By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Dr. Alinsod will see you now, and as he explains the various surgical procedures—explains them quickly and efficiently, like someone who has explained them many times before—you can't help but wonder what it's like for him when people start talking about their professions at dinner parties.
First, the labiaplasty.
"Labiaplasty recontours mostly the labia minora, the smaller lips, to make the vagina more appealing in the way it looks and more comfortable in its function," he explains. "It also encompasses the surgery for the labia majora, the larger lips. That surgery is done when the lady has excess skin, or baggy or loose skin of the labia majora, and it is unappealing to the lady."
Next, the vaginoplasty.
"Vaginoplasty narrows the diameter of the vagina and reconstructs the floor of the vagina," says Dr. Alinsod, "so that a wide-open vagina can become tighter and create more friction for a woman when she's having sexual relations. Vaginoplasty is a modification of a standard gynecological surgery called a posterior repair, which is a surgery to fix a defect in the floor of the vagina from a bulge, usually from the rectum, which is like a hernia in the vagina."
Still, I gotta ask: Who gets this done? There can't be that many women with unusually large or disfigured labia, can there? How much of this is about the influence of the uniformly small, sleek and camera-ready vulvas of porno?
It's impossible not to notice that the sudden proliferation of vaginal rejuvenation has occurred alongside the phenomenon of so-called "raunch culture." Coined by Ariel Levy, the author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, this term refers to the legions of women who embrace the tenets, images and merchandise of sex empires ranging from Playboyto Girls Gone Wild to Vivid. Pussy is the final frontier. The redevelopment of one's vagina in the image and likeness of the porn prototype seems to be going down the road clearcut by boob jobs. While I accept that cosmetic surgery can, in fact, be feminist—our bodies are the only things we ever really own, and our control over them should be exacting and complete—modification of the actual sex organ, even just refining its outside, is a more insidious practice than any triple-D tit upgrade.
Dr. Alinsod calmly profiles his typical patients.
"Usually they are professional women who can afford it," he says. "I do have quite a few teenagers who are requesting this procedure and are brought in by their moms or have saved their own money to have this done. They're athletes and scholars, they're highly motivated; they're just very self-conscious of their labias, which they feel shows up in their clothing. Eighty to 90 percent [of the surgeries] are for aesthetic appearance that is bothering the patients, and for 20 percent of the patients the labia just pulls and tugs and bothers them."
Color me unsurprised. Another prettifying surgical option for the cooch (here, the "mons pubis") is liposuction. "You specifically concentrate on the fatty pouch in the area above the clitoris and towards the pubic bone, usually below the belly button," says Dr. Alinsod. "[This makes] the tummy look not so pouchy."
It gets me wondering whether there are any men in the world who've told their partners that their vaginas could stand to lose some weight. I'm sure there are. I hope they got punched in the throat. More likely, though, the surgery baffles men and is desired by thin women intent on attacking even their naturally occurring fattier bits in pursuit of some non-existent tight-all-over robot bod. News, honeys: you're female. You're not supposed to look like adolescent boys. You will never look like adolescent boys.
The motivation for labiaplasty may be uncertain, but vaginoplasty seems much more obviously intended to revitalize the vagina in the interest of pleasing a man. This surgery is primarily appealing for women whose vag didn't snap back into shape after giving birth. I've heard horror stories about friction-less sex and an inability to wear tampons, which make me reconsider my intent to have four or five kids in a nod to the von Trapp family.
Alinsod points out the obvious, that men tend to dig it. "The couples tell me the husband feels more satisfaction than the woman will, friction-wise," he says. "The male partner seems to be more thrilled." I ask mother of three/former patient Dale Martinez what she and her husband have to say. "It was like, 'Oh, my gosh, what happened?' You feel like you're 19 again," she says of her husband's reaction, echoing Dr. Alinsod's ad copy (full disclosure: ad copy that has appeared in the Weekly). "It was very different. It was amazing. As I would recall, I had a very sloppy vaginal area. Mine was really bad. You couldn't feel anything. My husband is very accepting of anything, but after that he was going, 'This is great!'"
Loathe as I am to accept the idea of having internal surgery to please men, it's hardly so simple. A tighter vagina can improve sex for women, too. Aaaaand, if penis lengthening and thickening surgeries were on medical par with those to improve vaginas, and the man I loved had a small dick? I could get into it.
Then there's hymen repair, which has a whole other kind of unnerving subtext, one most people probably don't really want to think about. Alinsod explains the basic procedure to me over the phone during his morning commute from Los Angeles to Laguna, which is kind of unnerving itself.
"With hymenoplasty we attempt to find remnants of the hymen," he says. "Most ladies have the hymen broken by the time they're teenagers. The goal is to make the hymen appear to be reconnected as if it hadn't been broken yet."
But then comes that unthinkable subtext, as Dr. Alinsod mentions that he was contacted by forensic pathologists in Egypt who were interested in how they could tell if an intact hymen was the result of chastity or plastic surgery. I'm already nauseated from the graphic descriptions of vaginal surgeries, and it's only 9 a.m., so this is fucking brutal.
"Hymenoplasty is most requested by Middle Eastern and Asian cultures," Alinsod continues. "Middle Eastern cultures often require that when a young lady and a man get married, on their wedding night they have to show the family a white towel that has blood on it, resulting from having had intercourse and breaking the hymen. It's a proof of virginity for the family, and if that doesn't occur, in some cultures there is a loss of faith and there is great risk that could occur to the lady and her family, and there have been deaths due to an inability to believe in the first intercourse of the couple."
Of the Egyptian pathologists, Alinsod says, "The alleged killer is claiming that the lady was not virginal so they had every right to kill her, for an honor killing. It's amazing."
He says this gravely. It's a relief that a doctor who spends much time trimming privileged labia still understands the context of his work. He perks up a bit explaining why else someone might want her hymen restored. "There are some—this may sound strange—who want a hymen as a gift for their partner. I've had requests [for this to be] an anniversary gift to their partners."
* * *
Envisioning these procedures calls up some unholy images, reminiscent of those I encountered doing a 10th grade social studies project on female genital mutilation. Whether that kind of semiotic is empty and overlooks the kind of power and choice that American women wield, or if messing with a functional, healthy vagina purely for aesthetics is a truly egregious and anti-feminist trend is debatable. I definitely have more trouble accepting vaginal rejuvenation than pretty much every other kind of elective surgery. But my opinion only counts in my own pants. Martinez, who had a vaginoplasty in addition to her labiaplasty, says that the laser resurfacing she had done as part of her procedure "made it really pretty." And for her, feeling pretty is the trump card.