To keep the vagina dry, women insert herbs, absorbent materials like paper, chemical cleaning agents, antiseptic or even toothpaste. A dry vagina is supposed to feel better for the man during intercourse. Men say they like the friction, heat and swollen tightness.
But ‘dry sex’ also carries serious health risks, Dr van Andel warns. “It can lead to cuts and inflammation in the vagina and it suppresses the natural bacteria. All of which increases the likelihood of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.”
Dry sex is popular all over Africa – though it depends on ethnic background, and there are some notable kunyaza. In Indonesia too a wet vagina is frowned upon. “What is it with Indonesian and Western boys that they expect different things from my vagina?” complains Jakarta-based writer Arti Bebasari. Dryness is also favoured in parts of South America and the Caribbean, says Dr van Andel, who is a specialist in the medicinal plants of Suriname.
The vagina-drying herbs women use often contain tannins, which give the sensation of dryness and tightening – like the dry feeling in the mouth from strong tea or red wine. Other plants contain irritating chemicals that make the vagina swell and become tight, so the man's penis feels ‘bigger’.
So what’s in it for women? Apart from the increased risk of infection, mostly just discomfort and pain during sex, says Dr Van Andel.
They keep doing it because they think that otherwise their man will look for another girlfriend, she says. And both men and women often see vaginal discharge as being unhealthy and a sign that a woman has been sleeping around.
Pineapple or cucumber
It’s a similar story in Indonesia, Arti Bebasari explains. “They think being wet down there is a disease or something,” she says. Javanese women traditionally smoke their vaginas over smouldering herbs to dry the vagina and reduce itchiness.
Also popular in Indonesia is the ‘tongkat Madura’, a cigar-shaped stick made of a plant root which is inserted in the vagina. It’s supposed to keep the vagina dry and ‘clean’ – and also to increase sexual desire.
Certain foods have a bad name in Indonesia because they’re said to make the vagina wetter. “When you eat pineapple or cucumber, people here will automatically say, ‘Oh no, it’s going to make you really wet down there,’” says Arti Bebasari.
So what’s Tinde van Andel’s advice to women whose partners want ‘dry sex’? “Say no, of course!” But it’s easy for her to say, she adds.
“Women who live in countries where dry sex practises are common have probably been taught from an early age that washing the vagina with plenty of soap and drying agents is essential for a woman to keep her husband faithful and happy. Many are dependent on their husbands or boyfriends so they’re in no position to tell them what they want.”
Proud to be wet
And how does Arti Bebasari feel about dry versus wet? “I’m not Indonesian in this context,” she says.
“I’ve had more sex with non-Indonesian men, so I believe that if I’m wet, that man is going to be happy, and I’m really proud. It actually feels good if you’re wet. That’s why they invented lubricant.”
Tinde van Andel is co-author of the paper Dry sex in Suriname.
Indonesian writer Arti Bebasari’s name has been changed.
How do you feel about 'dry sex'? Leave a comment.