Tag Archives: Sexuality

Let’s talk about dry sex in Africa (and about exotification

Wendy Syfret has a piece over at Vice titled “‘Dry Sex’ Is the African Sexual Health Issue No One’s Talking About.

Dry sex“, Syfret writes, is a disturbing genital trend gaining ground in some African countries. It has apparently been a thing for some time (see, inter alia, “The practice and prevalence of dry sex among men and women in South Africa: a risk factor for sexually transmitted infections?” in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, 1999).

In order to achieve properly dry sex, women insert dessicating substances — absorbent sponges, bleach, dust, ground-up vegetable matter, sand — into their vagina. This is done with the hope that the resulting dryness will provide their male partners with a ‘tighter’ sexual experience.

Sand. In. The. Vagina. This ghastly practice exposes women to increased risk of infection, and is acutely uncomfortable to boot. It’s also grounded in false ideas of sexual biology, not to mention unjust conceptions of sexual equality. Are men in Lilongwe or Joburg sacrificing their penile comfort in order to deliver a happier sexual experience to their female partners? (A quick Google search turned up no evidence that this is so.)

Syfret got in touch with Dr. Marlene Wasserman, widely known a sex health advocate and radio host in South Africa. She explains the spread of self-sacrificing sexual practices like dry sex as a differential in cultural attitudes regarding the sexuality of the two genders: “We can talk about penises and circumcision, which we do all the time, and the government puts policies into place. But dare we talk about vaginas? I’ve been doing radio for 20 years and the only time I’ve been reported to the broadcasting commission was when I referred to vaginas.”

Ugh; the social consequences of body-shaming male squeamishness. What a tragic mash-up of miseducation and misogyny, and stating clearly that I hope educators, advocates, and public figures like Dr. Wasserman can help make it a short-lived fad. I was glad to read that Wasserman recently helped the World Association of Sexual Health launch a declaration of sexual rights articulating the “right to pleasure.” As she tells Syfret: “Women are surprised that’s one of their rights. We know 33 percent of women have and tolerate painful penetration. That becomes part of what they expect from sex.” Let’s change those expectations.


There’s a consideration that comes to mind when I hear reports of bizarre practices like dry sex: the need to balance respectful and open empathy with an awareness of how journalism purporting to be foreign affairs cultural coverage might be a front for the age-old traffic in stereotypes. Given the distances — geographic, historical, economic, cultural, and linguistic — that separate readers in the US from the lives lived in the nations of Africa, it’s very easy for misconception and prejudice to mix in among the facts. In that context, it can be hard to distinguish rumor from reporting.

See if you can separate fact from fiction in a few representative samples:

  1. “Throughout Africa, we’re seeing teenage thugs getting high a concoction of sewage and kerosene called jenkem.”
  2. “We’re receiving reports of HIV-positive men in South Africa attempting to ward off the symptoms of AIDS by forcing themselves on pre-teen virgins?”
  3. “In certain regions of East Africa, albinos leave in fear of being kidnapped and dismantled for sale as traditional folk medicine?”
  4. “Women in Ghana, eager to keep their men interested and happy at home, are paying up to US$1,500 for laser treatments designed to reverse age-related vagina atrophy.”

Which of these chunks of reportage reflect true facts, and which are just the same old gods — fetishism, blood libel, various flavors of misogyny — poured into in new, Upworthy-ready bottles? (Disclosure: the last report, about vaginal atrophy laser treatment, is true, but it isn’t happening in Africa, and it is actually good news for cancer patients.)

Further reading:

Changing the Conversation on Sex

“I’m not the guard who locks you in the tower. Ideally, I am my daughter’s safe space, a garden to return to when the world has proved a little too cruel, a place where she can recuperate and reflect upon past mistakes and know that here, there is someone who loves her wholeheartedly and will hug her until the tears dry.” – Ferrett Steinmetz in Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex

This father is a role model for parents of adolescents and of daughters, especially. Talking to your children about sex and sexuality isn’t easy, but it’s important. Sex is going to occur whether you talk to your kids about it or not, so prepare them the best you possibly can. Make sure they have every resource available. Be open to this conversation, when the time is right. You wouldn’t want them going into a snowstorm without boots on, would you? 

Down With Cosmo!

Everyday Feminism published “10 Things Cosmo Doesn’t Teach Women About Great Sex”. Attention readers, Cosmopolitan magazine is not the sex manual!


The articles and advice that Cosmo features regarding sex are heteronormative (a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the norm or preferred sexual orientation), sexist, and cissexist (“a cis person is one for whom assigned sex, internal sense of sex, and assigned gender and internal sense of gender all match up”, so cissexism is the discrimination or prejudice of individuals who do not fall into the “cis” category).

Cosmo promulgates advice and “crazy hot sex tips” that are disadvantageous for readers. Articles and tips almost always discuss pleasing “your guy” (ugh), but give no mention to pleasing yourself – not to mention, you would have to change your body to experience true pleasure. The sexual experience illustrated by Cosmo is laced with harmful power dynamics and fails to give their primarily female reader-base factual, unbiased, and inclusive information about anatomy, sexual psychology and the factors that influence it, sexually transmitted infections, and safer sex measures including consent. Next time you’re tempted to crack open a fresh issue of Cosmo with a retouched celebrity on the cover alongside a headline such as “75 Sex Moves Men Crave”, consider the personal implications and read it through a critical lens.

Additional reading:

Everday Feminism
Bitch Magazine
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health
Definitions of cissexism and binarism
10 Reasons Why I Hate Cosmopolitan Magainze