By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Craig Malisow
Women seek out Hailparn for a variety of reasons: vanity, utility, emergency. But many begin their search for the same reason: frustration with their gynecologist.
Abba St. Germaine, 54, glances in the gilded mirror of her brightly painted home in Houston's Magnolia Grove neighborhood and sees her 35-year-old self. That's the image she wants frozen in time.
In the last 18 months St. Germaine has spent $70,000 on cosmetic and plastic surgeries. She has had her face lifted, her tummy tucked and her teeth capped. But when she called several local doctors to complain of stress urinary incontinence, their responses were uniform: It's normal, deal with it.
Brenda (not her real name) is a freelance graphic artist in Missouri City. After she birthed two nine-pound babies, intercourse became painful. Her gynecologist advised her to try Kegels. Brenda did the pelvic squeezing exercises for several months, but her condition didn't improve.
Jill (not her real name) runs a public relations firm in Houston. Since her labia had elongated after childbirth, she could no longer wear her favorite tight jeans. Her gynecologist's solution: Wear baggy jeans.
Unsatisfied with these responses, each of these Houston-area women keyed a phrase -- "urinary incontinence," "tighter vagina," "long labia" -- into an Internet search engine that eventually set them on the path to San Antonio.
All knew that the surgeries were risky. But they were persuaded by the testimonials posted on Hailparn's Web site from other women.
All got the combined vaginal tightening and labial reduction surgeries, and attest that the recovery was brutal. "My face-lift was a walk in the park compared to that," St. Germaine says. Jill is more graphic: "I looked down there and saw ground meat."
And yet all have recommended the surgeries to friends and relatives.
None, however, could confirm whether the vaginal tightening surgery improved their sex lives.
Jill wasn't having sex before the surgery.
Brenda says her vagina has already loosened up again, one year after the surgery. "My husband feels that for the amount of money he spent, it should stay just as tight as the first time," she says.
And St. Germaine says she hasn't had sex since the surgery was performed last summer. "Isn't that something? And here I paid all this money."
But the anticipation of having sex again for the first time reminds St. Germaine of her youth. And for her, that's the whole point of the surgeries.
"I had the exterior labia of a 50-year-old woman," St. Germaine says, beaming. "Now I have the labia of an 18-year-old girl."
Feminists and cultural critics question whether a standard of beauty even exists for female genitalia.
"The very idea of a quote-unquote normal-looking vagina is baffling to me," says Kirsten Gardner, assistant professor of gender studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Many top plastic surgeons warn against the surgeries, since there is no scientific evidence to support claims that they improve women's sex lives. Worse, they say women risk painful scarring, numbness or oversensitivity.
Some critics invoke James C. Burt, the infamous Ohio-based gynecologist who was forced to surrender his medical license in 1989 for reshaping women's vaginas to enhance their sexual pleasure without their consent. Burt bragged in his 1975 self-published book Surgery of Love that his technique transformed women into "horny little house mice." His patients later suffered from incontinence, painful intercourse and vaginal infections.
Young, of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, compares Matlock's vaginal rejuvenation campaign to early marketing of penile enhancement surgeries, which led to cases of male impotence and a slew of lawsuits.
"Greed's a big factor in it," Young says. "There's no advantage to having a laser. It's a great marketing gimmick."
Even if it's done successfully, he adds, a surgically tightened vagina offers a temporary fix. "Every woman started out with a tight one," he says. "Depending on the amount of traffic, it will get loose again."
By all accounts, Matlock's vaginal tightening technique is simple: Lase small incisions along the top and bottom of the vaginal canal, bring the muscle back together, remove excess tissue and stitch it in place.
The true value of being trained by Matlock lies in the right to use his trademarked promotional materials. One-third of Matlock's training session is spent lecturing on intellectual property rights and successful marketing techniques.
Hailparn spent $8,900 for his course. And she agreed to a two-year contract that required her to pay Matlock an additional $60,000 for support services and advice on how to handle specific cases. These expenses included neither future advertising costs nor the $36,000 ballpoint-pen-shaped laser.
Several months ago Matlock licensed all his intellectual property to a company based in Sonoma, California. Today he offers a turnkey operation in which doctors pay $49,500 for a three-day training session that includes the laser -- which costs Matlock just $16,000 -- and the right to use and advertise his trademarked procedures.
Matlock is open about his efforts to monopolize the market by trademarking his techniques and promoting them through ubiquitous ads and media appearances.
In his quest to create a one-stop shop for women's sexual needs, he's now awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration for his patented G-Spot Amplification, or G-shot, an $1,800 collagen injection that temporarily enlarges the nerve-rich pleasure area and makes it easier to locate.