March 23, 2007 -- Women report better sexuality and improved self-esteem after cosmetic breast augmentation surgery, a University of Florida study shows.
Cynthia Figueroa-Haas, PhD, clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Nursing, advertised for volunteers in the offices of cosmetic plastic surgeons. Eighty-four women completed questionnaires on self-esteem and sexuality before and after cosmetic breast augmentation surgery.
Overall, the women didn't have particularly low self-esteem or particularly poor sexual function prior to surgery. But both aspects of their lives significantly improved after they got breast implants.
"They were already OK with self-esteem and sexuality -- they just wanted larger breasts," Figueroa-Haas tells WebMD. "They got increased levels of self-esteem and sexuality."
Figueroa-Haas bristles at the idea that it's frivolous for women to want to improve their body image. Body image, she says, is an important factor in a woman's self-esteem.
"A lot of people consider plastic surgery a procedure that doesn't need to be done. They say women should stay with their bodies and what God gave them and be satisfied. I don't agree," she says. "This procedure does change women's psychosocial issues. There are differences [in life satisfaction] between people with good and poor self-esteem."
Figueroa-Haas reports her findings in the January/March issue of Plastic Surgical Nursing.
Sex and Breast Augmentation
After getting breast implants, women experienced every measure of sexuality more strongly, Figueroa-Haas found. After breast augmentation, women reported significant increases in arousal, sexual desire, sexual satisfaction, and lubrication.
Figueroa-Haas says women tend to be left out of the discussion when it comes to enhancing sexuality.
"Improved sexuality is not all about men's sexuality and Viagra," she says. "It is a subject women even have trouble discussing with other women. But women who suffer sexuality issues feel like they are not feminine enough."
Despite the benefits she finds in cosmetic breast augmentation, Figueroa-Haas warns that surgery cannot address serious underlying issues women may have.
"This isn't a cure-all. If you have underlying psychological issues, don't run out and see a plastic surgeon. These issues have to be addressed first," she says.
That's a very important point, agrees clinical psychologist David B. Sarwer, PhD, director of the weight and eating disorders program at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarwer has studied psychological issues surrounding breast augmentation surgery.
"Sure, body image is an important part of self-esteem," Sarwer tells WebMD. "But self-esteem is based on all sorts of things other than body image. It may be unrealistic to think that, just by having breast augmentation, a woman will improve her overall self-esteem."
Sarwer has found that women who seek cosmetic breast surgery have their own, personal motivations. They are not, as stereotype would have it, trying to please their husbands or boyfriends.
Sarwer says women considering breast implants should consider three things:
- A woman should make sure it is what she wants. She should not seek plastic surgery under pressure from someone else.
- "A breast implant is unlikely to change women's lives in any major way," Sarwer says. "They may get some positive attention, but they may also suffer negative attention. For everyone who says you look great, there may be whispers down the lane: 'She is too big, too showy.'"
- Some women seeking breast implants suffer from a serious psychological problem called body dysmorphic disorder: disproportionate concern over relatively minor physical imperfections. Both Sarwer and Figueroa-Haas warn that women must be evaluated for this condition before surgery.
And Sarwer warns that researchers are now becoming aware of a dark side to breast implants: suicide.
"What we think is going on here, although we are not sure, is these women have some pathology, perhaps clinical depression, prior to surgery," he says. "And when implants don't improve their depression, these women become suicidal. For women with profound underlying issues, there is something going on here that is potentially dangerous."