“”I suppose this […] "vaginal" steam bath is just something that we nasty, allopathic […] doctors just don't understand. To us, it's just shooting a bunch of steam up a woman's nether regions. To the woo-meisters, though, it’s not just steam that's being forced to go places where usually only spouses, lovers, or gynecologists go. Oh, no. It’s super special, extra powerful herbal detox steam, which means that it has super duper magical powers.
|—David Gorski, MD|
Vagina steaming is a hot newly revived alternative medicine in which a woman squats over steaming water. The practice is also called vaginal steaming, v-steaming, vaginal steam baths, yoni steaming,[note 1]
steamed clams,[note 2] chai yok (차욕),[note 3] or bajos.[note 4]
Vagina steaming supporters, who include noted pseudoscience promoters NaturalNews and Gwyneth Paltrow, claim that vagina steaming has numerous benefits. Vagina steaming is supposed to "cleanse" the vagina, increase fertility, treat bad periods, and remove "toxins". There is no scientific evidence for these claims. Fully 14 (88%) of the 16 medical professionals who have commented on the practice say that vagina steaming is ineffective or possibly harmful. In short, it's patent bullshit.
However, vagina steaming may genuinely upset that little man in the boat.
- 1 History
- 2 What is it?
- 3 Scientific consensus
- 4 Impacts
- 5 Claimed benefits
- 6 Genuine benefits
- 7 Potential harms
- 8 Scientific evidence on efficacy
- 9 History
- 10 See also
- 11 External links
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
It has been reported than an unspecified 8th century CE Sanskrit document described sitting over a pot of boiling onions as an abortion method, and that the technique was being used in 20th century New York City. More definitively, The New York Medical Journal in 1897 reported the experimental use of steam on the uterus after an abortion, though unsurprisingly this is known to cause severe burns.
What is it?
- A pot is filled with:
- Water (necessary)
- Any desired plants (optional)
- The pot is heated until the water starts steaming.
- The pot is placed under/into a seat that allows steam to rise into the vagina, such as a toilet.
- A woman then:
- Removes any clothing covering the vagina (necessary)
- Covers herself with a blanket to prevent the steam from escaping (optional)
- Widens her legs to increase steam intake (optional)
- The woman then squats on the chair for 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Vagina steaming supporters warn against steaming while pregnant, immediately after delivery, or if the vagina has an infection. Supporters also advise that a medical professional should be consulted before steaming. (The percentage of customers who bother is unknown, but the percentage of spas who enforce this is almost certainly negligible.)
“”When I first read the articles about V-jay steaming, I wasn’t sure if they were discussing a feel-good technique, a novel treatment for the crabs, or a new venue for cooking your dumplings. But after managing to suspend my disbelief, I finally gathered that this is pure kitsch — a fad touted by uninformed celebs. I checked the medical literature as thoroughly as I could and found no credible evidence of any GYN health benefit from steaming one's junk. Positive health claims appear nothing more than anecdotal.
|—Dr. David Shobin|
Most medical professionals (OBGYNs and MDs) are skeptical of the benefits of vagina steaming, not least because of its lack of empirical backing. Currently, the tally stands at 14 (88%) in opposition and 2 in favor.
- Dr. Manny Alvarez, Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center: "There is absolutely no way [vagina steaming] has any significant health benefit."
- Dr. Pari Ghodsi, Group Practitioner at Northlake Obstetrics & Gynecology, P.A.: "V-Steam, although a catchy name, makes no sense and is an overall bad idea."
- Dr. Draion Burch, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine: "There's no scientific evidence that shows it works."
- Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, OBGYN at Women's Care of Beverly Hills Medical Group: "Most of these kinds of treatments are not put through intensive clinical trials, so it becomes challenging to evaluate the actual impact they have."
- Dr. Camilo Gonima, OBGYN at the Institute for Women's Health: "Other than any possible involvement [that] stress might have on these issues, I don't see any basis for any significant effects on fertility or menstrual cycles. [...] [I] would emphasize that this should be entirely external, and I'd be cautious about safety to avoid the risk of scalding."
- Dr. Vicken Sahakian, OBGYN and medical director of Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles: "It sounds like voodoo medicine that sometimes works."
- Dr. Jennifer Gunter, widely-certified OBGYN: "Steam is probably not good for your vagina. Herbal steam is no better and quite possibly worse. It is most definitely more expensive."
- Dr. Mary Minkin, MD, OBGYN at Obstetrics Gynecology & Menopause Physicians, P.C. and clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine: "It's complete bull."
- Dr. Jennifer Ashton, OBGYN: "There is zero medical evidence to support the need for or benefits of vaginal steaming. The physiology of the vagina is such that it is constantly cleaning itself and doesn't need extra help. … Just make sure to avoid thermal burns from hot steam."
- Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, OBGYN at Columbia University Medical Center: "It probably feels good because the heat increases blood flow to the whole vaginal area, including the clitoris, which could turn some women on. But if you got too close to the steam, you could end up with second degree burns down there."
- Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, OBGYN at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
- Dr. Katherine Thurer, gynecologist at the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University: "I could imagine one could have an allergic reaction to an herb or get burned." That said, she also writes: "Healthy vaginal tissue is used as an effective vehicle for the administration of medications like antibiotics, antifungal creams and hormones, so I suspect the herbs in the steam can be easily absorbed this way, too."
- Dr. Siri Chand Kaur Khalsa, MD, One Medical Group and "Integrative medicine" practicioner: "The premise that the body needs spa treatments to remove toxins has no clear basis in human biology. [....] Regarding Vaginal Steaming’s proposed health benefits, the vagina has extensive blood flow and mucous membranes, so it absorbs medications easily, but there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of absorbing herbs vaginally."
- Dr. David Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS, Professor of Surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine and surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery: "I suppose this whole “perineal” or “vaginal” steam bath is just something that we nasty, allopathic “Western” doctors just don’t understand. To us, it’s just shooting a bunch of steam up a woman’s nether regions."
- Timothy Caulfield, Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?:: "Paltrow is the perfect symbol of popular culture in our world right now. […] I think she should be held to a standard and that standard should be science. […] The claims made for [vagina steaming] are wrong and it could even be harmful[.] […] You shouldn’t monkey with the bacterial flora down there."
- Nicholas LeRoy, Doctor of Chiropractic, founder of Chicago-based Illinois Center for Progressive Health: "HPV can live on the surfaces of objects for long periods of time."
- Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD, OBGYN, "mind-body medicine physician", founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself: "There's no scientific evidence to support or reject the claims made by advocates of vaginal steam baths, so the truth of the matter is that we just don't know whether they offer any health benefit. But I'm not one to knock ancient Eastern health care practices, so who knows? I'm a big fan of checking in with your gut (and your lady bits!) What does your body tell you? […] [I]f the wisdom of your body speaks to you and says, "YES! This is the answer for me," pay attention."
- Dr. Lisa S. Lawless, PhD, psychotherapist and CEO of Holistic Wisdom, Inc.:[note 5] "Vaginal steaming in Chinese medicine is used to relieve stagnation and coldness in the body, and in Eastern medicine in general it is used to dilate the blood vessels, increase blood circulation, provide oxygenation and relax the pelvic floor muscles. Other ways it improves health depends on the herbs that are used and the healing properties each herb brings to the table."
- Rosita Arvigo, Doctor of Naprapathy: "Vaginal or yoni steam baths are an old, respected treatment for women used by Maya midwives and traditional healers in Central and South America. The practice is mentioned in early chronicles of Spanish friars who took time to record the healing practices of the Maya and Aztec. Bajos (ba-hoes) as they are called in Spanish, are a common and effective treatment for many female complaints, especially those of a serious or chronic nature."
- Isa Herrera, MSPT & CSCS (both non-doctoral positions), and employee of Renew Therapy (which offers vagina steaming):"[The] steam works wonders on hemorrhoids [and] for women who are trying to have a baby either naturally or with assistive fertility therapy. [....] It is a wonderful way to nurture the soul, spirit and body all at the same time."
An easy guide to the impacts of vagina steaming:
- Adds good plants to the vagina: No. No significant amount of plant matter gets into the vagina. Most of the plants have no proven positive health effects, and possible negative ones.
- Cleanses: A little yes, mostly no.
- Cleans the vagina: No. The vagina self-cleans. Douching doesn't work and is harmful.
- Cleans the uterus: No. Almost no steam will enter the uterus.
- Reduces odor: Yes. Odor can be drowned out with the smell of something else. However, odor is not harmful, is natural, and can help diagnosis.
- Removes toxins: No. Removal of unspecific "toxins" is per definition not a scientific claim.
- Helps irregular periods: Probably not. False positives abound and vagina steaming can't solve many of the causes of irregular periods.
- Treats abnormal growths: No. You can't steam-off cancer.
- Prevents vaginal infections: Hell no.
- Balances hormones: No. The vagina doesn't regulate hormones, and steam wouldn't "balance" them if it did.
- Aids fertility: No.
- Causes infections: Possible, especially if done wrong. Shooting water into the vagina upsets its natural pH balance, hurts good bacteria, and make infection more likely.
- Causes steam burns: Possible, esp. if done wrong. Steam's as hot as boiling water and even more likely to cause burns.
- Causes vaginal irritation: Possible, esp. if done wrong. Shooting water into any organ hurts it, and allergic reactions to the plants used aren't impossible.
- Causes complications during pregnancy: Likely, esp. if done wrong. Putting boiling water next to a womb which contains a developing baby is probably not a great idea.
- Causes contraction of the purse: Yes, even if done right.
“”Vaginal Steaming: Just a Bunch of Hot Air?
|—Fox News (Yeah, even Fox doesn't buy this.)|
Before discussing any specific claims, it's useful to remember a couple of general ideas:
First, it should be noted that no medical studies have been done on the efficacy of vagina steaming, which makes all evidence for these claims anecdotal at best. Further, almost all of reports of the effects of vagina steaming are produced by practitioners of it, which leads to an obvious conflict of interests and may lead to false, exaggerated, and/or selective reporting.
