Why are African women putting themselves in harm’s way to please their male partners?

There are many ways in which the dynamics of sex are skewed against women. One of the ways this manifests is when women seek to modify their sexual organs, actively putting themselves in harm’s way in order to please their sexual partners. This is done in various ways, from trying to make the vagina smell like mangoes or wild summer berries, to vagina-tightening potions, or even trying to engage in sex whilst the vagina is as dry as the Sahara Desert. The reasons that women do this to themselves circle back to the idea of who owns the right to pleasure and who deserves to have bomb sex.

Strangely enough, these practices are a far cry from a host of African traditions, many of which celebrate the notion of women’s pleasure. For example, there are tribes in Rwanda that consider female ejaculation sacred as it is seen as something that feeds the rivers. Among the Yoruba in Nigeria, the goddess Osun represents female sexual energy.

However, in modern settings it would seem that dry vaginas and constricted coochies are the mark of a good female lover. Research states that women in the south and east of Africa are increasingly engaging in strange methods that dry out their vaginas. This is coupled with the increasingly popular practice of surgical (vaginoplasty) and ‘home remedy based’ vagina tightening methods that seek to ‘turn back the clock’. It would seem that great sex is not as much based in the way we move our bodies but how tight the hotbox is that we passively offer.

Drying out the Vagina

In South Africa, the methods for drying out your nether regions range from traditional herbal ‘remedies’, liquids one can drink, snuff (smokeless tobacco, traditionally sniffed) to douching with Coke inside yourself. It has been reported by local news outlets that women in the Free State have been buying a confectionary called Çhina Fruit from Chinese vendors in order to achieve the effect. The ‘dry vagina’ phenomenon is so widespread it has become the subject of academic study, with papers highlighting the possibility that those engaged in the practice risk spreading STIs.

Research shows that it is mainly women from more traditional societies and peri-urban areas who engage in this practice. However, women in more urbanised areas also take part, although they turn more to gels and injections that they can order off the Internet, or they seek procedures that can be done at a clinic during a lunch break.

One supplier of this procedure is the Wits Women Clinic, which advertises that women will be able to ‘feel SWEET and SEXY once again’. With clinics in all nine provinces, according to their website, the clinic offers a host of vaginal tightening products, including gels, powders, injections, creams, pills, soaps, oils and herbs. The products are advertised as being scientifically proven to produce results within three days. For R450 you can visit for a consultation that will help you find the product that is best for you.

You can even go online to find the best product for you. An online seller of these products is the LoveCraft Store, based in Johannesburg. While they declined to comment on the sales of their products, they did confirm that women requested such products and would sometimes couple their purchase with a ‘staying power spray’ for their men.

Why Modify It?

When researchers asked women why they engaged in this practice, a number of reasons were put forward. The most common were the enhancement of sexual experience through sensations of vaginal dryness, tightness or warming; cleansing of the vagina before or after intercourse; treatment or prevention of STIs; restoration and tightening of the vagina after delivery; or the satisfaction of a partner.

Many women who had engaged in the practice said that they were afraid of what their partners would think if they were ‘too wet’ or ‘too big’. Some said that they feared their partners would think they were suffering from an STI. Others feared that their partners would find them repulsive or think that they were promiscuous.

Sexual health advocate Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng recounted how she once had to help a woman remove a clove of garlic that had gone up too far into her vagina to reach. Most of the women she treats who have used these products start with the words, ‘My partner says…’ or ‘My partner thinks…’

“This speaks firmly to the disconnect we have from knowledge of our vaginas and also from the notions of the importance of our own pleasure.” There is a reason for this, argues Dr Mofokeng: “When women have knowledge of their vaginas/sexual preferences/reproductive health, they are seen as ‘knowing too much’.”

Women who are regarded as being ‘too wet’ or ‘too big’ may be accused by partners of cheating, which can result not only in social consequences but also in the possibility of physical violence. Dr Mofokeng explains that this is linked to ideas of ‘body and power and control and of who is allowed to enjoy sex’. “The woman must just lie there like a Nando’s Chicken, even if you want to try new things.”

The Long-Term Effects

“When you use these [vagina tightening] products, you have to use a lubricant – and they never tell you that,” says Dr Mofokeng.

Using these products without a lubricant can cause micro tears within the vagina due to heat and friction, which can leave openings for sexually transmitted infections and thrush. Also, once you have healed, you can develop tiny scars that could prevent you from becoming wet when you want to in the future.

“You do not know what these preparations would have done to the vaginal wall in five years’ time,” Dr Mofokeng warns.

If women were deciding that they preferred a dry clitoris when having sex or a vagina so tight that one would think twice before putting a tampon in there, then that would be fine. However, the choice to alter one’s vagina for sexual purposes is often founded in societal notions and entrenched by partners, most of whom do not have vaginas themselves.

Drying and tightening your vagina often comes out of trying to please your partner without engaging your own sexual wants and desires. These practices not only dampen women’s sexual experience but also put their health at risk. Ultimately, this is a power play over women’s bodies and, consequently, their pleasure.

This piece was first published on This Is Africa.

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