Pathologising diversity: medical websites offering female genital cosmetic surgery in Australia

Kimberley Chibnall, Karyn McDonald, Maggie Kirkman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) is increasingly popular. Medical organisations report concern about adverse outcomes and inadequate clinical indications. Given the Internet’s role in health decisions, we aimed to discover what was being communicated about FGCS on Australian provider websites. Thematic analysis of 31 prominent websites identified six themes: seeking aesthetic perfection; resisting natural diversity; gaining from FGCS; indications for surgery; a simple procedure; and ethical practice. Desirable vulvas were represented as ‘neat’ and ‘youthful’. Sites promoted a discourse in which to be ‘feminine’ means having no visible sex organs, consistent with the historical repression of women’s sexuality. FGCS was constructed as a simple and empowering solution, improving women’s comfort, hygiene, self-esteem and sexual relationships. The apparent primary concern was commercial. Attention was rarely paid to ethics. Sites reinforced women’s responsibility to strive for aesthetic perfection, implied that vulvar diversity is pathological, made unfounded claims for the benefits of FGCS and downplayed adverse consequences. Findings have implications for public health and medical authorities in countries where FGCS is practised and advertised. Enforcing the first do no harm principle would reduce websites’ capacity to promote discourses and practices that damage women’s bodies and wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-80
Number of pages17
JournalCulture, Health & Sexuality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020


  • Australia
  • discourse
  • female genital cosmetic surgery
  • medical websites
  • vulva

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