Intravaginal insertions have previously been described as increasing the ‘warmth' of the vagina. However, in this study when respondents referred to using insertions to be ‘hot' (shisa), only on a few occasions did this relate to the vagina itself being ‘hot'. Similarly references to a woman being ‘cold' (banda or qanda) related to women not being sexually attractive, not being aroused or being sexually unresponsive. When asked to define the difference between ‘hot' and ‘cold' sex, one participant explained that if sex was not hot ‘I don't care if he stops [sex]', whereas if sex is hot ‘I will hold on to him' (Sbongile, 22-year-old trial participant).
The idea of hot sex was often combined with references to increasing male sex drive (langazele meaning ‘to long for' or ‘desire') or making the woman ‘strong' during sex in terms of being physically active during penetration. The words translated as strong included uqine fastflirting (‘making strong'), khuthale (‘active', ‘diligent' or ‘industrious') and simame (‘to get strong', especially after illness). The word simame is also used to refer to ‘success' in terms of someone who is hard working and has elevated their social status.
You may end up experiencing difficulty, maybe your partner is not eager [akasakulangazeleli] for sex. ... You insert Zulu things [traditional medicines] in order for your partner to find you right, so that he is eager [akulangazele] for sex. (Wandile, 33-year-old trial participant)
Increased sexual pleasure was also reported when the woman was ‘tight'. The isiZulu words to explain this included buyisa: ‘cause to return' or ‘restore'; qoqa: ‘gather together' or ‘collect' generally after being dismantled; buyisana: ‘return' or ‘become reunited'; shwaqa: ‘collect together'; or bamba: to ‘grasp'. All these terms referred to bringing the vagina ‘back together', implying a return to the ‘natural' and optimal state of a contracted and tight vagina. These conditions were regularly described as ‘being like a virgin' (intombinto meaning ‘young girl who has not been touched' or itshitshi referring to the age set of young virgin girls) or not being ‘loose' (xega). The term loose is viewed as a negative attribute and is associated with promiscuity and infidelity, as well as older age.
There was another interpretation of being tight, as described by the isiZulu word shuba (or -shubisa). This means becoming thick in terms of food, literally describing the process of ‘precipitation' from fluid to solid, for example when jelly sets or milk curdles. Closely associated is the word qinisa which also means to tighten but more specifically is translated as to ‘make firm' or ‘strengthen'. When respondents referred to being ‘wet', they were generally referring to the presence of ‘water' in the vagina. So this idea of ‘thickening' results in the transformation of watery secretions into thick mucus. Being tight or thick during sex was viewed as representing youth, virginity, desirability and being in an optimum state for the partner's sexual pleasure. Alum, Blue Stone, Tiger Balm and Disprin were most regularly associated with tight sex, although Staaldruppels and Entressdruppels were also mentioned:
It is usual [to use insertions] because sometimes you find that you are loose [uyaxega] and you want to tighten [ezizokuqinisa] yourself. (Gugu, 46-year-old trial participant)
I have heard ladies say that they insert. I do not know whether it is those things that thicken [bayazishubisa] their vagina. (Thobile, 19-year-old trial participant)
Respondents were far less likely to refer to the use of insertions for vaginal dryness compared with their ‘hot' or ‘tight' attributes. The isiZulu word for ‘dry' is oma and describes becoming dry, being thirsty or the weather being dry such as in a drought. Bad sex was described as being ‘cold' and ‘wet'. It would be easy to assume that ‘good' sex must be ‘hot' and ‘dry', but in these interviews there was a distinct meaning to being ‘wet'. Wet was seen as an unhealthy state for the vagina, generally associated with watery secretions or STI-related discharge. It was sometimes said that if a woman had been cursed by an evil spell her vagina would be ‘full of water'. Hence the desire to be dry was often related to the removal of excessive water or discharge in the vagina and a need to ‘drain the water':