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Hymen repair, related cosmetic surgeries limited in Tri-State

January 23, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

kristinw@herald-mail.com

In the age of hyper-reality shows such as ABC's "Extreme Makeover" and E! Entertainment Television's "Dr. 90210," cosmetic surgery appears to have taken on new heights for anyone with a dollar and a dream.

The nips and tucks don't stop with the face, breasts, waistline or buttocks anymore. For some female patients, the cosmetic surgery of their choice has to do with the most private parts of their bodies.

In the second season of "Dr. 90210," television producers introduced audiences to a 19-year-old girl from West Virginia who planned to have her labia - the lips of her vagina - sculpted to minimize the discomfort she felt from her enlarged labia. She also wanted to feel more comfortable with the appearance of her external genitals.

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In December, The Wall Street Journal published an article about the growing trend of "revirgination," or the replacement of a woman's hymen. The article highlighted the story of a middle-aged woman who had her hymen recreated as an anniversary present to her husband.

While these procedures might seem like the latest craze in a culture fascinated with cosmetic surgery, there is nothing new or revolutionary about repairing or reshaping the female genitalia, Tri-State area doctors say.

Dr. Aryeh L. Herrera, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Allegheny Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, has been practicing in Hagerstown for 17 years. In that time, he's operated on the vagina and labia, and, in rare cases, he's repaired a woman's hymen.

While there is no hard data about the number of cosmetic surgeries performed on a woman's genitals, there are several advertisements on the Web for urban-based clinics that perform surgeries known as labiaplasty, vaginoplasty and hymenoplasty.

Herrera says he has not personally experienced more women requesting these surgeries.

Dr. Sohael Raschid, an obstetrician-gynecologist and owner of Women's Health Professionals of Chambersburg, Pa., says he's heard that in metropolitan areas there has been interest in surgeries intended to beautify or alter female genitals, including the hymen.

But there are medical reasons to perform some of these surgeries, he adds.

Gynecologists operate on the labia when women experience discomfort because of the size of their vaginal lips or when women experience a tear in the labia during childbirth.

"In some cases, (the labia) looks like a male scrotum," Herrera explains. "Sometimes the clitoris will hang down, looking like a small penis. I've seen them that extreme. The gamut of the deformity runs from the not very significant to the very significant."

When it comes to surgery for the female genitalia, labiaplasty is the most common surgery Herrera performs. The procedure to remove the excess tissue takes from one to two hours and is performed while the patient is awake and under local anesthesia. Depending on the doctor and location, labiaplasty can cost between $4,000 and $8,000.

Raschid considers vaginal tightening one of his areas of expertise, but most of his patients are senior women who are seeking relief from problems with the bladder and rectum pushing into the vagina.

"If you have five or six kids, there's a higher propensity for the bladder to drop and the rectum to fall into the vagina," Raschid explains. In those cases, tightening the vagina helps a woman better control her bladder and bowels.

Herrera has performed vaginal reconstruction procedures on women who have had cancer or something removed from the vaginal area.

Cosmeticsurgery.com explains the vaginoplasty procedure as intended to "rejuvenate" and tighten a woman's vagina.

"Vaginoplasty is designed to decrease the diameter of the vagina, resulting in increased friction during intercourse, making the experience more pleasurable for both partners," the Web site says.

Herrera says he has not been asked by patients to perform a vaginal tightening for sexual reasons.

He has, however, been asked to repair a woman's broken hymen to give the appearance of virginity.

"It's all cultural," he says of the hymen repair surgery. "There are certain cultures where (virginity) is a very significant aspect of the culture." Herrera says he is only asked to do the hymen surgery once every few years and all of his patients have been foreign. Women from South American and Middle Eastern cultures seem to be more likely to request the procedure, he added.

Herrera believes hymen repair or reconstruction "is strictly a cultural phenomenon." He noticed that the cosmetic surgery Web sites that advertise hymenoplasty seem to cater to a foreign clientele. Some clinics even offer shuttle service between airports and the doctor's office.

"Hymenoplasty is one of those procedures that I think is totally bogus," Raschid says. He has not had patients request the procedure, although he has performed two hymen repairs in his 16-year career. In each case, he was willing to repair a girl's hymen after it was broken by a tampon.

When it comes to elective hymen surgery, used as a gift to a spouse or boyfriend, Raschid says he has some concerns.

"If someone came in and wanted to do that as a present to their husband, I would say no," he says. "To recreate a semblance of virginity when you've had three kids is nonsensical I think."

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