A popular practice among the women of West Africa is now gaining attention because of its alleged ability to boost sex drive. Called “vaginal tobacco,” this practice involves putting tobacco in the vagina for increased libido. But while thousands of West African women have testified of its ability to increase sexual pleasure, doctors have recently issued a warning discouraging them to continue the practice.

Doctors claim that the popular trend has no real effect on libido or fertility and that what women feel whenever they put tobacco in their vagina is misleading. According to Dr. Abdoulaye Diop, a gynecologist, vaginal tobacco only gives women that pleasing sensation because the chemicals in the tobacco cause their vaginal muscles to retract.

“This feeling is transient and misleading, because the vaginal mucosa that is attacked will eventually develop changes that are the gateway to cancer,” he said.

West African women believe that vaginal tobacco shrinks their genitals, boost their sexual pleasure tenfold and raise their chances of getting pregnant. They also claim that this practice helps them “send their man into seventh heaven.” However, doctors say this practice has nothing to do with boosting sexual drive or fertility, but only raises the risk of cancer and stillbirth. It can also scar the vaginal opening, leading to difficulties during monthly periods.

“These products often create ulcers which, by scarring, shrink the vagina, make it hard and can go so far as to close it completely,” said Professor Pascal Foumane. “It can even make the normal flow of menstruation impossible,” he added.

Vaginal tobacco is most common in Senegal, where women consider tobacco a miracle substance. The sale of tobacco is so prevalent in this area of West Africa but it is so discreet that sellers and buyers use the code names “Secret” or “Jumbo” when trading.

Neyba, a 50-year-old Senegalese woman who practices vaginal tobacco, said she was able to bear a child after using the product. “I told an aunt about my difficulty getting pregnant and she recommended this product,” she said. “After using it I was able to have a child. Even the doctors were surprised. I feel heartache and unbearable pain every time I apply the product but once the effect has passed, I feel really good,” she added.