Second, it should be noted that many of the healing effects claimed to be the result of vagina steaming are within the bounds of a regression to the mean, where the ailment was likely to go away even without vagina steaming. Whether a regression to the mean occurred is impossible to tell without comparison to a placebo in a controlled trial, of which none have occurred.
Adds good plants to the vagina
Most vagina steaming claims are based on the transfer of good plants into the vagina via steam.
When practitioners add plants to boiling water and let it steam, it is improbable that any significant amount of the plant rises with the steam, much less enters the vagina, the bloodstream, or the skin. If the plant is truly effective, why not increase the concentration and use it topically (smear it on) or insert it directly? To quote Dr. Siri Khalsa:
Regarding Vaginal Steaming’s proposed health benefits, the vagina has extensive blood flow and mucous membranes, so it absorbs medications easily, but there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of absorbing herbs vaginally.
The most commonly used herbs are mugwort, oregano, rosemary, basil, calendula, and marshmallow root. Unsurprisingly, most of the plants used don't do what is commonly claimed (see the main articles for more):
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is claimed to be antibacterial and spiritually cleansing. In vitro (test tube) studies have shown basil's antibacterial properties; however, no clinical studies have been conducted, so we don't know how well it works for humans or whether 'vagina steaming' is an effective method for applying it. No reputable journals have published on basil's spiritually cleansing properties yet, so we'll just have to wait for confirmation on that one.
- Chamomile (Asteraceae spp.) is claimed to be soothing, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antiparasitic. In vitro (test tube) studies have shown that chamomile is antibacterial and antiviral; however, in vitro studies cannot necessarily be applied to humans. None of the other claims appear to have scientific merit.
- Horsetail (Equisetum spp.) is claimed to flush bacteria out of the bladder. There's no evidence that horsetail is antibiotic. There is evidence that horsetail, especially when improperly used, contains potentially toxic chemicals!
- Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is claimed to be ancient medicine, contain antibiotics and antifungal agents, stimulate production of hormones to maintain uterine health, prevent cancer, prevent ulcers, stimulate a period, ease mental discomfort, reduce the impacts of menopause, treat yeast infections, and treat infertility. It hasn't been proven to do any of the above and can have mild to life-threatening allergenic reactions.
- Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is claimed to "tonify" the reproductive system (give it more "energy"/qi/etc.), balance hormones, and increase circulation to the pelvis.
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is claimed to promote healing of the skin. There is no evidence that red clover heals the skin, and there is evidence red clover causes rashes.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is claimed to be antiseptic and stimulate circulation. Little research on rosemary in humans exists, and none substantiates either of these claims. However, rosemary has been used traditionally as an abortifacent; if we accept the verdicts of traditional medicine, then vaginally steaming when pregnant with rosemary is probably an even worse idea.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is claimed to be antiseptic and a "uterine stimulant". Oregano has certainly not been proven to be antiseptic, though it has antiparasitic potential in the intestines. Oregano also may cause miscarriages, which further advises against steaming while pregnant. We're not sure what "uterine stimulation" means, exactly, so it's difficult to assess it.
- Sage (Salvia officinalis or other Salvia spp.) is claimed to "move blood and chi through physical and emotional obstructions". Sage can affect blood pressure; it usually reduces blood pressure in persons with low blood pressure and increases it in persons with high blood pressure, which is kinda not-good. We can't say anything about the chi, though.
- Wormwood (Artemisia spp.) is claimed to have antimicrobial/bacterial/viral properties, induce uterine contractions, and treat bladder infections, fevers, open sores, constipation, diarrhea, and parasitic infections. Wormwood can cause vomiting and a variety of mental discomforts, and is neurotoxic in large doses.
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is claimed to be astringent (contract bodily tissues), cause "cleansing", and be antibacterial.
- Rose petals are claimed to be really soft. How this helps vagina steaming, we're not sure.
Of course, given its promoters' rather ... well-lubricated grasp of scientific concepts, we must consider the possibility that when they say "plants" they include fungi and microorganisms in that category, and are implying that vaginal steaming will somehow adjust the vaginal microflora.
It's very unlikely to, and even if it did, randomly mucking about with one's own vaginal flora is unlikely to be of benefit. A woman's vagina naturally maintains its microflora in a near-optimal equilibrium, and actively disturbing that equilibrium is seldom productive and quite possibly unhealthy.
Cleans the vagina
Almost all supporters of vagina steaming mention (directly or indirectly) that vagina steaming "cleans up" down there. Because who doesn't want to be "clean"?
Depending on how the woman sits, vagina steaming can either force steam onto the skin of the pelvic region or into the vagina.
If vagina steaming gets water into the vagina, then it is effectively a less-intense form of douching — since in both instances, water is forced into the vagina. Many women believe that douching effectively cleans the vagina, even though little scientific evidence supports this belief; similarly, it's entirely possible that many women incorrectly believe that vagina steaming has the same benefits. In fact, the acidic environment of the vagina effectively self-cleans, making douching and vagina steaming unecessary.
