What Do You Think a “Normal” Woman Looks Like Down There?

flower over vagina

Well, this is disturbing: Seeing images of surgically altered vaginas can impact what women view as “normal” and “ideal” down there, according to a new study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

For the study, a group of 97 women ages 18-30 were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a group that looked at pictures of surgically modified vaginas, a group that looked at pictures of vaginas that hadn’t undergone surgery, or a group that didn’t look at any images at all. After that, all three groups were asked to look at 20 images of vaginas (half of which had been surgically altered) and rate how closely they resembled  “normal” female genitalia, as well as “society’s ideal.”

Turns out, the group that had seen the surgically altered privates were more likely to rate them as “normal” (whereas the control group tended to rate them “less normal”). What’s more, all three groups said that the lady parts that had undergone plastic surgery were closer to “society’s ideal” (although the effect was strongest in the group that had first seen the post-surgery photos).

This could help explain why labiaplasty (a procedure where the labia are reduced in size and made symmetrical) is the most popular cosmetic surgery women get for their nether-regions, say the study authors. Plastic surgeons performed five times as many labiaplasties in 2010 as they did in 2001.

Of course, you can’t know for sure whether you’ve seen a surgically-altered vagina or not and how it may have affected your idea of what your nether region is supposed to look like. But what you can know: The definition of “normal” down there encompasses a huge range of different looks—and plastic surgery comes with the potential for scary side effects like bleeding and wound infections. All the more reason to embrace your lady parts as-is.

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Bettie Page

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