Videos telling African women how to tighten their vaginas to “keep their man” get hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. The Observers Direct went to Senegal to ask women there what they think. Read Derek Thomson’s Reporter’s Notebook.
 

“Why were these YouTubers talking only about the man’s pleasure?”

When I first saw videos by West African YouTubers like Cameroun Diva, Amor Amour and Nella Carine, I was impressed by their humour, their outspoken directness - and their numbers. One video by Cameroun Diva, “How to tighten your vagina in 5 minutes”, had more than 2 million views. Another, Amor Amour’s “How to become a virgin again (tighten your vagina)”, had more than 700,000.
 

Watch our Observers Direct report from Senegal:


 

The YouTubers were clear to point out that they were talking about techniques to tighten the vagina and “feel” like a virgin again; not to actually restore virginity by recreating the hymen. They said their techniques could help women after childbirth – and that doing so would supposedly help them ensure their husband would not be unfaithful. “Our vagina is our weapon in a relationship,” says Amor Amour. “Take care of it like you’d take care of a baby. Don’t fool around, because it’s what’s going to make your man stay.”

I was concerned about the safety – and effectiveness – of putting substances like shea butter, alum powder, lemon water and even beer inside the vagina. In the comments, many users shared my concerns, warning of the potential dangers. Others thanked the YouTubers for their advice, though, or shared their own vagina-tightening tips.

None of the comments I read addressed what seemed to me two other key questions: First, why were these YouTubers talking only about the man’s pleasure, not the woman’s? And second, is the perceived condition of a woman’s vagina really the only thing that can keep a marriage healthy?

Senegalese women were eager to talk about polygamy

I went to Senegal to ask women whether they had ever heard of these vagina-tightening tips, and what they thought of them. Colleagues warned me that Senegal was a more conservative society than other countries in West Africa, and that during Ramadan women would be even less likely than normal to talk about such private matters. But the Senegalese women I met were as open and frank as the YouTubers (many of whom come from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo). And the Senegalese women were eager to talk about a particular concern in their country: polygamy. Senegal is 95% Muslim, and polygamy is legal. Women in their late 30s or 40s often find their husband taking a second, younger wife – even if he said when they married that he planned to be monogamous.

“When we’re talking about tightening the vagina, we’re talking about married women who have had children, maybe several,” said Aminatou Sar, who runs Senegalese operations of an American NGO. “They’re hoping to ‘recover their virginity’ because a tighter vagina is a sure way to please their husband…. But I think men need to make more of an effort to accept that their wives have become mothers.”

Different views of “jongué,” the Senegalese art of seduction

Erotic blogger Maria Diop Soumah said the videos preyed on women’s insecurities: “If women think they can only keep their husband thanks to their vagina … they’re going to do something stupid … like using products that aren’t necessarily safe.”

Diop Soumah said that questions about how to tighten the vagina were among the most frequently-asked among the 18,000 members of her Facebook group, African’s Queendom. She said a Senegalese concept known as “jongué” was partially responsible. “The concept of jongué is that a woman wakes up in the morning and makes her man breakfast. She washes his clothes… she washes his feet, and when night comes she has a wild and crazy sex life with her husband… It’s as if her own life doesn’t count. All that counts is pleasing her man.”

These products sold in Senegal are supposed to tighten the vagina, but doctors say they not only don't work, they can lead to long-term health problems including vaginal cancer and cervical cancer.
 

While gynecologist Adboulaye Diop confirmed that many of the so-called vagina-tightening products were ineffective and could be “extremely dangerous”, we found that not everyone agreed with Diop Soumah’s interpretation of “jongué”.

In Dakar’s HLM market, we found stalls selling what are known as “women’s secrets”: camisoles and slips handmade from fishing line; “bin-bins”, bejeweled belts to be worn during sex; incense and perfumes designed for seduction; but also skimpy costumes for men designed to excite their women. South of the capital, we came across a group of young married women who had a very different concept of jongué.

“It’s for men as well as women,” one of them, Ndeye Ramatoulaye Diop, told us, as her friends nodded, laughing. “Pleasure is for both. It’s between two people. It goes both ways. "