These and other conditions make vagina steaming drastically increase the risk of vaginal infection.
If, on the other hand, vaginal steam is ineffective in getting steam into the vagina, then there is no benefit (other than a wet ass and some wasted time, of course).
Cleans the uterus
“”The formulation of a vaginal steam bath consists of aromatic, cleansing herbs that will penetrate into the uterine wall. The therapeutic effects of thermotherapy and aromatherapy contribute to the effectiveness of this treatment. Overall the bath aids as a uterine lavage or internal cleanse of the membranes that often accumulate incompletely flushed debris/fluids from cycle to cycle.
Anything put into your vagina does not have direct access into your uterus. Your cervix, which is the bottom of the uterus, sits in the top of your vagina and it does have a a tiny hole in which menstrual blood comes out, sperm goes in, and that also dilates during labor to allow a baby to come out. But it is too small for something released into your vagina to get up into your uterus unless there is an apparatus going into your uterus helping its entry or it has natural propellers like sperm.
And to quote Dr. Gunter:
Steam isn’t going to get into your uterus from your vagina unless you are using an attachment with some kind of pressure and MOST DEFINITELY NEVER EVER DO THAT.
Alternatively, supporters claim that herbs enter the bloodstream and flow to the uterus:
When the herbs are placed in the hot water, their medicinal properties, including volatile oils, are released and carried to the surface of your skin, and to the inside of the vagina, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream and into to the uterus.
Since blood flows from the heart to the vagina to the heart, not the uterus, we're not quite sure what mechanism is in play here.
Douching can mask vaginal odor, but doesn't truly remove it. Similarly, vagina steaming (which often contains good-smelling herbs) probably can hide the odor of the vagina, without removing its source.
A low level of vaginal odor is natural, and there's no (medically necessary) need to mask it. Strong odor may be the result of infection; if so, it is best to see a doctor before douching or vaginally steaming, because hiding the odor makes it harder for the doctor to diagnose the issue.
Some supporters go beyond claims of "cleansing" and claim that vagina steaming removes "toxins" from the vagina. Because the "toxins" that are apparently removed aren't specified, it's more likely that the term is a catch-all for "gross stuff that supposedly exists in my genitals" rather than anything meaningful.
Helps irregular periods
Vagina steaming is claimed to cure irregular menstrual periods (those which have significantly more or less blood flow, happen significantly more or less often, are accompanied by pain or mental discomfort, or last for a long time).
There are many and varied causes for irregular periods, including stress, exercise, changes in weight, changes in diet, illness, changes in routine, birth control pills, uterine fibroids, uterine endometriosis, cancer, uterine prolapse and many more. This leads to two problems:
- False positives may be common. If somebody starts exercising (and thus solves their irregular period) and vaginally steams, she may incorrectly think the vagina steaming solved the problem.[note 6]
- If vagina steaming is claimed to prevent all irregular periods, then it also must resolve or counteract all of these problems, which is simply ridiculous. Claiming to be a panacea is a hallmark of pseudoscience.
Treats abnormal growths
Vagina steaming is claimed to treat uterine fibroids (abnormal growths in the uterus), uterine endometriosis (abnormal growths outside of the uterus), hemorrhoids, and/or cancer.
How putting gaseous water in the vagina with a tiny concentration of herbs (sometimes) can fix abnormal internal growths is unknown.
Presumably the steam uses its magical powers to identify the "good" growths from the "bad" growths and then somehow removes said bad growths.
This is especially ridiculous since steam has very little access to the vagina, and even less access to the uterus, where many of these growths occur.
Prevents vaginal infections
“”The vagina is not regulating your hormones. Your brain regulates your hormones. Nuff said.
Putting steam into the vagina almost certainly cannot alter the body's balance of hormones. Even more certainly, if it does alter them, it probably won't balance them, given all the herbs claimed to be going up there.
“”Kind of when you were a kid and you pulled your shirt over your legs to sit on the vent during cold winter days. Another way to increase your benefit is to self-massage on your abdomen with your hands… or a vibrator. Yes, I know what I said.
|—Inquisitr being edgy|
Perhaps vagina steaming "releases stored emotions and taps into the energy that is our creative potential." Or perhaps vagina steaming has nothing to do with it. The experience might be relaxing, since you have to stay in a warm, comfortable place for a long time. In this way, it might provide some of the same benefits of meditation.
“”There is absolutely no way this has any significant health benefit. The illusion that any hot air infused with some herbal spice would penetrate the vaginal barriers of your body and improve fertility, regulate hormones does not hold any water [pun intended] with me.
|—Dr. Manny Alvarez|
Vagina Steam baths bring heat to the womb. [....] Different herbs have different healing actions. Typically more than one herb was chosen and formulated in a blend, specific to the woman’s unique fertility needs. The combination of herbs work to nourish, tone, heal, bring in fresh oxygenated blood, promote cleansing, and make supple the vaginal and uterine tissues.
