In modernised societies women undergo plastic surgery, they use botox, they spend hours at the gym, and they use expensive creams and cosmetics to look attractive for the opposite sex.

In certain parts of Africa women personally modify their vaginas for the same reason. I found this information very interesting. I can modify my vagina in a way that will enhance sexual pleasure for me and my significant other? Score!

For those of you who don’t know, the labia minora are the two flaps of skin on either side of your vaginal opening, situated in the inside of the labia majora.

Now I’ve read stories about how some women have surgery to reduce the size of their labia minora – apparently it can get in the way during sex and can be uncomfortable when you put on underwear or wear tight jeans.

But when I found out that there’s a practice that stretches the labia minora I couldn’t help but ask myself why? Why would a woman want to have her vaginal lips stretched? What could she possibly gain from this?

The first article I read, Zambian Girls Stretch Labia to Avoid Infidelity, spoke about how elongated inner labia enhances sexual pleasure for the man. The feminist in me immediately got upset and I cursed the patriarchal world we live in.

In the Zambian village that featured in the article, a woman without stretched labia is not worthy of being with a man – let alone marry one. One of the men interviewed even went as far as saying that labia stretching is a requirement for Zambian women because African men like it when the vagina wraps around the penis.

This must be one the biggest disadvantages of living in a patriarchal society: feeling that your natural body is not good enough and has to be changed in order for it to be accepted. The most interesting and unbelievable point mentioned in the article was that women who refuse to stretch their labias are most likely to end up with unfaithful boyfriends or husbands.

How insane is that? So a woman, who stayed true to her morals and integrity, is to blame when her man commits infidelity. I don’t want to say that this is backwards but when society blames your wife for your iniquity then surely more progressive thinking needs to be employed.

I continued to search for more articles on this fascinating albeit sexist practice. I wanted to find more reasons explaining why women are encouraged and in some cases forced to change the appearance of their vaginas. Thus I stumbled onto Unmasking Labia Stretching.

This journalist had done his research in Malawi. Although some responses were similar to the aforementioned article, like men cheating on their wives with a woman who had elongated labia, this article touched on the sexual pleasure the woman can get from labial stretching. This next bit is a bit graphic...

In Malawi the stretching of labia is also tradition, but tradition that benefits both parties. One of the women interviewed spoke of how stretched labia stimulates sexual arousal, making intercourse more pleasurable for women. Apparently you become extremely lubricated and it feels like the penis never really withdraws from the vagina since it stays enveloped by the stretched labia.

So yes, elongating the labia can be a mechanism of oppression imposed on some women. But for others it enhances the sexual experience.

As a woman who has a vagina of her own, I’ll never know what it feels like to have sex with stretched labia. But the important thing with this tradition, as with all traditions, is that people should have a choice in the matter otherwise it’s a violation of their body and dignity.

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