This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.
At a dinner earlier this week, the conversation, owing to recent events here and around the world, was alternately elegiac and defiant. Circling around the topic of the latest rape “joke” which, apparently, was sarcasm masquerading as levity. In fact, it was hardly a joke. For men of a certain generation and mindset, it would seem, rape would be the ultimate expression of masculine power. Ironically, the men with a propensity to make throwaway comments about rape, to the point of goading and inciting other men to rape as a way of asserting their manliness, tend to also be in denial of their fading virility.
Men have in fact been taking their sexual pleasure from women for centuries, if not millennia, with scant regard for their feelings. In times of war, rape was weaponized; both conquering and retreating armies believed it their right to pillage towns and rape women.
Notwithstanding the fact that a woman who has been raped is often regarded by society as damaged goods, men continue to rape and continue to dictate the standards against which a woman is judged, linking her value to her virginity, her docility and her malleability in the belief that these qualities are far more indicative of “good” character rather than traits such as independence, confidence or intelligence. This warped scale of equivalences is most evident during rape trials, where the victim’s past, and with it any indications of flawed character, is scrutinized, torn apart and disparaged, while the rapist’s future, and all the promise it holds, especially if he is white or wealthy, deems him worthy of protection and thus unworthy of incarceration.
But even when rape is not involved, in ostensibly consensual sexual relationships, a woman’s pleasure is considered less important than a man’s. There remain societies in Africa, Asia, and South America which equate lubrication in a woman—a completely natural result of sexual arousal—with promiscuity, and the men who subscribe to this mindset equate a dryer and therefore tighter vagina not just as more pleasurable, but more reassuring in terms of sexual fidelity.
Unfortunately, in places such as South Africa, Malawi, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Costa Rica, women resort to “drying out” their vaginas with the use of dubious and dangerous methods to please their partners while causing unnecessary pain to themselves.
An article in Vice describes dry sex as “the practice of reducing moisture in your vagina in order to seem tighter and cause more friction during intercourse. This is believed to be more pleasurable for the person with the penis, but for the women involved, it’s incredibly painful.”
The idea, the article continues, is linked to “the perception that a tight vagina is one that hasn’t been stretched out by overuse.” This, of course, points to the lack of sexual education in the regions where it is practiced rather than any basis in fact.
There are apparently many ways to dry out the vagina, each one terrifying and unsafe. “To achieve dryness, some women insert chalk, sand, pulverized rock, herbs, paper, or sponges before sex. Douching with caustic liquids such as detergents, antiseptics, alcohol, and bleach is also common.”
A Dutch expert in botany, ecology, and ethnobotany, Dr. Tinde van Andel, who has extensively studied plants in Surinam, noted that the practice is also favored in certain parts of South America and the Caribbean. She explained that the herbs used by women to dry their vaginas often contain tannins, which have a drying and tightening effect. Other plants contain irritants that make the vagina swell and feel tight. Think of it as the “Lip Venom” for vaginas.
Lip Venom is a lip plumper that was all the rage 10 years ago or so when they were first released, as they contained essential oils from plants that are said to cause the sensation of tightening and swelling, resulting in bee-stung lips, which may or may not make a woman feel more attractive.
Unlike Lip Venom, however, the ultimate purpose of a swollen and tight vagina is to make the man’s penis feel “bigger.”
Making a man feel this way is, of course, is much more important than any literal wear and tear, not to mention discomfort or pain, a woman might feel while having sex where any trace of lubrication is not only discouraged, but actively eliminated through highly questionable means. As the Vice report pointed out, “The use of these substances, in combination with un-lubricated penetrative sex, can lead to vaginal abrasions and increased condom breakage—which compounds the spread of HIV.”
That this practice persists in certain societies—alongside “virginity testing” in places like Kenya and Indonesia—is a testament to enduring and strongly-held cultural beliefs despite information to the contrary being widely available in this day and age. And think of the mindf*ck it causes in women who are taught from a young age that their bodies’ own natural responses are wrong and must be prevented; that a man’s pleasure must be, um, accommodated, no matter the pain, discomfort and risk of disease, while a woman’s pleasure must be ignored. It’s enough to turn women into nervous wrecks at the first sign of wetness.
South African sexual health clinician and advocate, Dr. Marlene Wasserman, also known as “Dr. Eve” on the radio, believes that more than a cultural issue, it is a class issue.
“Among women who are less informed and less educated, there’s an unbelievable ignorance around the idea the vagina adapts to the penis. People believe if you’re with a guy with a bigger penis it means that your vagina is going to stay that big. And if you break up with him and go with a guy with a smaller penis you’re going to still be really big and he’s going to know you’ve been with other guys with larger penises. He’s going to be self-conscious and not want to be with you. A woman’s reputation depends on the size of her vagina.”
Contrast that way of thinking with the more enlightened “Western” approach to sex that holds that a woman being wet “down there” during sex is completely natural and desirable, and is actually a huge turn-on for the man. As one woman who has had sex with both Indonesian and non-Indonesian men remarked, “It actually feels good if you’re wet. That’s why they invented lubricant.”
B. Wiser is the author of Making Love in Spanish, a novel published by Anvil Publishing and available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.