The first argument in favor of increased fertility is that "Niki Han Schwarz did it!" Niki Han Schwarz, who was the 45-year-old owner of a vagina steaming spa, had unsuccessfully tried to become pregnant "for three years" -- until she vaginally steamed. (Or, so she says.) This evidence is flawed in numerous ways:
- This evidence is about as anecdotal as it gets, and can be explained entirely by Schwarz's regression to the mean.
- This evidence has a clear conflict of interest, since Schwarz stands to gain if vagina steaming becomes popular. While her biased opinion is not necessarily wrong, it is more likely wrong.
- This evidence omits major details. For example, Schwarz doesn't explain how she was trying to get pregnant. If she was doing, for example, other fertility treatments, this could falsely make it appear as if vagina steaming had caused the fertility.
- Finally, this evidence still doesn't provide any mechanism through which vagina steaming is supposed to help those sperm on their way.
The second argument is that vagina steaming "increases circulation". The idea goes that vagina steaming increases heat (obviously), that heat increases circulation (again true ), and that circulation increases fertility. (Increased bloodflow also increases the flow of oxygen and immune factors, which might be beneficial -- however, they will not aid pregnancy.) Indeed, increasing circulation in the kidneys has been shown to helps pregnancy; so the idea is not totally insane. However:
- No known scientific studies directly support the idea that warmer vaginas increase fertility.
- Simply put, the effects of vagina steaming are extremely temporary. Unless someone is steaming for days on end, their bloodflow will go right back to normal extremely quickly.
- Scalding the vagina is probably bad for pregnancy.
- If increasing heat is the only goal, then a hot bath should aid fertility just as much as vagina steaming, at a lower cost and with fewer risks.
- If increasing bloodflow is the only goal, then almost anything (including exercise and better posture) should aid fertility just as much as (if not more than!) vagina steaming, at a lower cost and with fewer risks.
Finally, the third argument is that testicular steaming (which is administered in the same way and in the same place as vagina steaming) can also improve fertility.
Simply, warming the testicles inhibits sperm production and reduces fertility.
“”It's a simple, relaxing treatment. You can imagine people doing this in the forest somewhere.
|—Lanee Neil, appealing to nature|
Yoni steaming is about more than uterine health, and it is certainly more than a beauty treatment. The practice brings a reconnection to the female body and to the wisdom of plant medicine. It is an opportunity for women to celebrate and cherish our bodies, and learning to enjoy our wombs as the beautiful, sacred center from which our capacity to change the world radiates. Yoni steaming is also about women taking back ownership of our own health, and utilizing our intuition as well as gifts from the Earth to support and nourish our well-being. Yoni steaming is also about trusting the wisdom of generations of women, elevating their perspectives as not only valid, but integral to our health.
Vagina steaming does have a history in Africa and South Korea:
- Some argue that vagina steaming is an "old, respected treatment for women" and that this somehow makes it more likely to work. However, the long history of vagina steaming has no impact on its efficacy.
- Some argue that vagina steaming is a traditional Mayan/Korean/African/Greek/Asian treatment and that this somehow makes it more likely to work. However, the traditional use of vagina steaming has no impact on its efficacy.
Other claims of a "vagina steaming tradition" are tenuous at best.
As Dr. Hilda Hutchinson states:
[Vaginal steaming] probably feels good because the heat increases blood flow to the whole vaginal area, including the clitoris, which could turn some women on.
As noted above, vagina steaming is comparable to gaseous douching. Douching may upset the pH balance of the vagina, which upsets the balance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina, which, in turn, increases the risks of infection. Women who douche are more likely to have vaginal infection, bacterial vaginosis, vaginal irritation, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy complications, and cervical cancer.
Furthermore, because the vaginal mucosa is highly absorptive, whatever gets shot up there is likely to enter the entire body. This is especially dangerous for vagina steaming, which may occur in public spas with less-than-sterile seating arrangements. This is also especially true for yeast, which loves the warm, moist environment that steam provides.
As Dr. Gunter puts it:
We don’t know the effect of steam on the lower reproductive tract, but the lactobacilli strains that keep vaginas healthy are very finicky about their environment and raising the temperature with steam and whatever infrared nonsense Paltrow means is likely not beneficial and is potentially harmful. Some strains of lactobacilli are so hard to cultivate outside of this the very specific vaginal environment that growing them in a lab is next to impossible. There is also the possibility that the "steam" from these plants could contain volatile substances that are harmful to lactobacilli or other aspects of the vaginal ecosystem.
Causes steam burns
Vagina steaming forces steam onto the pelvic region and potentially into the vagina. Steam definitionally, in a normal room, must be 100° C; getting steam on you is like having boiling water spilled on you. Vagina steaming can cause steam burns.
Steam, just like boiling water, can cause burns; in fact, steam burns are far worse than burns from boiling water. This compounds the fact that the vagina is especially sensitive and not especially resilient. Burning oneself is always lovely; scalding one's genitals is slightly more so.
