THE LANCET, Volume 352, Page 1292,
October 17, 1998.

Concern voiced over "dry sex" practices in South Africa

A traditional southern African sexual practice—dry sex—aimed at pleasing men, could promote the spread of HIV-1, researchers warn.

Many women in the region willingly insert herbal aphrodisiacs, household detergents, and antiseptics into their vaginas before sex, to ensure they are "hot, tight, and dry". This is the way their men like them, they say. The agents increase friction during sex and although painful for women, they are prepared to forego their own pleasure to ensure their partners return to them.

South Africa has one of the fastest growing rates of HIV-1 infection in the world, prompting Deputy Presidend Thabo Mebeki's address to the nation on October 9, when he launched a multisectorial anti-AIDS campaign. In the live broadcast, Mbeki said that more than 3 million people are infected with HIV-1 in South Africa and 1500 people are infected each day.

Neetha Morar (Medical Research Council, Durban) says dry sex has been reported in many countries. Zairean women reports the use of traditional substances to tighten the vagina before intercourse. A study in Zambia found that 86% of women interviewed practices dry sex.

Phillip Kubukeli, President of the Herbalists and Spiritual Healers Association in the Western Cape, says the use of dry sex is most prevalent in Kwazulu-Natal, which has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS.

In the first descriptive study of its kind in South Africa, Norar found dry sex to be prevalent among prostitutes in the midlands of Kwazulu-Natal. At least 80% of a group of 150 prostitutes aged between 15 and 45 years who work at truck stops favour high, tight, and dry sex. Competition is tough and it is imperative the men return to them for economic reasons. One woman explains: "men do not like loose vaginas. If sex is wet the man thinks that I have had sex with someone else and then he won't pay me."

Morar say the substances used by the women could cause disruption of membranes lining the vaginal and uterine wall. In addition, excessive drying could lead to abrasive trauma during sexual intercourse. She says the study indicates the need for urgent public-health intervention in the women who use drying techniques, especially since the effective use of condoms may be compromised by intravaginal substance use.

Adele Baleta

(File revised 7 December 2006)

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