A serious chat about your flaps – understanding labiaplasty

We’ve discussed the practicalities of the surgical procedure in the labiaplasty article. What we’re discussing here are the reasons why someone with what might be considered normal labia would want them sliced, and what bears considering during the decision-making process.

Here we explore several themes:

  1. Why do we all care so much – all of a sudden – about labia?
  2. Why am I allowed to get braces or lose weight or dye my hair, but getting a labiaplasty is ‘unfeminist’ and a sign that I hate myself?
  3. How can we get some perspective?

Facts about labiaplasty

Lots of (usually hetero) women express dissatisfaction with the look of their labia, but why? This only started after the Brazilian, when we started to really see everything. Nobody cared about labia before this and unless you were sitting on them on the bus, you wouldn’t ever consider cutting them off. Not in a million years.

So now that we can see everything, the critics come out and we get all judgey about what looks good and what doesn’t, which naturally leads to fashions emerging – pube art has long been a feature of our lives, which ultimately led to the Brazilian.

Labia modification is a natural progression, and why wouldn’t it be? Everything else can be cut up, brightened or plumped in favour of its aesthetics. Primping and preening for sexual attraction is nature: birds do this, monkeys do this, lizards do this.

What’s more, violent primping and preening has been happening across the globe since the dawn of time: Japanese women squishing their big hooves into tight bandages to make them tiny; Victorian women halting breath and blood with corsets so tight you couldn’t tuck a toothpick; and tribal ladies who stretch their necks and ear lobes to the nth degree with devices specially made for the job. What fun would just loving each other for who we are on the inside be?

The bare labia took us all by surprise

The labial limelight in the age of glossy advertising has come in waves across three decades and is still building with every razor sold at a supermarket. There is a lot of embarrassment going around because, well, we just weren’t ready to see our labia in such exquisite detail and have them be judged.

It’s like having your anus spontaneously projected onto a big screen at a concert and voted on (hot or not?). Nobody likes that unless you had time to prepare and at least pluck the toilet paper off – an ordinary human response to being scrutinised is shame.

Our mothers couldn’t prepare us with extra labia self esteem, because our mothers never had their vulvas put under a microscope and talked about and looked at like a specimen. They had their own 99 problems to deal with, and dangling labia was not one.

You can bet most of them are rocking a bush, are still getting laid, being adored for who they are, relaxing with a gin and tonic with their lovers, being old, worrying about extra pounds and wrinkles, and not worrying how far their labia minora stick out, even after birthing babies (us). Our vaginas probably look just like theirs used to.

Vulvar appearance changes with age and use – if you have given birth, your labia may have stretched; if you are getting older, your skin starts to lose elasticity just like your face; and if you have lost a lot of weight, your vulva does what your stomach does and dangles a bit with extra skin.

What’s normal and what’s not

The tucked-in vulva is normal for some of the population, but really it’s just part of the labia landscape once you get out into the community. If you lined us all up and made us drop drawers, you’d find a lot more labia than you bargained for.

Nobody likes it when women drop draws in the street, however, so most hetero women will never see another woman’s vagina or vulva in the flesh. We might discuss our vaginal function with our friends (infections, sex, babies), but we never really discuss our labia and it’s not commonplace to check out each other’s junk. You know, just to see.

This means many people don’t really know what’s normal, except when we see porn goddesses flashing their waxed and lasered bare (and usually tidy) lips in skin flicks, which as mentioned, is not a fair representation of the luscious labia on offer. Just like the size and shape of supermodels is not representative of what all bodies look like. It’s a shape that suits advertising, because it doesn’t challenge anyone, and it triggers off our reward systems with its prettiness.

This, in turn, makes us narrow-minded about what’s attractive. This is the human brain at work, and it’s ok that we do this – we were made this way – so long as we understand that we are being conditioned. All fashions are like this. All you need to do is look at other stuff to broaden your mind. It’s easy, but you need to be deliberate about it.

So are larger-than-the-others labia minora unsightly, abnormal or otherwise unfortunate? You won’t know unless you look. And you should look, at hundreds of other women’s labia, then you will have an inkling of what’s around and where your vag fits in on the scale of things. It’s good to have some perspective on these matters. You might just find that your style of vulva is common, and that even super smart, sassy beautiful women also have these. And love them.

