Dr Sonya Jessup, a leading Sydney-based gynaecologist, is changing the way women, and the aesthetics industry, view their ‘private problems’.
Gynaecology has long been a medical speciality so rarely discussed in public that most of the population knows little about it.
Dr Sonya Jessup, a Sydney-based gynaecologist, is now leading the way in changing the stigma surrounding the speciality ? and expanding the services traditionally offered to include functional and aesthetic treatments.
In 2018 she opened the doors to The Elsa Clinic to provide "routine gynaecology care" and cater to women's need for "a sense of personal satisfaction with their sexual appearance and sexual function" with treatments options including:
Viveve (radio frequency)- Vaginal laxity and Incontinence
Emsella (electromagnetic energy) - Incontinence
Juliet Laser - Vaginal dryness/atrophy
Labioplasty - Labia reduction/shaping/repair
Botox - Vaginismus
Dermal fillers - Labia ageing/atrophy
Since then the demand for the clinic's services has grown steadily, and Dr Jessup is confident that it will continue to grow, at her clinic and all around Australia, as increasing numbers of women discover solutions are now available for their previously ‘private problems’.
Dr Jessup, a gynaecologist, surgeon and fertility expert with more than 15 years' experience, became aware of the need for such solutions early in her career when she started treating "generations of women" and realised many had issues that "just weren't being addressed adequately".
Most gynaecologists focus on preventing and treating problems such as obstetrics and fertility issues, congenital abnormalities, infections, diseases and incontinence but don't readily offer solutions for women with gynaecological problems considered less critical such as "women who have labia that are so large they have to tuck them into their vagina or women who just want their vulva to look and feel the way it did when they were younger".
Determined to help such women but unable to find suitable training in Australia, Dr Jessup headed to London in 2017 to complete a cosmetic gynaecology course run by The European Society of Aesthetic Gynaecology.
While there, she became aware not only of the many available aesthetic treatment options but was shocked to discover that aesthetic gynaecology was considered "stock standard" in the UK and many other countries.
"Women were having these procedures left, right and centre… Gynaecologists had chairs women could sit on to help their pelvic floor and radiofrequency devices that could tighten their vaginas."
Inspired by her new knowledge, Dr Jessup opened the doors to The Elsa Clinic a year later with a "carefully considered selection of some of the newest devices and technologies" including the first TGA approved Emsella Chair in Australia.
Today the clinic attracts a wide range of clients ranging from teenagers who "can't insert a tampon in their vagina due to a tight hymen to mothers wanting to enjoy sexual intercourse the way they did before childbirth and 70-somethings wanting to correct misshapen labia that they have had to live with for years”.
Whatever their age and perceived problem, Dr Jessup insists that all new clients undergo a gynaecology consultation even if "they only want a non-surgical treatment".
Following the return of the results from the consultation (which includes an internal examination, ultrasound scan, infection screening and blood tests), Dr Jessup recommends the best medical, surgical and non-surgical treatment options to the client.
Although the compulsory consultation discourages some potential clients, Dr Jessup is adamant she will never waiver from this commitment as it essential for their health and safety.
"When I see clients for the first time, I don't just say 'Oh right, have a seat on the chair (Emsella)' just to earn some money.
"I find out what the issues she is actually dealing with first… Does she have a urinary tract infection?... Does she have fibroids?... and then decide what the best treatment options are.”
She stresses that “sometimes the best treatment option isn't the treatment with the device that the client was looking for.
"Sometimes they might just need a prescription for a tablet while other times when the problem is more significant, like a cervix hanging down and out of the vagina, none of the devices will help at all."
Dr Jessup believes the gynaecological consultation gives The Elsa Clinic a valuable point of difference in a market rapidly filling with other businesses offering the same or similar non-surgical devices, but thinks it would be better if her ‘competitors’ adhered to similar health and safety principles.
"I am really concerned about the 'unqualified' beauty therapists moving into the market and treating women with cheap devices they purchase online.
"I have had some clients tell me that the vaginal rejuvenation laser treatments that they have received in some of salons haven't worked.
"This doesn't surprise me as many cheap lasers simply aren't powerful enough to 'work', but I think it is potentially even more frightening if they do work and harm some patients.
"For example, I did a consultation with a client who wanted to rejuvenate her vagina with the Juliet, but after I did the swabs I couldn't give her the treatment as I found out she had gonorrhoea.
"If that patient had gone to a beauty salon and gone through with a laser treatment, it would have made her very sick."
Not surprisingly, Dr Jessup believes that gynaecologists are the best qualified to offer women functional and aesthetic gynaecological services, but she says many are reluctant to do so due to "conservative" education and training.
“Basically, we are taught that "there are a billion different vaginas and vulvas out there and we should not be trying to change them unless there is something functionally wrong with them”.
She says this attitude "that women should just accept their differences and learn to live with them" was fine in its time but is now outdated as “women to make changes and there are now safe and effective options available to help them”.
"I never 'sell' aesthetic procedures to my clients or tell them how they can improve the look or feel of their vaginas and vulvas unless they ask for my advice.
"If they (my clients) are happy with the function and aesthetics of their vulvas and vaginas I am happy, and there is no problem for me to try and resolve, but the fact is many women aren't happy.
"The biggest misconception about cosmetic gynaecology is that women do it for men, but this simply isn’t true.
"The majority really are doing it for themselves to feel more comfortable and more confident.
“There are of course many factors currently helping drive demand, including Brazilians, online porn and even revealing active-wear, but women have wanted to make changes to their vaginas and vulvas long before any of those existed ? they just didn’t have the options to do so.
Indeed, some of the most rewarding aspects of Dr Jessup's work at The Elsa Clinic is helping such women.
"I have had more than one client say they wish they had got help 10 or 20 years ago as their lives would have been so different."
"I think it is wonderful that women today don't have to live with such issues anymore."