Pulling or stretching in women: A practice to ponder on

“Women with pulled or stretched labia are usually sweeter and exciting in bed”, says one of the men in a certain social group. Another person said, “Whether a woman has their labia pulled or not, s3x is s3x”. “Pulled labia help to keep the private parts warm and wet”, says another woman from a certain community. 

As a Midwife and Women’s Health Specialist, such comments caught my attention, and I couldn’t just watch and ignore them. In an African setting, Uganda inclusive, discussions about s3x and pleasure are taboo. In fact, when one openly engages in such topics, some groups of people who believe they are holy conclude that the other person is spoilt, perverted or unholy. Unfortunately, without us embracing and accepting that discussions about sex amongst couples and in groups are healthy and normal, we are bound to be doomed.

Well, many Ugandan women from various cultures modify their bodies in order to fit into certain cultural norms. One of the practices is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. 

The elongation of the labia minora is classified as a Type IV FGM by the World Health Organization (WHO). Type IV FGM includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, such as; pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area without forgetting pulling/stretching of the labias. 

Notably, the practice of pulling labia involves the manual stretching of the inner folds of the external genitalia, the labia minora, and sometimes the clitoris, often with the aid of certain herbs, oils, and creams among others. The pulling or stretching of labia is complete when the desired length, which usually ranges from 2 to 8cm, is reached. Often, this practice is usually done before girls reach puberty under the guidance of their paternal aunts, grandmothers, or their female peers. Women regard these practices as a positive force in their lives. 

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However, available evidence shows that this procedure of pulling or stretching labia is associated with physical, s3xual, and psychosocial problems. In addition, research shows such actions lead to vaginal pain, swelling, irritation, or itchiness due to herbs, oils, creams used, and pain during urination.

Despite the pressure from certain cultures for their girls and women to be involved in stretching or pulling their labia, truthfully, less attention has been given to this form of FGM. If you have been too keen, you should have noted that campaigns and advocacy by various organizations are actively directed against other forms of FGM, thus, neglecting the action of pulling or stretching of labias in young girls and women.

According to UNFPA, FGM limits opportunities for women and girls around the world to exercise their rights and realize their full potential. While progress has been made, there’s much more to be done.

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Conclusively, I recommend that more research is done to generate evidence on this practice of pulling or stretching of labias in young girls and women, as this is widely practised in Uganda, yet it has been given less attention. 

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The author; Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima; is a BSc Nurse and MSN-Midwife and Women’s’ Health Specialist


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