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The myth of sexual pleasure



…Basotho women still going to painful lengths to please men…

MASERU – MANY Basotho women are going to painful lengths to please men, and hopefully themselves.
For labia minora elongation enthusiasts, it is a matter of necessary pain, and then pleasure. But for some, the perceived pleasure has been illusive and it has all ended in pain and loss of confidence.

By the age of 10, Lineo* was already regularly pulling her labia minora.
The 26-year-old woman, who spoke on condition that her real name was not published, said her mother made a fuss teaching her how to elongate her labia minora a priority.

The longer they are, the longer the husband will stay, the mother reasoned. It didn’t turn out quite that way for Lineo.
“When I got married, my husband still cheated on me within a year of our marriage despite having pulled my labia,” she said.
She was pained and her confidence dropped to an all-time low. Lineo said she now doubts the belief that an elongated labia helps keep the man.
“I am not sure anymore whether having long labia is important at all,” she told thepost.

Yet, from a young age she had endured the pain of routinely pulling her labia minora – the inner lips of the female genitalia – as demanded by those close to her.
For them, the pain was necessary to enjoy married life later. Men love women with longer labia minora and because they get so much sexual satisfaction from it, they will hang around longer and will not cheat, at least according to advocates of the practice.
As a juvenile, Lineo was taught how to do it by her mother.
“I tried pulling them but stopped half way due to the pain I was feeling,” she said.

Lineo also noticed that her sisters always pulled them at the river and she concluded that it was the normal thing to do.
She said when she was 15, her friends had already “sufficiently” pulled theirs and they mocked her for being different.
Taking a bath in the presence of older women was torture as they would taunt her for having short labia minora.

“They only told me it is part of the Basotho culture and that it will help to make things easier during childbirth,” she said.
Feeling hurt and desperate to end the isolation, she took to the practice more vigorously.
Friends informed her of the other perceived benefit, explaining to her how it increased sexual pleasure to make the boyfriend or future husband always stick around.

“I then decided to pull them despite the pain,” she said.
Daily, she would religiously pull them before going to bed.
“I got used to pulling them and every time the pain became less until I felt they were long enough,” she said.

Feminists say this is a sign of how Lesotho and many eastern and southern African countries where the practice is rife are still rooted in patriarchy, with women viewed as existing for the sexual pleasure of men. Others who support the practice argue that the pleasure is for both partners.
Some researchers found that although the practice is widespread, the benefits are less visible.

A Nelson Mandela University researcher, Dr ’Mathabo Khau, interviewed at least three women about the practice. She published the results in her paper titled ‘Female sexual pleasure and autonomy: What has inner labia elongation got to do with it?’ in 2012.

Most of her participants spoke of pain and the promises of future pleasure.
One woman she called Limpho said: I hated those times when we went to the woods for firewood and then they would start showing off their lengthy inner labia …we would sit in circles and see how many twists one could make with their labia.

Another one she called Lineo said: Yes we did that too. The most desirable was three or more twists. We also checked how far they could go backwards if you pull them towards your buttocks …you know …like a pad.
Thato said: I was always teased and insulted by the other girls because I could not get my labia long enough. It was painful to pull them and that is why I ended up pulling the clitoris instead.

I was ashamed to walk in the village because I thought everyone knew the small size of my inner labia. I never even thought I would get married.
Limpho: Me too …and the worst part was I could not tell my mother about all the discrimination and teasing from the other girls. She would have beaten me as well. I had to keep quiet about it.
All the women Dr Khau interviewed said they elongated their labia despite the pain.

Limpho said she was afraid “all the bad things that would happen to me if I did not elongate my labia”.
“I just had to do it despite the pain.”
Lineo said she only pulled the labia because she was afraid of not getting married.
There is a myth among Basotho women that if the labia were not long the woman’s vagina would be cold and her husband would not enjoy having sex with her.

Thato said it was “painful to pull those things but I did it because I did not want to be cold”. A woman without elongated inner labia was, and is still disparagingly called a “cold woman”.
The women who participated in the research also argued that upon finding a woman without elongated inner labia, a Mosotho man would say ‘kobo li nyane kea hatsela’ meaning “I am feeling cold because the blankets are too small”.

According to some, such a man would be justified to look for another woman with elongated inner labia or “blankets” and by implication not “cold”.
Dr Khau said she is “troubled by the apparent silence on labial elongation and its effects on female sexual desire and pleasure”.
The matter also invokes the issue of human rights, she said.

Dr Khau said she is troubled by the argument that if women elongate their labia freely then the practice is not viewed as violating their rights.
“If girls are expected to start elongating their inner labia before the first menstrual period, then the legitimacy of free and consensual elongation stands to question,” she argued.
“How free can an eight-year-old be to decide for or against labial elongation? If it is a rite of passage into womanhood, then it means those women who do not conform are supposedly not complete women.”

She said despite the many debates raised on labial elongation, little has been written about its role in the construction of female sexual identity, and more specifically, in relation to sexual pleasure, eroticism and desire among women.

“I have personal experiences relating to it and it is of importance to my development as a woman, mother and scholar-teacher,” she said.
She also found that some Basotho people believed that elongated inner labia made girls less sexually excitable because elongating forced the clitoris to retract into the labial folds.

“This practice was used to keep girls and women ‘good’. Thus the main reason behind inner labia elongation has been the need to control female sexuality,” she said.
She observed that young girls were not given this information.
“As a Mosotho woman having gone through this practice, I do not think I would have elongated my inner labia given this reason.”

She also found that Basotho women used labial elongation as contraception because it prevented girls from desiring and enjoying sex.
“This argument was valid during the days when other forms of contraception were not available,” she said.

“One wonders, however, whether on getting married the young woman with elongated labia was expected to enjoy sex with her husband or just to please him.”
In Lesotho there is no law barring or encouraging mothers to elongate their young daughters’ labia – it is a parental choice.
* Not her real name

’Makhotso Rakotsoane


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