Many practitioners of vagina steaming recommend allowing the boiled water to cool first in order to attempt to avoid steam burns
and lawsuits. This helps prevent burns. It also happens to change the process from vaginal steaming to placing-one's-vagina-over-hot-water-ing. At that point, vagina steaming presumably has the same effects as using a warm compress on the region, but with more potential for infection and irritation.
Causes vaginal irritation
Even if vagina steaming does not cause burns, it certainly has the potential to cause vaginal irritation. This may occur through adverse reactions to the plant(s) used (if any actually rise with the steam) or merely through the act of pushing heated water into the vagina and uterus. While inflamed genitals may not seem so bad, if there is a precancerous condition in the vagina, then vaginal irritation may exacerbate the condition. Chronic inflammation — by itself — is a known cause of several types of cancers.
Scientific evidence does exist on vagina steaming and STDs.
Vagina steaming is used to "dry" the vagina by limiting vaginal secretions. After "drying" their vagina, women then have "dry sex"; supposedly, a drier vagina increases the sexual pleasure of the male. However, dry sex can be excruciating for the female and lead to tears on the vagina, which makes it easier to transfer STDs such as HIV/AIDS.
As Tinde van Andel et. al. state:
In many African cultures, plants and other intravaginal desiccants are used to minimise vaginal secretions. This practice, known as 'dry sex', creates a vagina that is dry, tight, and heated, which is supposed to generate an increased sensation for the man during intercourse. Although this is uncomfortable and painful, African women express the need to please their husbands with dry sex in order to keep them from leaving and to minimise the number of girlfriends (Baleta, 1998; Kun, 1998). Previous research has shown that dry sex damages the epithelium of the vagina and can lead to lacerations, inflammations, and the suppression of the vagina's natural bacteria, all of which increase the likelihood of infection with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV (Brown et al., 1993; Runganga and Kasule, 1995; Kun, 1998; McClelland et al., 2006).
None of our respondents were aware that a dry, tight vagina is a risk factor for STDs. On the contrary, they were convinced that a regular cleansing of their intimate parts would protect them against such infections and ensured their partner's fidelity. The Maroon males we spoke to were all positive about genital baths. Their only concern was that some women used not only tightening herbs in the baths but also 'dangerous' plants in order to acquire magic power over them.
Most Surinamese medical practitioners we interviewed knew of the dry-sex practices and were concerned about the possible relationship between these genital baths and the spread of STDs, HIV/AIDS, cervical carcinoma, and ectopic pregnancy in their country.
Maroons of both sexes, who were interviewed by Terborg (2001), explained that vaginal dryness and tightness during intercourse was not only preferred, but without it sexual pleasure was not possible. When asked if dry sex caused contact bleeding and pain, the majority of respondents answered positively. Suriname is currently experiencing a serious AIDS epidemic, with HIV being prevalent in more than 1% of the adult population (UNAIDS/WHO, 2005). The vast majority of the HIV-positives are found among the Maroons (Terborg, 2001; Terborg et al., 2005).
As both men and women highly appreciate dry sex, education and awareness programmes should discuss the risks of genital steam baths and encourage safe methods, such as avoiding contact bleeding during intercourse by means of a ‘good warming up’ and promoting the use of condoms (Terborg, 2001).
In addition, any intravaginal practices have a risk of transferring STDs.
Causes complications during pregnancy
Douching in general can cause complications during pregnancy, and vagina steaming is comparable to douching. (Or, at least, if vagina steaming proponents want to argue that it's effective, then they must argue that it's similar to douching — or else it does almost nothing, and isn't worth the time.)
Causes contraction of the purse
Spas that offer vagina steaming services tend to have prices that range from about $20 to about $100. Considering that this service is the equivalent of (1) boiling water and (2) letting somebody sit over it for a little while, this is a pretty nice way (1) for spas to make money and (2) for customers to lose it.
Scientific evidence on efficacy
“”[A]sking for scientific citations at a holistic spa is rather like requesting chopsticks at an ice cream parlor: not only will they not have them, they won’t really understand why you’re asking in the first place.
“”Not only is there potential to burn yourself if the steam’s too hot, went these cautionary tales, but some gynecologists think the herbal steam might mess with good bacteria, which are vital to keeping women healthy and infection-free. [...] But as it turns out, nobody’s yet done a study on the practice. That was enough for us.
|—Roxanna Asgarian, proving Saunders right|
Unfortunately, no available studies have scientifically tested the efficacy of vagina steaming.
The closest approaches to such a study are self-reported surveys. Unfortunately, such studies are inherently unreliable. Furthermore, women report both positive and negative effects from vagina steaming.
As such, it is impossible to say that true empirical scientific evidence on the medical impacts of vagina steaming exists.
Prevalence and self-reported health consequences of vaginal practices in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: findings from a household survey
This article contains a wealth of self-reported information about vagina steaming.[note 11] For our purposes, a few statistics stick out: Of those who currently practice vagina steaming, 9.4% report increased cleanliness, 64.0% report odor reduction, and 2.5% report relief of symptoms. Of those who have ever practiced, 7.3% reported genital irritation and/or pain, 1.5% reported genital itching, 0.2% reported genital bleeding or sores, and 0.9% reported Dyspareunia. It should be noted that this study is entirely self-reported, and thus does not avoid any potential (positive or negative) incorrect self-diagnosis.
