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Report shows almost 25% of young Australian women feel anxious about their labia

Women’s Health Victoria have shared a new report that highlights that a quarter of young Australian women feel anxious or unhappy about their labia.

The report attributed the influence of pornography and online media as a major contributor to women’s levels of anxiety over their bodies, and an increase in genital cosmetic surgery.

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The new report that is based on a survey over 1,000 individuals has highlighted the need for more education among GPs, and more inclusive sexual education for young people to combat these negative perceptions.

The non-profit group has tackled women’s understanding of the diversity in labia over the last decade with their Labia Library resource which has a photo gallery that displays unaltered photos of women’s genitalia showing just how unique everyone is. 

Dr Melissa Kang, who is an ambassador for the Labia Library said the latest survey shows there’s still a lot of work to do.

“The polling results in this report tell us that there is still way too much labia shame, stigma and anxiety as well as plain old misinformation.” Dr Kang said.

The labia are the folds of skin that sit on either side of the vaginal opening. This includes the inner folds (inner lips of the vulva) which are known as the labia minora, and the outer folds (outer lips of the vulva), known as the labia majora.

The survey conducted in April 2024 by Women’s Health Victoria and YouGov, over a third of women and people with labia say they embrace this diversity – and feel happy and confident with the appearance of their labia.

Yet 16 per cent of people said they are anxious or embarrassed about the way theirs look. Worryingly, this is heightened for Gen Z, with around one in four (23%) people aged 18-24 saying they feel anxious, ashamed or embarrassed by how their labia look, and almost a third (31%) associating their labia with negative words such as ‘weird’, ‘disgusting’ or ‘ugly’.

One in five (18%) of Gen Zs we surveyed said they obtain their information on what labia ‘should look like’ from pornography. Almost a third (30%) said they obtained their knowleddge from social media.

The health advocates say this is concerning because many images have been digital airbrushed to look a particular way, or people have undergone cosmetic surgery to achieve a desired look.

The report claims that there’s an increasing number of Australian women considering surgery, and it’s a growing business for cosmetic surgeons.

Dr Kang, who spent years as the resident medical advisor for Dolly magazine says people need to understand that there is a huge amount of diversity in how bodies look.

“Probably the most frequently asked question in Dolly Doctor, in 23 years, was ‘am I normal?’ And I think the most common question that I started to get in recent years is the question about the inner labia protruding beyond the external labia, and a lot of anxiety about that.

“But the main message is that all vaginas, vulvas, labia, hymens, are all different, there is no one size
fits all, literally.” Dr Kang said.

Body Positivity and Consent advocate Elizabeth Payne said it’s essential that people have open conversations about how they’re feeling about their bodies.

“We cannot leave our young people thinking their bodies are wrong: we must encourage conversation that normalises and celebrates the differences in size, colour, symmetry, and shape of the vulva and labia.” Payne said in the report.

The report makes several recommendations on how to improve the situation including better education for GPs, more information in relationship and sexual education curriculum, as well as more regulation on young people being able to access pornography online.

Read the full report.

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