The practice of labial stretching

Labial Stretching

Labial stretching is the practice of pulling the labia to stretch them out and elongate them, a family practice in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a body modification practiced elsewhere, known for its sexual enhancements for both partners.

It is used to create symmetry if the labia are uneven, so the labia are pleasing to the eye, and to provide further sexual gratification.

The practice was recorded amongst the Khoisan people in Southern Africa – they pulled their labia to several centimetres outside of the outer labia, which while not outrageously big, and not uncommon, is still on the larger side of normal.

So what’s so good about longer labia?

The perception is that longer labia create more and better orgasms, and help promote female ejaculation – the enhancement of sexual pleasure for both partners is the point.

It is common now for women to reduce their labia (in the west) due to discomfort – they get caught in clothes, protrude, or get sat on from time to time.

Why do these African women pull their labia?

This is a family practice, and girls are taught at puberty how to pull their labia to make them longer.

There is some local herbal medicine available to ease the pain and discomfort from this practice, despite the women continuing to pull their labia all throughout adulthood, including into marriage. It is thought to enhance a sexual practice of kunyaza (female ejaculation).

Female genital mutilation or good idea?

The World Health Organisation, typically the authority on this type of behaviour, initially deemed this labial stretching practice as female genital mutilation, however after a study was conducted (Koster & Price) that found no adverse effects, it was reclassified as ‘modification’ in 2008.

The practice, it was found, does not violate any women’s rights, it does not involve physical violence (unless lies are told to get the woman to do it), it does not facilitate sexually transmitted infections (STIs, including HIV), though there may be a link between labia stretching and rates of infection.    

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)