‘Vaginal tighteners’ are certainly not new. Dozens of products similar to 18Again are available worldwide. In discussion forums, many women say they feel insecure because their vagina has lost its tightness, particularly after childbirth. Some say a loose vagina has had an adverse effect on their and their partner’s sexual pleasure.
“Satisfying sex has everything to do with arousal,” the Netherlands-based sexologist explains. “It is true that in the course of one’s life, including after having children, the conditions for reaching a state of arousal may change. But making one’s vagina tighter with a cream, surgery or exercises, won’t make any difference.”
The chemical compound alum is the common ingredient for most vagina-tightening products, including 18Again. Known in India as phitkari or saurashtri, alum is also used in aftershaves to promote the quick healing of small wounds and as a natural deodorant. For the purpose of vagina tightening, applying alum powder in combination with some water has been used for generations in various cultures. Some women claim they heard about it from their grandmother.
Termeer recommends against applying remedies such as alum on the vagina. “I think it can definitely be harmful for the skin and bacterial ecology of the vagina.” Other doctors, too, warn against using alum in the vagina, citing side effects such as dryness, damaged skin and an increased chance of infections and small wounds.
Tinde van Andel, an ethnobotanist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, who has researched the use of natural products in genital steam baths in Suriname, says that there are indications that tightening the vagina with herbs or alum is not good for one’s health. She also says that alum, as well as other ingredients of 18Again such as pomegranate, may contain tannic acid or other astringent properties and are therefore likely to have a drying effect.
Besides its possible risks, vagina tightening is simply not necessary, according to Termeer. “When women consult me regarding what they, and often their male partners, perceive as a too loose vagina, I make them aware of what arousal does to a vagina, no matter what size it is. If a man complains, he should simply try different things to make the woman aroused.”
Utratech India, the manufacturer of 18Again, insists that the cream has been clinically tested and approved. “People have not criticised the product itself, only the advertising commercial,” says Rishi Bhatia, the company’s chairman and managing director.
The promotional video of a woman wearing a sari, singing “I feel like a virgin” while dancing with her husband in a traditional family setting has outraged conservatives and feminists alike.
“India is a little conservative,” says Bhatia about the criticism. “Even using the word vagina is taboo.” He defends the advert by saying that it is not meant for tightening only, but for a whole range of vagina-related issues such as preventing infections, unwanted odour and uncontrolled urine loss. Such a complete package may help explain 18Again’s cost: 2430 rupees (about 39 euros) for one 40 gram jar, which will last 10 to 15 days, according to Customer Care.
Confidence vs insecurity
Bathia further insists that the company never claims that 18Again can restore a woman’s virginity. “We refer to the age 18, because this is when a girl becomes a woman. It’s meant to give a fresh feeling of womanhood. And this can be empowering, like any product that can make you feel more confident.”
But Termeer fears that, rather than empowering, the marketing of this kind of product on television can increase female insecurity about their vagina. “The idea that tight is better and feels better exists in many cultures. But it is nonsense to think that being tighter will result in a better sex life. That mode of thought needs to be changed, not reinforced.”