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Cosmetic Surgery's New Frontier

Christopher A. Warner, with his wife and office manager, Sharon, is the first Washington area physician to offer laser vaginal rejuvenation surgery.
Christopher A. Warner, with his wife and office manager, Sharon, is the first Washington area physician to offer laser vaginal rejuvenation surgery. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

"Most sexual gratification has nothing to do with your vaginal muscle tone," said Stovall, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee at Memphis. "It's really a heresy promoting this. But sex sells."

Each laser procedure costs about $3,000 to $9,000, and many women undergo several simultaneously. These surgeries are also often performed with other cosmetic surgeries, such as liposuction. They are rarely covered by insurance.

Berman said she has treated about 15 women who have undergone vaginal procedures to improve their sex lives and developed complications such as painful intercourse.

St. Louis plastic surgeon V. Leroy Young, former chairman of the emerging trends task force of the plastic surgeons' society, said the hype surrounding these procedures underscores a lack of regulatory oversight. There is, Young noted, no counterpart to the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to surgery. Because of the Internet, he said, "much of this stuff can be developed and is almost immediately on the market."

Operating on or near sensitive vaginal tissue, Young added, is inherently risky and can cause scarring, nerve damage and decreased sensation.

"The question I have is, is this being done for the benefit of the woman -- or someone else?" Young asked. Some women undergo the surgery, he said, because a man has told them, "Honey, you don't look like the girl in the movie."

And Nawal Nour, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School, is no fan of what she calls "designer vaginas."

"I have always believed that empowerment is via the brain, not the body," Nour said.

What Women Want

"Every single one of these procedures was developed" at the request of women, Matlock said. "All these patients have gynecologists. Why are they coming to me?"

Warner, who has operated on 18 patients, said he does not consider the lack of published studies to be problematic.

"Life isn't all about studies," Warner said. "These are real problems that don't require 50 people to research the same topic. Women are telling us that it's working." He said the laser surgery he performs can also fix stress urinary incontinence, leakage of urine that sometimes occurs after childbirth.

In Berman's view, much of the demand is fueled by ignorance or desperation.


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