Genital Cosmetic Surgery Project

Elucidating the increasing demand for genital cosmetic surgery among girls and women in Australia

Chief Investigators: Maggie Kirkman, Jane Fisher, Kay Souter, Amy Dobson

Partner Investigators: Janet Michelmore, Elizabeth Farrell, Beverley Vollenhoven, Rita Butera, Jessica Malone, Elsie L’Huillier, Genevieve Dally, Desiree Yap, Jillian Tomlinson, Gabrielle Caspar

Funding body: Australian Research Council 2014–2016

There is increasing evidence that girls and women in Australia are modifying their genitals for cosmetic reasons. While bodily adornment and alteration can give pleasure and occupy an important cultural position in aesthetic expression, female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) is nevertheless of serious public concern and has been the subject of critical statements by professional organisations concerned with women’s health, warning of actual and potential harm. There is little evidence but a great deal of opinion on: reasons girls and women might seek FGCS, women’s and men’s constructions of ‘normal’ and ‘ideal’ genitals, doctors’ and beauty therapists’ practices and attitudes in relation to FGCS, and the role of social media communication and image-sharing practices. Although the appearance of women’s external genitals is as varied as faces, there appears to be limited public knowledge of genital diversity. The proposed research will identify the psychosocial context of and public communication about the dramatic rise in female genital cosmetic surgery in Australia and interpret the phenomenon within a gendered understanding of health in society. Drawing on the considerable resources of the research team, including Partner Organisations the Australian Federation of Medical Women, Family Planning Victoria, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, Monash Health, and Women’s Health Victoria, results will be used to contribute to programs in schools and online aimed at enhancing sexuality and body image education, universal and targeted public health campaigns for the community about normal genital diversity, and professional development for doctors and beauty therapists.

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