Even though it's a self-cleaning organ, the vagina requires consistent hygienic maintenance. From waxes to gynecologist visits, caring for the nether region is no small task. Recently, a new trend made it on my to-do list: vaginal steaming, more commonly known as v-steaming.
Once Gwyneth Paltrow (the Hollywood “voice of health”) raved about the ancient Korean treatment on her lifestyle site, GOOP, I knew I had to put it to the test. Paltrow has endorsed everything from oil pulling (tried it) to conscious uncoupling (hopefully won’t have to try it), so I knew her health philosophies weren’t one size fits all.
Still, with my “don’t knock it ‘til you try it” motto in mind, I decided to give v-steaming a try. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen, right?
The v-steam is the Americanized version of an ancient Korean treatment called “chai-yok.” Typically, women hover over a pot infused with therapeutic herbs, including mugwort, basil, calendula, oregano, marshmallow root, wormwood, and rosemary, to detoxify their vaginas. Mugwort and wormwood are the most commonly used of the herbs.
During the process, clients are either offered a big tent or disposable bathing suits to wear as they squat down without underwear over the steaming pot of water. V-steams can last for about 20 to 45 minutes, as the hot air is supposed to dilate the blood vessels, increase blood circulation, and relax the pelvic floor muscles. This is what supposedly aids "vaginal rejuvenation."
As I stepped foot into Juvenex Spa, a Korean spa located in the heart of Herald Square in New York City, the atmosphere immediately made me feel like I was about to escape the stress of city life. For that brief moment, the only worry I had was directly connected to my reason for being there: Was I really going to get naked and hover my vagina over a bucket full of herbs? But if Paltrow did it, then I obviously could too.
I was guided into the spa’s locker room, where I was handed slippers, a robe, towel, and a disposable bathing suit should I decide to cover my va-jay-jay for steaming. I opened my designated locker, stuffed my belongings in, and put on my disposable bathing suit only to have the bottom rip halfway. Whether it was my nerves or the bathing suit simply not being true to the “one size fits all” label, I was now officially committed to going full-frontal for this treatment.
After my locker room mishap, I shyly followed the spa receptionist to the back room where three chairs and a very kind attendant awaited me. I probably never felt more naked than I did at that moment, talking to a complete stranger with my vagina exposed.
I nervously said “hello” and made it clear I was here for what they call the “Gyno Spa Cure.” As per Juvenex’s website, the v-steam works by “Utilizing healing herbs to irrigate the vaginal passage to restore optimum health.” A 30-minute session costs $75 (plus tax = $80) and 12 sessions cost $750.
While I stood with nothing but a robe on, the attendant did not have any shame in asking if I was wearing any underwear, to which I anxiously answered “no.” She gently placed green towels on the wooden chair and signaled me to come over and sit down. I knew it was too late to back out as a steady blast of hot air shot up my hoo-ha. I just sat and grasped the chair handles, ready to dart at the first sign of something going amiss.
The 30-Minute V-Steam Session
When I sat down it was just me, my exposed vagina, the steaming pot infused with secret herbs, and the attendant sitting on the side on cue ready to adjust the temperature. In my nervous state, I felt awkward seeing the attendant there from the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t help but strike up conversation while getting my vagina steamed.
“One session will do something, but more sessions you can feel the difference,” the attendant told me.
We chatted for a bit as she brought me watermelons and cucumber water — all of which I downed in five minutes because I was sweating profusely from head to toe. Throughout the process, I felt the sweat dripping down every inch of my body, especially down there. I thought I reached my breaking point 15 minutes in. The pot became so hot I thought I was going to suffer second-degree burns. The best way to describe it: squatting over a campfire with nothing separating your private parts from the flames.
Dr. Draion M. Burch, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Pennsylvania, explained to Medical Daily in an email, if the steam is too hot, patients can burn their “private parts.” “Heat down there can increase blood flow to the vagina as well as the clit. This can cause orgasms,” he said.
As my body started to adjust to the pool of sweat, I was overcome by a relaxing, tingling sensation. I closed my eyes for a few minutes, took in my surroundings, and then opened my eyes to hear the attendant say “30 minutes is up,” to which I responded “so soon?”
My Vagina Post V-Steam
Can one v-steam session really change my vagina? Probably not. I did feel different. For one, my vagina felt refreshed and ready to take on the world — of underwear again.
The average v-steam session claims to reduce stress, fight infections, regulate your menstrual cycle, promote circulation, correct digestive disorders, and boost fertility. However, Dr. Brett Worly, an obstetrician/gynecologist and female sexual dysfunction expert at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, advises women to beware.
“There is no scientific evidence that this works,” he told Medical Daily in an email. “This is hot steam on your genitals with non-FDA approved substances. Users should be cautious about steam burns, chemical ulcers or erosions of the skin, vaginal scarring, accumulation of abnormal types of bacteria, vaginal infections, vaginal odor, vaginal discharge, pain with sex, sexual lubrication problems, and more.”
Worly, and some doctors like Dr. Camilo Gonima, believe the vagina doesn’t need any special treatments to be clean. Gonima previously told Medical Daily that because the vagina maintains “a healthy environment by maintaining a mix of beneficial bacteria,” v-steams are unnecessary. Moreover, as previously mentioned, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Vaginal cleaning practices like douching can also have negative side effects.
A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Nursing found women who douched were more likely to contract bacterial vaginosis, which is an imbalance in the amount of flora in the vagina. Women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis may face an increased risk of infection with HIV.
Although science may not be on Paltrow’s side concerning v-steaming, I did notice some physiological changes. I immediately had the urgency to pee. When I did use the bathroom, a smooth, uninterrupted stream of urine was released. I also felt relaxed, which is probably how Paltrow felt right after her v-steam. It was me and my vagina against the world.
So, you’re probably wondering, would I do it again? Probably not.
If I had the luxury to spend that amount for a 30-minute session, maybe.
Until then, I will let my vagine do what it’s supposed to do — clean itself.