A plastic surgeon for your private bits

A Washington, D.C., doctor takes on plastic surgery's "final frontier."

Published March 6, 2007 8:50PM (EST)

Speaking of hymen repair, a D.C. doctor has just opened the Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute of Washington.

You heard that right. According to the Washington Post, Dr. Christopher A. Warner is giving Washington women a local option for "Dr. 90210"-inspired plastic surgeries that include repairing tissue damaged by childbirth (presumably to increase sexual pleasure), giving vaginas what the Post calls a "youthful aesthetic look," or repairing hymens to make women look like they're virgins. The center -- and others like it -- are the offspring of Dr. David L. Matlock, who either invented or popularized these surgeries (and then trained other doctors, like Warner, to do them). According to the Post, Matlock claims to have performed upward of 3,000 of these operations in the past 12 years and to have trained 140 doctors.

Don't get me wrong here: I think what one does with one's vagina is a personal choice. You want to tighten it up? Who am I to stop you? You feel like you'd be more of a woman if your hymen were intact? Seems illogical to me, but hey, why not?

What I do question is the factors that make a woman choose to tinker with her vagina in the first place. The article suggests that many women, unaware of what a normal hoo-ha looks like (or, perhaps more accurately, unaware that there is no such thing as a "normal" vagina), go for the surgery because of a critical comment from a partner. Others get their hymens stitched because they're going back to their conservative families and/or cultures -- as was the case with one college student mentioned by the Post who had the surgery before going home to Egypt, where she was to be inspected by a gynecologist as a condition of her arranged marriage. I'd argue that neither of those is a good reason to let someone take a scalpel to your private bits.

As for the idea that it increases sexual satisfaction, the Post reports that there haven't been any studies done evaluating whether that's the case. Some women report that surgery has helped, but operating on something as delicate as a vagina carries risks that make doctors like Thomas G. Stovall, a past president of the Society of Gynecologic Surgeons, strongly oppose it.

The Post quotes him as saying, "There is absolutely zero scientific literature that supports ... the notion that firing a laser of any kind will tighten [vaginal] muscles." He calls the surgery a "ripoff."

(Other supposed reasons for the surgery, like incontinence, are treatable with other, less invasive techniques, the Post points out.)

My take is that if the procedure has proven risks, has no proven benefits and seems to be done mostly to please someone other than the woman, it's not something I'd ever want to consider. And besides, consider the value of vaginal variations: If they all looked the same, what would have happened to Georgia O'Keeffe?

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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