Girls as young as nine are seeking surgery on the NHS because they are troubled by the appearance of their genitals, according to a senior doctor.
Dr Naomi Crouch, a leading adolescent gynaecologist, said she was concerned that GPs were referring a rising number of children for the procedure.
“Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, ‘I just hate it, I just want it removed,’ and for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body – especially a part that’s intimate – is very upsetting,” she told the Victoria Derbyshire programme.
Dr Crouch believes the procedure has uncomfortable similarities to female genital mutilation (FGM), which is illegal in the UK.
“The law says we shouldn’t perform these operations on developing bodies for cultural reasons. Current Western culture is to have very small lips, tucked inside. I see this as the same thing.”
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the operation should not be carried out until a girl had finished developing, after the age of 18. But in 2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS – 150 of them were under 15.
NHS England said it did not carry out the operation for cosmetic reasons, only for clinical reasons.
But Pacquita De Zulueta, a GP for 30 years, says some girls know they need to overstate their physical symptoms to get the surgery and blames the rise on unrealistic images girls are being exposed to through pornography and social media.
“I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva – that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust.”
She added: “Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It’s very normal for the lips to protrude.”