Zambian Women in South Africa: Insights Into Health Experiences of Labia Elongation

Journal of Sex Research (iFirst). 10.1080/00224499.2014.1003027LME

Zambian Women in South Africa: Insights Into Health Experiences of Labia Elongation

G Martinez Perez, M Mubanga, C Tomás Aznar, B Bagnol


Labia minora elongation consists in the manual stretching of the inner lips of the external genitalia. This practice is documented in east and southern Africa. The experiences of African women in the diaspora practicing elongation are not thoroughly understood. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the health harms and benefits associated with this practice of Zambian women who have migrated to Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty women and seventeen men participated in this study. Between December 2013 and May 2014, in-depth interviews and natural group discussions were conducted with the participants. The focus of this article is to report on the emic of the women related to notions of health, hygiene, and well-being. Labial elongation is perceived as a practice involving minor, short-term adverse effects that can be prevented by following some basic hygiene. Overall, personal and social value is placed on this practice because of its reported benefits for the sexual health of men and women, and for women’s femininity and self-image. Further research is necessary on how female genital modifications influence Zambians’ sexual preferences to inform the development of culturally appropriate health promotion interventions.

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