The unhappiness started when…

Porn keeps being blamed for the change in ‘preference’, but it wasn’t porn’s fault. Yes, it’s true: most porn stars (except for the ‘fetish’ stars with big 70’s bush) have zero bush and tiny little labia minora, but they just went with the fashion with pubes and what they were born with in the labia department – and got hired. Just like you won’t be hired to be a model if you have a car-crash face, you won’t be hired to be in a pornographic film if your labia aren’t what the majority of punters think (rightly or wrongly) looks “best” a la what they are conditioned to think is sexy.

All of us may now only ever see bald, tucked-in labia, oh so neat and tidy. Or, alternatively, we’ll see the hairy lesbians of hetero normative feminist nightmares, bush running rampant all the way down their thighs, not a care in the world. Just enjoying themselves. Not even caring what men think. (Gasp.)

A young heterosexual woman would be hard-pressed to find a good reason to deliberately grow out her bush and celebrate her long labia, because it would feel like sexual suicide, despite the fact that there is a good argument that that is precisely what she should do.

Her peers wouldn’t understand, and her gentlemen callers would possibly take issue, and that is one problem she doesn’t want to deal with – sexual rejection, adding another thing to her list of things to feel humiliated about.

Thankfully the older you get, the less f**ks you give about who likes your labia, but it can’t be ignored that porn follows the trends (of which admittedly there are many), and porn-makers give the punters what they want.

Mainstream porn tends to dictate what men get off to in terms of providing male sexual cues in plentiful supply (breasts, buttocks and vulvas, mainly). It may well be that a bald vulva triggers off more sexual cues (firing off reward neurotransmitters) in the hetero male brain than a hairy vulva, since more actual vulva is exposed (unless the man is predisposed to enjoying hairy vulvas).

This means that many het men now, neurologically, sexually prefer bald vulvas, and it’s hard to go backwards when your neurotransmitters have been upregulated with all that hard-core baldy galore going on.

(It is very important to note here that lots of men (probably in fact the majority) who like – and get – real sex with real women, couldn’t give less of a crap about labia size, and have never, ever considered that they might get to be fussy about what kind of vagina came their way.

They’d love it even if it looked like you had been attacked with an axe or wild animals. Twice. They love it all dearly and equally.

It seems obvious that such a clear preference for vulvar baldness could only mean one thing: too much porn and not enough actual sex. This becomes more apparent in younger hetero men who have had access to endless reams of digital porn since they were born, and don’t actually know anything about real vulvas and vaginas.)

Alas, we end up with an over-abundance of bald, tucked-in vulvas that is giving the rest of us flapsters anxiety because we just don’t have those.

The male brain may well be starting to prefer them for lack of other stimuli, which in fact means those of us with different labia have a moral responsibility to show these men that there is other delicious labia out there. Consider it like saving them from being a vulvar racist – benevolence, ladies.

Life Tip: the best lovers love all vulvas.

The comparison game is nature’s way of keeping up with the Joneses

If you ask a woman why she wants a labiaplasty, she’ll say she doesn’t like the look of her vulva, but that is usually only in comparison to other women’s labia.

However it is important to note that when the only other women she sees nude are porn stars being all sexy, who have predominantly bald, tucked-in labia which men seem to love, she is not getting a comprehensive view of the full spectrum of vag out there.

She therefore has no concept of what is actually not just normal, but appreciated, sensual and a delight to the opposite sex. This is despite the fact that she may not like or watch porn.

She is getting a lopsided view of her own body and how it shapes up with other women’s, but nobody blames her for the mistake. It’s a common one.

Nobody wants to trip over their labia, be subjected to a labial critique from a lover, or maybe the worst outcome, get camel toe in MC Hammer pants. But we are now living in a tucked-in vulva technicolour dream where women think their more-than-nonexistent labia minora are some kind of anomaly, which just isn’t true.

If it were true, there wouldn’t be such outrage at the idea of women cutting off their beautiful labia from the feminist camp. This isn’t because feminists believe that you should love your body no matter what it looks like (which is of course true) but more so that your labia are probably beautiful as they are.

Actually beautiful. Not “my mum says I’m special” beautiful, but sensuous and delicious and abundant and feminine. Instead of protesting, however, we just need to look at more vag. All kinds. So it feels more normal, like we belong to a tribe of labia-toting womenfolk. (Lesser-labia’d ladies are also included of course.)

That brings us to babes with flaps

What’s missing from this picture are the babes who love a Brazilian or a bush and their long, luxurious labia. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can be a complete and utter babe, and have large labia to boot.

Babes with flaps are babes because they don’t care what you, or him or the neighbour’s cat thinks about her flaps. They are her flaps. This is not always easy to truly feel in real life, so start practising flap-love now. It is all part and parcel of practising self-love and self-respect.