Study Effect of Satureja bachtiarica Alcoholic Extract on Some Components of Complement System and IgM in Rat Serum
This article, while describing some of the known qualities of Satureja bachtiarica, states:
[M]assaging vertebral column with plant creams containing extract of this plant (Satureja bachtiarica) accompanied by foot baths and vagina steaming is very effective to reduce orgasmic dysfunction in women (Lewis and Elvin-Lemis, 1977).
This would seem to support claims that vagina steaming, when accompanied with a herbal massage, can increase sexual satisfaction.
For this claim, the article cites "Lewis WH and Elvin-Lewis MPF. 1977. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Man's Health. A Wiley-Interscience Publication. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 605 Third Ave., New York, NY 10158. 515 pages." On page 515 alone, the book itself does not support this; however, it's possible that page 516 (not included in the Google Books preview) supports this statement.
As a final warning, one should note that this article's publisher is a bit sketchy.
A multi-country study on gender, sexuality and vaginal practices: Implications for sexual health
The WHO noted that:
- 67% of women in Chonburi vaginally steam
- 86% of women in mainland Asia reported vaginally steaming after giving birth
- 10% of women in Tete vaginally steam, 64% in order to increase male sexual pleasure via vaginal tightening, and 23% in order to dry the vagina
The article also noted, in general, that some recent studies suggest that those who perform intravaginal practices (such as vagina steaming) and especially those who have "dry sex" (for which people vaginally steam) have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
Dry sex in Suriname
This article mentions that vaginal steam baths, particularly steam baths that contain drying and tightening herbs are used to dry and contract the vagina in order to improve pleasure during sex. However, as the article notes, such a practice can harm the vagina and spread STDs.
The article provided insight into another reason (besides dry sex) that people vaginally steam:
Being clean is essential in the Afro-Surinamese culture and is reflected in its ethnobotany. Menstruating women and mothers in childbed are considered unclean (Price, 1993; Fleury, 1996). Vaginal baths are seen as a way to purify the female body and make it attractive again for the opposite sex (Fleury, 1996).
The articles also, interestingly, stated that vagina steaming after delivering a baby may be better than no treatment at all:
These baths also caused the uterus to return to its former shape and prevented childbed fever and a sagging waist. If a woman refrained from cleansing her uterus after childbirth, she ran the risk of contracting ‘cold in the belly’. According to our respondents, this dangerous illness, caused by ‘dirty blood’ left in the uterus after delivery, could lead to severe abdominal pains, fever, and ultimately death. This description suggests serious uterine infections and puerperal fever.
Given the popularity of dry sex, its important role in AfroSurinamese culture, and the limited understanding of infective mechanisms in Maroon society, a general prohibition of genital steam baths in Suriname is no option. Moreover, prohibiting traditional midwife practices could have negative effects on women’s health, especially in remote areas where health centres are poorly staffed and equipped (Terborg, 2001; Ticktin and Dalle, 2005).
Our results show that genital steam baths are frequently used to facilitate the removal of placental remains after birth, miscarriage or abortion. In the major Maroon settlements, where 58% of the deliveries take place without an officially trained birth attendant (United Nations Population Fund, 2007), knowledge of medicinal plants that contract the uterus and prevent puerperal fever can save lives. Cleaning out the uterus after a miscarriage by means of steam and herbs is preferable to receiving no treatment at all.
That said, the article isn't an empirical study and doesn't jibe with the idea that it's hard to get steam into the uterus.
Interventions to improve vaginal health for reducing the risk of HIV acquisition
This article explores HIV-avoiding techniques for females and mentions vagina steaming. Unfortunately, any interesting relevant information is not in the abstract.
Prevalence, Motivations, and Adverse Effects of Vaginal Practices in Africa and Asia: Findings from a Multicountry Household Survey
This article surveys numerous women across a large area in order to attempt to determine how many and why women perform vaginal practices, as well as if they have any adverse impacts. Vaginal practices in Africa were often explicitly linked to increasing sexual pleasure and maintaining partner commitment, while vaginal practices in Asia were more often linked to maintaining femininity and health. The article also notes that very limited evidence of the biomedical consequences of most vaginal practices exists.
In the West, vagina steaming was not popular until the late 2000s. However, it had a following in the alternative medicine community, especially "traditional" Korean and Mesoamerican practitioners, who offered vaginal steam baths (then often called chai-yok or bajos). These spas played up vagina steaming as an ancient and exotic practice and customers trickled in. Eventually, nontraditional spas began offering vagina steaming (likely because boiling water and letting customers pay to sit over it is lucrative).
Niki Han Schwarz
Vagina steaming hit the limelight in December 2010, when Niki Han Schwarz (owner of a traditional Korean spa) persuaded journalists to
boost her fame report on her claim that vagina steaming helped her become fertile. This started a (short-lived) period where journalists (usually female) got vaginally steamed and wrote about the experience. In turn, this briefly increased vagina steaming's broader popularity.
