A leading adolescent gynaecologist in the UK said she was concerned GPs were referring rising numbers of young girls who wanted an operation.
Labiaplasty, as the surgery is known, involves the lips of the vagina being shortened or reshaped.
The NHS says it should not be carried out on girls before they turn 18.
In 2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS. More than 150 of the girls were under 15.
Some experts fear that pornography and images viewed through social media are leading young girls to have unrealistic perceptions of how their genitals should look.
‘Worrying trend for young girls’
Dr Crouch, who chairs the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology, said in her work for the NHS she was yet to see a girl who needed the operation.
“Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, ‘I just hate it, I just want it removed,’ and for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body – especially a part that’s intimate – is very upsetting.”
Anna – not her real name – considered having labiaplasty from the age of 14.
“I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn’t neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to be smaller.
“People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out.
“I thought that was what everyone else looked like, because I hadn’t seen any normal everyday [images] before then.
“I remember thinking, ‘If there’s surgery for it, then clearly I’m not the only one who wants this done, and maybe it won’t be that big a deal.’.”
She later decided not to pursue having an operation.
“I’m totally glad I didn’t get it done. I didn’t need it. I look totally normal. Completely and utterly normal.”
Girls should wait till they are fully grown
Dr Gail Busby, lead adolescent gynaecologist at St Mary’s Hospital in London, says it is important for girls and their parents to remember:
- In adolescence, the labia are still growing – with the inner lips growing first – so it is normal for them to appear prominent. Girls should not compare themselves to adult women
- By age 18, the outer lips will have grown. If girls can hold off seeking an operation until adulthood, their genitals’ appearance will have changed – removing the initial reason for wanting surgery
- Surgery will probably lead to scarring and – as the labia are still developing – could lead to it becoming asymmetrical in adulthood
- Do not feel alone. Half the girls in your class will be in the same position, it is a normal part of development – it is just that no-one talks about it openly
- If parents wish to allay fears, take your daughter to a GP
- In some instances, if there are deeper concerns regarding body image, it may help to create some coping strategies