We could all use a bit more attitude in this department, but even if you hate your flaps and want them gone, we are fully aware that you can still love yourself and get rid of your flaps. No judgement here. They are your flaps and you can do whatever you want with them. Remember that.

Deciding on a labiaplasty

If you still want a labiaplasty after asking and answering, first and foremost, ‘am I actually normal and are my labia a delight after all? and have considered the utter agony you will likely face for months as you heal, the loss of a part of your body (that, let’s face it, you may not miss much), and the possibility that the surgeon will make an error and you’ll never have good sex again, we say go for it. We won’t think less of you for it. In fact, kudos to you. Do whatever makes you happy.

If your labia are so long that you have to buy Y-fronts, you need Moses’s magical staff during foreplay to part the way, or in fact you just hate your labia so much you want to be rid of them, you would be excused by the Feminista Brigade (that is us, by the way) for considering surgery.

There is no point in being uncomfortable, feeling ugly or ashamed, or being unable to fulfil your sexual desires when the surgery is considered to be low risk, quick to do, and produces the results you are after. Problem solved.

To put this into some perspective for the long-labia lovers, people get braces at a very young age, get their breasts rearranged after babies have sucked the life out of them, have their sticking-out ears pinned back, and get hormonally-induced facial hair permanently removed, along with many other procedures, and everyone nods along in agreement there, that those things can indeed make that person feel better out in the world, since we are all a bunch of judgers.

That considered, a well-placed, diligently-decided labiaplasty comes under the same heading. If you really want to do it, choose an experienced surgeon that you pay heaps of money to do a good job, feel good about your decision, and move on with your life. Nobody else even needs to know, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation or justification.

But. And there are buts.

If, after some thorough investigation to see what you’re up against, your labia turn out to be utterly gorgeous in all their flappiness, you may decide you love them and want to keep them.

Do not chop off perfectly delicious labia because a porn star has less vulva than you. That is not a reason. Those are her flaps, and none of your concern, just like her feet, digestive tract and shampoo brand are not your business. Comparing your labia to someone else’s is foolish. Screw ’em.

Before you consider chopping your junk off for purely aesthetic reasons, we have some suggestions on how to not take it all so seriously. Labia rocks.

1) First, and importantly, take a look at the labia library so you can see what other vag actually looks in a safe environment. You don’t need a login and it’s ok to cringe and laugh! Vaginas are funny lookin’.

2) Watch Petals: Journey into self discovery, by Beck Peacock and Nick Karras (find where to watch online. )

3) Watch The Perfect Vagina, by Lisa Rogers (watch here free)

4) Watch or listen to Brené Brown’s TED Talk on shame. It’s brilliant. (Watch here free.)

5) Understand what can go wrong. Without wanting to upset you, the risks of lifelong pain and suffering due to nerve damage or your body responding in a peculiar and mysterious way are very real.

Google ‘labiaplasty horror stories’ just to get the full spectrum of stuff that can and does go wrong. Lots of people love their labiaplasty and are very happy with their tidy vulvas, but there are forums full of those who regret it with every breath. Read their stories. Choose carefully.

The two great documentaries listed above are about the female vulva (and our complex relationship with it) that you will enjoy watching before you make up your mind, not to talk you out of it, but to make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed choice – and you’ll get to see lots of labia to get some perspective.

These films, both directed by women, offer you greater context so your decision can be well-rounded and honest. Even if you don’t want a labiaplasty, you should watch them anyway because they’re great.

Long live the labia. Or not. Whatever.


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    Sharp G, Tiggemann M, Mattiske J. A Retrospective Study of the Psychological Outcomes of Labiaplasty. ASJOUR. Published online November 14, 2016:sjw190. doi:10.1093/asj/sjw190
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    Sharp G, Draganidis A, Hamori C, Oates J, Fernando AN. Beyond Motivations: A Qualitative Pilot Exploration of Women’s Experiences Prior to Labiaplasty. Aesthetic Surgery Journal. Published online April 17, 2023:994-1001. doi:10.1093/asj/sjad105
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    Sharp G, Tiggemann M, Mattiske J. Psychological Outcomes of Labiaplasty: A Prospective Study. Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. Published online December 2016:1202-1209. doi:10.1097/prs.0000000000002751
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    Bizjak-Ogrinc U, Senčar S. Sutureless Laser Labiaplasty of Labia Minora. Sexual Medicine. Published online August 2, 2021:1-1. doi:10.1016/j.esxm.2021.100406
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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)