Tia & Tamera Mowry
In 2013, twin actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry got vaginally steamed and claimed it reduces menstrual cramps, prevents yeast infections, and treats infertility. This again sparked a burst of popularity. This time, vagina steaming was more widespread, allowing more people to actually do it — and write about it. As a result, vagina steaming's broader popularity continued to exist (at low levels) until 2015.
“”The real golden ticket here is the Mugworth [sic] V-Steam: You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne, and a combination of infrared[note 12] and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release — not just a steam douche — that balances female hormone levels. If you’re in LA, you have to do it.
In January 2015, Gwyneth Paltrow (a fashion guru and alternative medicine promoter) got a vaginal steam bath and preached its virtues (see quote). Gwyneth defended vagina steaming against the torrent of Internet ridicule by arguing that vagina steaming "is a thousands-of-years-old practice in Korean spas". Eight months later, Paltrow changed her story and claimed that the piece on vagina steaming "actually came from her editorial director, Elise Loehnen". Right.
On the greatest scale yet, another phase of journalists got steamed and wrote about it. Vagina steaming underwent a large, apparently permanent jump in popularity, maintaining almost Paltrow-era popularity 15 months later.
- Vagina myths
- Homeopathy (another magical water treatment)
- 187 Fake Cancer "Cures" Consumers Should Avoid (many "cures" are ingredients of vagina steaming)
- Google Trends for vagina steaming
- Snake Oil Alert: Why Gwyneth Paltrow Gets Her Vagina Steam-Cleaned, and Why You Probably Shouldn’t
- Tag Archive for vagina steaming, Doubtful News
- Let’s Talk About Vaginal Steam Cleaning (or not)
- People with Vaginas, Here Is the Latest Trend for You
- Sanskrit. Yoni also means "vagina", but sounds more mystic.
- Korean. Chai yok, interestingly, does not actually appear to be a common Korean practice.
- Spanish. Bajos means "down low". "Down low" is where your checking account goes after paying for this shit.
- Some psychotherapists are medical doctors; others are not. Since RW isn't certain, we'll give her the benefit of the doubt.
- The only way to prevent such a false positive is to have controlled studies; no such studies have been conducted on vagina steaming.
- Apparently you heal the soul with brain waves. And what's the difference between "deep" and "light" soul level healing?
- Because you're fucking sitting still for half an hour. Try it sometime.
- Maybe sexual creativity; aside from that, it's just sitting.
- What even is the "source of all creation", and do you want to "connect" to it?
- All relevant information: The article states that, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, 24.8% of respondents had heard of vagina steaming, 7.6% had practiced vagina steaming, and 3.5% currently practice. Of those who currently practice, vagina steaming is performed on average 2 times per month. Of those who currently practice, 54.0% use traditional materials, 8.0% use alum, 8.9% use mixtures of commercial and traditional materials, and 18.7 use unspecified materials. Of those who currently practice, 2.4% steam during personal hygiene, 32.2% steam around menstruation, 28.7% steam before sexual intercourse, 1.4% steam after sexual intercourse, 8.6% steam in times of discomfort, and 5.5% steam with no particular pattern. Of those who currently practice, 2.3% steam for hygiene, 20.0% steam for wellness, 85.4% steam to treat an infection, 66.4% steam to increase sexual pleasure, 0.0% steam to avoid pain during sex, 0.0% steam to restore a sensation of virginity, and 1.7% steam to provide a sense of femininity. Of those who currently practice, 9.4% report increased cleanliness, 64.0% report odor reduction, 54.1% report a drier vagina, 29.3% report a wetter vagina, 28.7% report a tighter vagina, 4.3% report a looser vagina, 3.7% report a hotter vagina, 4.9% report stimulation of the vagina, 2.5% report relief of symptoms. Of those who currently practice, 0.0% report a health problem with their current practice. Of those who have ever practiced, 7.3% reported genital irritation and/or pain, 1.5% reported genital itching, 0.2% reported genital bleeding or sores, and 0.9% reported Dyspareunia.
- Vagina steaming does involve heat, which is related to infrared radiation. That said, vagina steaming does not directly create infrared radiation for the purposes of healing. Furthermore, even vagina steaming did involve infrared, it certainly wouldn't cleanse the vagina.
- The History of Birth Control by Kathleen London (1982) Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.
- Steaming the uterus in septic conditions following abortion, etc. (March 20, 1897) The New York Medical Journal, p. 394.
- http://www.thieme-connect.com/DOI/DOI?10.1055/s-2008-1035757 Atmokausis-Vaporisation] by W. Hardt & T. Genz (1989) Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 49(3):293-295.DOI: 10.1055/s-2008-1035757.
- "Vaginal Steaming Is a "Must" For Gwyneth Paltrow, But Not for Everyone", Redbook Magazine
- Chronic Inflammation and Cancer by Emily Schacter & Sigmund A. Weitzman, Oncology, 2002.