Vajazzling is the bedazzling of the vagina. Thanks to free internet porn, women no longer have to worry that their thighs are fat or their laugh lines look more like frown lines. Now we can worry about what we look like where the sun don’t shine…just in case it decides to shine there. My friends and family have been urging me to write about this, because I’ve seen about 40,000 vaginas in my career and I know what normal looks like. So, do you need a little vaginal cosmetic attention? And when does this cross the line into female genital mutilation?
Vajazzling starts with hair removal. Hair removal has gradually moved from cleaning up the bikini line, so no one can tell if the rug matches the drapes just because you’re at the beach, to decorative shaving (Diamonds! Hearts!), to the full-on Brazilian bikini wax where hair is waxed from a very tender area in places you never thought to look for hair. Nearly all the best porn actresses are hairless. This a relatively new phenomenon. As recently as 10 years ago, complete hairlessness was unusual. Now about 50% of my patients under 40 are bare. Shaving is painless, and has minimal risk, but waxing is very painful and costs money. Dr. Jen Gunther wrote a great related post here about the purpose of pubic hair and the relative risks involved in its removal.
More extreme versions of vajazzling include genital piercing, tattooing, and dying of pubic hair. Piercing increases the risk of local trauma and infection. Genitals are damp and dark, and creating openings in these areas increases the risk of local skin infections and tears in the holes, especially during sex. Hair dye exists in fun colors, but again, because this is a sensitive area, you’d be wise to do a test patch for allergies and irritation. Tattooing carries a risk of infection at the time of the procedure, but not after. All these things may make you look fun to your partner, but do they actually increase your sexual pleasure? If not, you may want to think carefully, especially if they are painful. And again, the porn industry may lead you to believe that this is much more common than it actually is. Fewer than 1% of my patients have genital piercing. Tattooing in the pelvic region is even rarer. I haven’t seen dyed pubes personally but have read about them in magazines. Then again my experience may be skewed. I’m an infertility doctor and my patients aren’t having sex for fun, they’re procreating. (I still can’t figure out why the fundamentalists religious types aren’t friendlier to our clinic, considering we’ve managed to remove all pleasure from sex here.)
A more sinister version of vajazzling is called “Vaginal Rejuvenation” or “Labioplasty”. Again, the porn industry has normalized a type of woman who doesn’t really exist. Porn actresses and models do their thing, and then the photos are carefully altered to create a juvenile labia-free appearance. Women see this and when they remove all their hair, they see something different. Labia are wrinkly, and darker in color than surround skin. They are irregularly shaped. Some are longer, some are thicker, and some are smaller. Every woman is different. No one is abnormal. Pubic hair hides this so that once someone is actually looking at your labia, that person is already pretty aroused and not feeling too critical. Or else that person is your doctor who absolutely doesn’t care. When I’m examining a patient, I am looking for lesions, lumps, bumps, sores, and discharge. Any grooming is completely unappreciated by me, although a shower before your appointment is nice. This has created a market for removal of the labia minora, or inner vaginal lips, and sometimes alterations in the outer lips (labia majora) and tightening of the vaginal vault as well. These procedures do nothing to enhance a woman’s sexual pleasure. They may make her appear more like a porn star in one area, and they may make the vagina tighter for her partner, but Kegels will do the same and your GYN will be happy to teach you how to do them. Kegels also have the advantage of giving you additional pelvic support to prevent urinary incontinence, which vaginal rejuvenation does not. The biggest irony is, the porn stars are photoshopped. (Sarah Gets Critical has a detailed expose on this topic here.) They don’t really look like that. They aren’t risking their health and sexual pleasure for a useless procedure. They aren’t spending their money on it. And with them, people are really looking. Vaginal rejuvenation and labioplasty carry risks of scarring, and pain during intercourse. I would call this female genital mutilation. But at least you still get to keep your clitoris.
Of course, female genital mutilation is usually thought of as a procedure done in an African hut on a 6 year old girl against her will. It’s also called female circumcision, but that’s not exactly accurate. Circumcision in males is removal of the foreskin, but FGM is more like removing the entire tip of the penis. FGM is removal of the clitoris and labia, and the outer remainders of the labia are sometimes sewn shut to allow only a small opening. The purpose of this is to keep girls virginal until their marriage, and then to make certain that sex is painful rather than enjoyable, so that they won’t stray. I never saw a victim of this practice until I moved here, but we have a large Somalian Muslim community in my town and I’ve seen it several times in the past year. These women have pain and bleeding every time they have sex. The clitoris is absent. Some of them suffer anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. What is so insidious about FGM is that the mothers promote it, because they want their daughters to be marriageable. Sometimes the girls are so brainwashed that they ask for it to be done. It’s not unlike the idea of vaginal rejuvenation here, where an unnatural standard of beauty in an area that is not publicly viewed is promoted to women in a way that makes it desirable.
So the question is, when does vajazzling go from being a way to spice things up to being an unreasonable standard that asks women to mutilate themselves? I would say if the vajazzling is painful, irritating, and doesn’t increase sexual pleasure for you, it’s unreasonable and better left undone.