Labia elongation is a sensitive and mysterious subject amongst women in Zimbabwe. The phenomenon may be shrouded in secrecy, but it is practiced. Every girl who has grown up on Zimbabwean terrain has at least heard about labia elongation while others have experienced and practiced it.
Labia elongation is the sustained pulling of the inner labia minora of the vagina -a sensitive part of a woman’s genitals- in order to stretch and elongate them. This phenomenon is practiced all over the country, but the subject is not openly discussed. The process of stretching the labia minora must be done on a regular basis for an extended period of time in order to achieve lasting results.
Labia elongation is typically practiced over the course of several years, from puberty onwards. A girl will usually perform stretching by herself as a part of a regular routine, with possible inspection, guidance or actual stretching by an older female family member. The goal is to stretch the labia minora until they form long flaps that extend outward from the woman’s genitals. These flaps are believed to increase sexual stimulation for a man during intercourse
Interviewing girls in Harare, most of them seem to be aware of labia pulling as their aunties had discussed the subject with them. However, they stated that they would not encourage young women to practice labia elongation as it is painful.
“I tried to do labia elongation after my aunt told me about it, but I could not endure the pain which is associated with it,” said Mitchell Chirenje who is a journalism student at Herentals College.
In some families, labia elongation is a requirement for all girls. However, some girls felt that it was a violation of their human rights to be forced into it. “My aunt said that it was a pre-requisite for any woman who wanted to have a stable home. However at the time, it did not make sense as I was only aged 10 years-old and it was done on me against my will,” said an art student who asked to remain anonymous.
A movement of men advocating for gender justice, Padare/Enkundleni/Men’s Forum on Gender said that many feel it is essential for women to have elongated labia minora as women with extended labia sexually satisfy men more.
However, some men confessed that they did not care about this kind of female genital modification because they consider love the key to a happy marriage, not greater sexual satisfaction through extended labia minora.
Student pastor Shawn Chirenje described labia elongation as a thing of the past.
“This idea that elongated labia minora makes a happy marriage is a fallacy and outdated. A happy marriage is trusted upon the Lord,” said Chirenje
An informal survey showed that most women were not interested in labia pulling as it is only beneficial to men. Married women were of a different view on the issue as they admitted that elongated labia minora help them to feel more aroused during intercourse.
Michael Kunaka a sociology student says, “Labia elongation is a very fundamental issue in many African countries, including Zimbabwe. It has resulted in women around the world paying large sums of money to have their labia minora surgically elongated,” he said.
Kunaka also hinted that women should be natural; the way they are born is the way they should be without any modification of their labia. Labia elongation is a form of abuse as there are incidents where some men divorce or send their wives back to their parents’ homes because they did not elongate their labia when they were growing up.
Many girls said though labia modification is imposed on them, it is better to elongate as this keeps them on the safe side when they get married to a husband who prefers pulled labia minora.
“I think it is child abuse in the form of female genital mutilation, which in turn promotes unequal sex relations. It is a detrimental cultural practice as outlawed by the Protocol on the Rights of Women In Africa to the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights,” she said.
Majome went on to say, “It perpetuates and indoctrinates girls with the notion that women’s life mission is to please men, without reciprocity from men. It also sexualises girls prematurely.”
Not much research has been done on the side effects of labia elongation.
“There are no serious side effects or prone conditions that can result from the act, however to avoid infections such as thrush, women must always make sure that their hands are clean when pulling their genitals,” said Owen Mpofu a registered public health practitioner from the Allied Health Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe. Mpofu added that no official health facility offers a service for women to come and elongate their labia. The practice remains at grass roots level.
All in all, it is clear that the issue of the importance of an extended labia minora is part of an African myth that it enhances sexual pleasure for men. But at what cost to women?
What do you think? Labia elongation is an important part of some Zimbabwean cultures and is also practiced in other African countries. Is it still relevant in modern Zimbabwe? Be a part of the conversation on our Facebook page and on Twitter.
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