Objective: To understand women's reasons for undergoing labial reduction surgery, their expectations and experiences.
Design: A retrospective qualitative study.
Setting: British National Health Service Hospital.
Sample: Six women who had experienced surgery for labial reduction. Method Qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.
Results: Results relating to 'Normality and defect', 'Sex lives' and 'The process of accessing surgery' are presented in this study. The women had seen their presurgery genital appearance as 'defective' and sought a 'normal' genital appearance. They thought that their presurgery genital appearance impacted on their sex lives, but their expectations of the effects of surgery on their sex lives were not all fulfilled. Information about labial surgery came from both the popular media and the health services. An emphasis on, for example, physical discomfort rather than appearance may have been used to legitimise a request for surgery. The process of accessing surgery had exposed them to potentially conflicting messages about their genital appearance.
Conclusions: Women presenting for labial reduction may have unrealistic expectations of surgery, but their perceptions and expectations are long-standing and seem to be based on strong cultural norms. The gynaecologist is also meeting those women who have already negotiated the referral process. As demand for this surgery appears to be increasing, further research is needed. These findings may add to the case for the potential value of specialist staff to provide psychosocial interventions within gynaecology services.