Sexual and reproductive health

Harmful practices

Multi-country study on gender, sexuality and vaginal practices

A study on harmful sexual practice is being conducted in: Indonesia, Mozambique, South Africa and Thailand. The study has been divided into three phases, the first of which was a qualitative study to better understand and document women's motivations and the relative meaning of vaginal practices in women's sexual lives. Information from the first phase was used to inform the development of a household questionnaire which will be administrated within the same provinces in each of the four countries to estimate the prevalence of various practices.

The second phase currently underway is a quantitative, cross-sectional survey to determine the prevalence of vaginal practices in a selected province in each country. The sample size was set at 850 women between 18-60 years of age. Results from this phase, if significant will lead to a clinical study (third phase) of the association between the most harmful practices and HIV — most likely only in the African sites where the HIV prevalence is considerably higher.

Preliminary reports and findings:

  • Vaginal practices to tighten the vagina during sex are more common than acknowledged;
  • Practices are not always aimed at "drying" the vagina; women focused more on "closing, warming and tightening";
  • Motives for the practices are linked to anxiety and competition among women to gain or hold on to sexual partners;
  • Many practices are linked to a desire to improve sexual relations and necessitate "skin to skin" contact and thus eliminate the possible use of condoms;
  • There are similar practices in different countries.