Labia stretching, also referred to as labia elongation or labia pulling, is the act of elongating the labia minora through manual manipulation (pulling) or physical equipment (such as weights). It is a familial cultural practice in Rwanda, Malawi, Uganda, Burundi and a few other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a body modification practice elsewhere. It is performed for sexual enhancement of both partners, aesthetics, symmetry and gratification. The early recordings of the results of the practice are perhaps among the Khoisan peoples of southern Africa, where the inner labia were seen to be several centimeters longer than the outer labia.
Elongated labia are perceived to facilitate orgasm and female ejaculation, and are considered to enhance sexual pleasure for both partners. Women who have unequally long labia may increase the size of the shorter to achieve symmetry. They also swell inwards partially blocking the entrance to the vagina.
In Rwandan culture, female family members teach girls at puberty how to pull their labia to lengthen them (gukuna in Kinyarwanda language), using local medicinal flora to ease the process. Women continue the practice into adulthood and through marriage. The most important aspect of this act sometimes referred to as gukuna imishino, meaning pulling the labia, is to assist the couple to perform the sexual practice of kunyaza.
Although the World Health Organization previously included labial stretching within the context of "mutilation", the negative context of that is not supported by a study of Marian Koster MSc and Dr. Lisa Price of Wageningen University, Netherlands, resulting in the WHO to schedule amending their treatment of it, perhaps as "modification" instead, in February 2008.
The practice of labial stretching does not violate women's rights, in that it does not involve physical violence, unless the woman is misled as to the benefits of the practice. However, it may be contrary to African customary law and rights of women if it is in conflict with public policy.
The practice of labia stretching itself does not precipitate sexually transmitted infections (including HIV). Such infections generally occur later in life through sexual activity. Some writers have asserted that there is a causal link between labia stretching and rates of infection.