People think surgically altered labia look more ‘normal’ than natural labia

The study authors hope their findings will underscore the need for more human genitalia-focused lessons in sexual education.

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The study authors hope their findings will underscore the need for more human genitalia-focused lessons in sexual education.
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Crystal Cox/Business Insider

  • When people were shown pictures of different labias, or the folds around the vagina, they tended to view those that had been made smaller and more symmetrical with a surgery as more “normal.”
  • The photos were actually before-and-after pictures of labiaplasty, but the study participants didn’t know that.
  • The study findings suggest people are not well-educated on what labia naturally look like, or the fact that there’s really no such thing as “normal-looking” labia since they can vary so widely in appearance.
  • The study authors hope their findings will underscore the need for more human genitalia-focused lessons in sexual education.
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People think surgically-modified labias, or the “lips” of female genitalia, look more “normal” than natural ones, according to new research.

When people were shown pictures of labia, half of which had been made smaller and more symmetrical through a voluntary procedure called a labiaplasty, most said they viewed the labiaplasty images as more normal.

This new research, presented Friday at The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality annual conference, suggests people don’t know that there really is no “normal”-looking labia, since the size, shape, and symmetry of the body part varies widely, study co-author Kaylee Skoda said.

Still, the results aren’t necessarily surprising since previous research suggests it’s human nature to desire physical symmetry in a potential partner’s face, so the same evolutionary trend could be true for labia, Skoda said.

The study participants didn’t know they were looking at before-and-after pictures

To come to their findings, the researchers asked 4,513 participants, 56% who were men, 41% who were women, and 3% who were gender non-conforming, to look at 16 photos of labia. Sixty-nine percent of the participants were straight and 23% were bisexual.

Eight of the photos were of pre-labiaplasty genitals and eight were of the same genitals post-labiaplasty, but the participants didn’t know that.

Researchers then asked the participants to rank each of the labia on how normal they looked using a five-point scale and found that the majority of people said the post-labiaplasty labia looked more “normal” to them.

According to the researchers, the study results were limited because people who tend to opt into sexual health studies have liberal perspectives. As a result, it’s possible an even larger proportion of people view post-labiaplasty vulvas are more normal than pre-labiaplasty ones.

Also, the researchers only used pictures of labiaplasty patients, so it’s possible their images aren’t representative of people who don’t seek the procedures, though the researchers didn’t mention this potential confounding factor.

The study findings suggest that people are not well-educated on what labia that haven’t been surgically modified actually look like, or the fact that labia can vary widely in appearance and all be completely normal.

For this reason, the study authors hope their findings will underscore the need for more human genitalia-focused lessons in sexual education.