mind many opportunities for making merriment, but the funniest part of the whole thing by far for me is that this research is controversial at all. Reading between the lines of the BBC article, it’s clear that the dispute is over whether or not it’s legitimate to deem it a “sexual problem” worth medical intervention when you’re partnered with a man who regularly vocalizes his belief that he’s entitled to have an airbrushed vulva before him. Or, to spread the blame around, whether or not it’s a medical issue if a woman has looked at a great deal of porn and has decided that she’s broken because she doesn’t fit the mold.

The plastic surgeons defending this source of income-and their own hang-ups about women’s genitalia-use a heavy dose of B.S. According to this research, women are on record complaining that their labia are so excessively long that it interferes with pants-wearing and bicycle-riding. But in a moment I’m going to write off as classic British humor, the researchers suggested that male genitalia tends to stick out much further than female genitalia, with no noticeable rejection of pants-wearing from men due to pain. I’m reminded of those women who claim to forget to eat-what an awfully convenient malfunction. On your way to better pants-wearing and bike-riding, if you so happen to get, in the words of one of the interviewed plastic surgeons, a more “elegant-looking” labia, then it’s just a happy accident.

Of course, like all surgery, slicing back your labia tends to create at least some scar tissue, though hopefully a good plastic surgeon minimizes that. And scar tissue decreases sensitivity. Which would tend to make those of us with an unpleasantly strong interest in women’s subjective experience wonder how on earth this surgery fixes sexual problems. But of course, if you think of women’s main sexual function not as feeling pleasure, but being a catalyst for male pleasure, then all becomes clear.

I sympathize, honestly. It’s distracting to have imperfections while naked with a man, after spending most of your day outside the bedroom, where you’re confronted with an endless stream of airbrushed female flesh. Being a human being with idiosyncratic features can feel weird after taking in the cultural obsession with cookie-cutter beauty, and if you’re cursed with a partner willing to vocalize his disappointment with your human body, it can be even worse. But it’s a shame that most of us absorb this nonsense.

The sad thing is, if you can clear your head of all this perfectionist, conformist pressure, appreciating people’s little differences can be more fun and certainly more sexy than achieving temporary adherence to strict beauty standards. In fact, I often look at the sea of airbrushing and plastic surgery and Brazilian waxing, and I see a profound prudery at the bottom of it, a fear of truly embracing sexuality. The airbrushed plastic perfection promoted by Playboy and Maxim magazine are to sex as EPCOT Center is to world travel: experience simulation for those too cowardly to truly dive in, but too egotistical to admit their cowardice.