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Surge of ‘princess' surgery’ tells much about gender rolesKorea’s medical culture ⑦
  • By Marian Chu
  • Approval 2017.04.13 19:06
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“Are you married? Did you get an abortion? A lot of young people who’ve had abortions or somehow feel that they’re ‘loose’ come to our hospital to get it done,” said the receptionist at a vaginoplasty clinic in Gangnam, on the other end of the line. “A lot of people are having sex these days.”

While most women focus on external beauty, a significant portion of them are now paying attention to their “inner” beauty -- literally -- as well.

Despite the rise of feminism in Korea, the popularity of vaginoplasty shows the country is still a predominantly macho society.

Vaginoplasty, or “princess' surgery,” as many here call it, falls under the umbrella of female rejuvenation surgery. The World Health Organization defines it as a form of elective plastic surgery for the purpose of restoring or enhancing vagina’s cosmetic appearance or internal function.

Although cosmetic surgery is uncommon in the Western world because of recalcitrance to change one’s physical attributes through artificial means, the story is quite different in Korea. In this country, going under the knife is little different from exercising to lose weight or putting on make-up to boost one’s appearance.

Industry watchers call Seoul as the “World Capital of Plastic Surgery, ” and the Fair Trade Commission says Korea accounts for 24 percent of the global plastic surgery market.

Against this backdrop, and with the increase of working women and rise in living standards, princess' surgery has reached the masses, albeit under the radar.

The receptionist continued to boast: “We’ve had a mother who got it done and was so satisfied that she brought her daughter; we’ve had two patients from Kazakhstan come in yesterday. Of course -- we have a lot of foreign patients from China, Mongol, Vietnam, and Russia; our doctor is renowned for his surgery method, and we’ve become popular among married couples through word of mouth.”

Source: Next Daily

According to Next Daily, a clinic specializing in princess' surgery gathered and classified data of 214 women who recently got the surgery done, finding that a majority were in their 40’s and 30’s, with the 30’s showing the highest interest in the surgery.

As to why they received the surgery, the largest share of respondents, 46.1 percent cited “my and my partner’s satisfaction,” followed by 22.6 percent who cited “my partner’s satisfaction,” 15.7 percent who pointed to “my satisfaction,” and 8.8 percent who said, “for health.” Regarding physical symptoms, 86.6 percent cited “feeling loose,” followed by 67.3 percent who complained of “sounds of air escaping,” to a multiple reply question.

Industry experts trace the surgery’s popularity back to years ago when insurance companies began marketing vaginoplasty along with incontinence surgery that corrects urine leakage occurring with slight movement. These underwriters began selling vaginoplasty, coining the phrase “princess' surgery” to describe how their male counterparts treat these women after getting it done.

Although the operation remains uninsured for most, some women may get coverage when their genital problem affects their day-to-day life such as having reoccurring infections. Although most clinics charge an average of 1 to 2 million won ($877 -$1,754), the price can change drastically when uninsured. Laser vaginoplasty is more expensive, with some centers in upscale southern Seoul area charging 5.5 million won.

The study found that most voluntarily stepped up for the surgery -- indicating a stark difference of attitude toward sex and women compared with the West. Industry watchers note that men, and women, still adhere to traditional gender roles; moreover, Koreans have, in the past, correlated virginity with purity and devotion, evidenced by the popularity of hymen-reconstruction surgery, which surgically rebuilds the hymen to cause bleeding during intercourse.

However, another survey says that some doctors have called the surgery as the abuse of women, saying that women should not change the natural shape or size of their genitals to please men. The Medical Women's International Association, views it especially negatively, saying surgeries that puncture or cut the labia are common only in some countries of Africa.

A doctor from Seoul Medical Association, who wishes to remain anonymous because he operates an OBGYN clinic, criticized some people’s efforts to universalize the surgery, pointing out that Korea is the only country in the world that has popularized it nationwide.

“Women don’t have anything to compare their female parts except to those of young women found in pornography. Most get the surgery done because their husbands complain, which is outrageous,” the doctor said.

According to online communities, however, those who get it done cite the overwhelmingly positive influence it has had on their lives, citing that they could get married, rekindle their marriage, or even find lost confidence.

The receptionist cited how husbands were more than pleased with the tighter grip and the more passionate sexual experience. She didn’t stop there -- mentioning a patient who came back to the clinic to thank them for the surgery, saying she was able to get happily married, thanks to the hospital.

Many OBGYNs have also noticed the popularity of the surgery, taking steps to incorporate it into their service lists, with some even specializing only in vaginoplasty.

Although some who elect for the surgery leave satisfied, others remain puzzled over its popularity. “It’s not like you’re going to become a porn star,” a commentator said. “Why would you do something like that?”

Women in Western countries hardly received the surgery except for strictly medical reasons, he said.

yjc@docdocdoc.co.kr

<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>

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