Celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Tiegen are to thank for the rebirth of vaginal steaming as a feminine hygiene fad. Back in 2015, Gwyneth Paltrow got into hot water with obstetricians and gynecologists for her scientifically-unproven celebration of vaginal steaming with mugwort as a way to rebalance hormones. Chrissy Teigen perpetuated the myth when she claimed that on Instagram that vaginal steaming might help her vagina dissolve: “Face mask/heat pad/vagina steam no I don’t know if any of this works, but it can’t hurt right?” And so began the modern-day reinterpretation of the Western World’s preoccupation with vaginal douching. But do you really need to steam your vagina? The answer to Chrissy’s question is, yes, vaginal steaming can hurt. This post will clear some misinformation mists about vaginal discharge, vaginal steaming, infertility, and vaginal health.
What is Vaginal steaming, V-steaming, or Yoni-steaming?
Vaginal steaming involves squatting over a pot or sitting on a special seat with a hole over a pot. Some creative marketers even call the pot a “throne.” The pot can be any mixture of herbs, tinctures, or chemicals mixed with hot steaming liquid. The goal of vaginal steaming is essentially to clean your vagina and uterus.
A Cultural and Traditional Practice with a Long History
Advertised as an “ancient practice,” legends of v-steaming traditions swirl with mentions of Korean, Latin-American, and African cultural roots. Vaginal steam baths are called bajos in Spanish or chai-yok in Korean culture. In 2011, the World Health Organization reported about this tradition of ‘steaming’ or ‘smoking’ of the vagina by sitting above a source of heat (fire, coals, hot rocks) on which water, herbs, or oils are placed to create steam or smoke in both African and Asian households.
False Claims About Vaginal Steamings Health Benefits
Just because women worldwide have been steaming for centuries does not mean that vaginal steam baths are good for your lady parts. There have been no scientific studies showing that vaginal steaming does any of the following, all incorrectly claimed by various online websites accessed for this post:
- Improve PMS symptoms
- Diminish pain during the menstrual period
- Reduce breast soreness
- Decrease abdominal bloating
- Lessen headaches
- Increase cervical lubrication
- Tighten your vagina or treat prolapse of pelvic organs
- Detoxify your vagina, cervix, or uterus
- Aid with postpartum recovery or hormone regulation
- Reduce heavy menstrual flow
- Decrease pain associated with pelvic surgery, adhesions, fibrosis, or scarring
- Treat uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, or endometriosis
- Treat bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, trichomoniasis, HPV/abnormal pap smears, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, or pelvic inflammatory disease
- Alleviate perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms by balancing hormones
- Treat ovarian cysts or polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS)
- Heal sexual trauma
- Help with regulate periods
- Strengthen your pelvic floor or help with prolapse
What Can Vaginal Steaming Do?
- Cause burns
- Increase irritation or inflammation of your vulva
- Cause infection if done in unsanitary conditions
One poor 62-year old Canadian woman suffered second-degree burns of her vulva after being told by a Chinese Medicine Practitioner that steaming with herbs would fix her vaginal prolapse. If you have injured tissues after postpartum, hemorrhoids, or during a herpes outbreak, you put yourself at risk for delayed healing and infection if you try vaginal steaming with unclean supplies or settings.
Are There Any Benefits to Vaginal Steaming?
Theoretically, vaginal steaming might result in some of these positive effects celebrated by aficionados of v-steaming, such as:
- Increased energy
- Increased libido
- Reduce swelling in legs/feet
These changes could also be a result of practicing self-care. Reducing stress goes a long way to increase energy, libido, and feelings of well-being. Making time to pay attention to your body and find a moment of quiet is relaxing, just like exercising, meditating, or taking a bath. Any time you sit down and get off your feet, it is easier for your blood to return to your heart, improving any swelling you might have in your legs or feet.
Warm water soaks (sitz baths as they are often called in Western medical circles) can increase blood supply to external vaginal tissues (called the vulva). They can help heal childbirth-related swelling or injuries, hemorrhoids, and vulvar irritation from a vaginal infection.
Warm baths help relax pelvic muscles and can help relieve period cramps. The keys are that the water should be warm, not hot, and you should not use any soaps, bath bombs, herbs, or other chemicals. Just plain water. Why?
News flash: Your Vagina Is Doing Just Fine Cleaning Itself
What about that discharge that terrifies so many women? It is actually the product of your vagina’s own house cleaning efforts. It is normal for you to have discharge from your vagina. This discharge changes over the course of your monthly menstrual cycle. A healthy vagina has its own, unique scent. Vaginas do not smell like flowers, spring rain, or cucumber green tea. Do not let the feminine hygiene products industry tell you otherwise.
This brings me to another point. By convincing girls and women their vaginas are unclean, smelly, or requires upkeep, we perpetuate fear and stigmatization of female parts and fluids. Feminists, influencers, and healthcare providers are fed up with the consumer products industry capitalizing on women’s unfounded fears of being “dirty down there.” These advocates call for banishing the term feminine hygiene altogether. Vaginal steaming should also be a part of that clean sweep.
When To Worry About Your Vaginal Discharge
Call your doctor or health care center if:
- You have pain in your lower abdomen or pelvis, or you have that same kind of pelvic pain when having sex.
- You have itching, burning, or pain inside your vagina or outside your vagina along with discharge.
- Your discharge smells fishy or is chunky, green, thick, or yellow in a way that is different for you.
- You have discharge and bleeding from your vagina unrelated to your period.
Mists of Misinformation Clouding Vaginal Steaming and Infertility
Numerous infertility sites, clinics, holistic fertility specialists, and social media fertility influencers claim that v-steaming can boost fertility. These are all entirely false claims not based upon any scientific evidence.
Vaginal steaming DOES NOT:
- Clean or detoxify your uterus
- Create a lubricated path for the insertion catheter during IVF or IUI
- Increase cervical mucus
- Increase your chances of getting pregnant
It is doubtful that any steam could make its way up through your vagina, through your cervix, and into your uterus in large enough amounts to have any cleansing effect. In fact, introducing any unsterile water, herb-laced vapor, or other chemicals to your vagina, cervix, or uterus could trigger a reaction that might make implantation less successful.
Your vagina is happiest when left perfectly alone. Discharge and your vagina’s smell are not things to fear, clean away, or treat with steam. Healthcare providers, mothers, and other women’s health influencers can help dispel harmful misinformation myths such as vaginal steaming. Understanding our bodies, honoring how they work, and taking time for self-care are the health messages to be sharing.