Much of my early twenties are a haze but a one-night stand with some idiot called Jake has lived with me forever. As he traced his tongue down my stomach and twisted my knickers down I started to panic. Tipsy as I was, I didn’t have the coordination or reaction time to rearrange into a more ‘flattering’ position. Suddenly he was up close and personal with my vulva. Giggling, he said: “Do you want fries with that?” I died. It was true. I was deformed. Unlovable. Ugly.
I can’t place the exact moment I started to become aware of my body. One minute I felt free and happy to frolic totally starkers and then... then there was shame. I guess it’s natural to start to feel self-conscious about your body as a teenager, but before I became sexually active, it was all about my size. My legs were too chunky, my boobs too small. My arms weren’t toned and my face was too round. I was so busy analysing what the world could see, I hadn’t even considered that my vulva might look different too.
Despite my anxieties, as I grew into my teenage years, I flourished. Boys found me attractive and I embraced life as one of the 'pretty girls', with plenty of moochy coffee dates, dancefloor snogs and illicit fumbles. On the face of it, I had nothing to worry about – and for a long time I didn’t. Then I started having sex.
My first love at 16 never mentioned how I looked – whether he noticed or not, I’ll never know. I guess he was hardly an anatomical expert either at that age. I’d never watched porn or seen many other vulvas so I didn’t even realise they were all different.
What I did notice, however, was that occasionally, after intense sex, my inner lips (otherwise known as the labia minora), which already protruded from the outer lips (the labia majora), would bruise and swell. It was as if they had been inflated, like those party balloons that are twisted and tied into the shape of poodles. It was sore and uncomfortable. I was walking around with a heaviness between my legs and couldn’t have sex again until things had calmed down.
That was my first inkling of trouble 'downstairs'. Fast forward to the 'burger and fries' incident, past a late education in porn, an awakening to degrading blokey banter and the crushing realisation that not all vulvas are made equal and I had full blown body dysmorphia. I was too embarrassed to mention it to friends at the time (I was never good at vulnerability), plus there’s absolutely no way I’d have confided in relatives – we’re just not that sort of family.
For years I did my research on the sly, then a platform called RealSelf appeared, a rabbit hole of all things plastic surgery-related. In this portal to perfection, reviews, community questions chats and cosmetic procedures are dissected and absorbed.
The app became an obsession. I combed the site daily, trawling through labiaplasty ‘before and after’ pictures. I reckon I studied more vulvas in my year of research than most porn addicts manage in a lifetime. However, I never for a moment considered that this spectrum of flowers, all different shapes, sizes, colours and textures could all be beautiful.
After more than 10 years of hiding my vulva, getting panic attacks when men tried to touch me intimately - or, God forbid, go down on me – I just couldn’t take it anymore. My surgery was never about having the perfect vulva, it was about allowing myself to live in sexual freedom.
Life after labiaplasty surgery
The first surgery appointment was liberating. I was taking steps to change and it felt fantastic. That said, just allowing a male to inspect my vulva – even in a professional capacity – was terrifying. He stretched my inner labia out like a butterfly (Jesus, I could have taken flight with those wings) and it was confirmed: 'Yes, your labia minora are larger than average.'
We discussed the options. He asked if I wanted to save any of the 'lips'. My answer was a categorical 'no'. Take them off, all of them. He acquiesced. However, he was reluctant to remove too much of the flesh surrounding my clit in case it inhibited my ability to orgasm. I’ve always climaxed easily so that was a no brainer for me. The only sticking point was the cost. At up to £4,000, it’s not cheap, but I’d squirrelled away a modest nest egg and figured that I’d wasted more over the years on overpriced cocktails, designer fripperies and unnecessary travel – none of which had made any lasting impact on my happiness.
The surgery itself was a doddle. For some people, a labiaplasty might sound like a huge decision, but doubt never crossed my mind. I was on a mission. I booked a few days off work and took myself to the clinic. I was back home within 24 hours. I still didn’t confide in any friends because I didn’t want to explain myself. I didn’t want them thinking they could change my mind. Dosed up on meds, I hid myself away over the weekend, watching with naive curiosity and pride as my little cross-stitched labia began to heal.
Obviously it took longer than that before I could even contemplate sex – up to six weeks, said the surgeon, gravely. I laughed: I’d not had sex in nearly a year at that stage, so what was an extra month or two?
I can’t pretend that the aftermath wasn’t uncomfortable, but when you’ve craved something for so long you can ride out any pain. I was up and about within a week and my temporary social hiatus went unnoticed. It’s pretty easy to hide a secret when it’s in your pants.
While my vulva doesn’t offend me now, undoing years of anxiety and body shame isn’t that easy. I’d imagined I would be parading the streets naked, high on cunnilingus and crotch confidence.
The reality has been different. I’d forbidden any non-penetrative intimate contact for such a long time that I didn’t know where to start. I was single at the time of the surgery but am now in a relationship with a lovely guy who has zero idea what I’ve done. I still struggle to allow myself to be ‘seen’. I tense up when he tries to go down on me (mercifully, this isn’t often – I think he’s got the hint) and I’m reluctant to roam pants off. Baby steps, I’m working on it.
But the world moves quickly. Before I had the surgery, a couple of years ago, the body positive movement had yet to really find its voice. Today, explicit conversations are two a penny. Innie...outie...those terms used to be how we’d describe belly buttons, right? Not anymore.
A TikTok video in which @gabygabss, aka former Playboy Bunny Gabriella Scaringe, gives the lowdown on her 'outie' labia has recently gone viral, racking up over seven million plays. 'My inner parts protrude a little more than my outward parts,' Gabriella says. 'They're called the Arby's sandwich or the burger, but every panini is beautiful! And I've only ever had compliments on my lil Arby's roast beef.'
Her searing candour has resonated with thousands of women worldwide. I’m stunned that anyone could have been so brave. The fact that so many women are publicly engaging in an issue that has traumatised me for my entire life is powerful, and I’m proud – from a distance – of the sisterhood for owning the innie/outie debate. But this revolution doesn’t mean I am somehow bound to ‘fess up’.
Does this make me a traitor to the feminist cause? I don’t think so. Society is starting to embrace both natural beauty and modification simultaneously, as an individual’s right to choose. I made a choice that worked for me and I don’t regret it.
Call it pride or vanity – or just plain privacy – I see no upside in revealing what I’ve done to the wider world. The new shape of my vulva is not worth explaining to any men in my life and I’m working through my intimacy issues at my own pace. This secret is staying firmly under wraps, preferably silky ones by Agent Provocateur.
You Might Also Like