Alt-Heath: Spring Cleaning Down Low

Spring is here and housecleaning is in order. While you are shaking out the carpets and vacuuming the drapes, don’t forget to give your vagina a good steaming.

V-steaming, the latest fad to hit Beverly Hills, has roots in an ancient cleansing and fertility ritual. Known as “chai-yok” by Korean healers and as “bajos” (“down low” in Spanish) by Mayan midwives, steaming was used to treat conditions ranging from painful menses to fibroid tumors. Gwyneth Paltrow says it’s a must-try; doctors say it’s a pile of hooey. Judge for yourself.

Why does my vagina need steaming?

According to proponents, steaming does for your vaginal tissues what a spa facial does for the pores on your face: opens them up to flush out toxins, while allowing herbs and oils in the steam to be deeply absorbed. Botanical formulas are customized and blended to nourish, tone and heal. According to Dr. Bella Lauren of the Agape Healing Arts Center, “The herbal steam increases circulation, thins mucus and revitalizes the entire system. It supports the womb to return to harmonic alignment.” But are any of these claims true?

“It’s complete bull,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale School of Medicine. She claims that the alleged benefits are bogus and that these treatments might even cause damage. Dr. Minkin warns that women can burn themselves with hot steam, and that the process can disrupt the bacterial balance in the mucous lining. She sees no way that hormones could be balanced by steaming, since hormones are generated in the ovaries and the steam doesn’t reach there.

While it is true that there is no clinical evidence to support the benefit claims for V-steaming, there is a great deal of anecdotal testimony from women who have tried it. Never ones to pass on a bizarre herbal procedure, Hollywood stars have been squatting over pots of simmering mugwort, getting their Vs steamed in hopes of gaining (and I quote) an overall heightened “juiciness.” Until this point, I had no idea that Hollywood stars worried so much about possible un-juiciness. Now I know. The vast majority of testimonials online are about the increased libido felt after treatments: “I noticed a pulsating sensation from my vagina. And the skin down there was more hydrated and felt warm to the touch … also made me a bit aroused as I walked to the subway.” Interesting picture.

But this tradition has been passed down through the ages for far more reasons than sexual lube. Before modern medicine, herbal steams were seen as the most effective treatment for nearly every female complaint. Healers carefully concocted mixes of mugwort, wormwood, calendula and sage to normalize menstrual blood flow, calm cramps, shrink hemorrhoids and relieve constipation. Steaming was a post-partum and post-miscarriage panacea, and healers’ herbal infusions induced conception while mitigating ovarian cysts. V steam was state-of-the-art medicine.

But there are definitely times when a vaginal steam is the wrong way to go. When infection is present, steaming can spread bacteria and exacerbate infection. Women who are pregnant are advised to avoid steams, as well as those who are menstruating. Perhaps it is sometimes best to leave well enough alone. After all, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, although Summer’s Eve commercials have tried their best to convince us otherwise.

So, is yoni steaming for you? Well, it depends. Do you have more money than you know what to do with? One session of V-steam treatments at spas and holistic health centers can range from $65 to $125 and typically last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Or you can purchase a do-it-yourself kit for $150 and up, and experiment with scald levels on your own. Note: This is not recommended!!! Have a professional show you how it’s done.

However, if you live in RI and would like to satisfy your curiosity about the revitalizing properties of V-steaming,  you are going to have quite a search. There are no spas or salons in the state that advertise the treatments. Several calls of inquiry brought varied responses from shock to amusement, but no one had ever heard of it. The receptionist at Agape Medical Spa was intrigued and located an online Groupon offer for V-steaming from April 2016, but the spa locations were in California and Maryland. Your only NE recourse may be to call every venue you suspect might have the steam pot going, and be prepared to do a lot of explaining. And if you find one, please write in! I think we’d all like to know.