I have a great vagina. Really, I do. I've never had a problem with yeast infections, never had a Pap smear come back abnormal, never had to deal with menstrual cramps. I have the kind of vagina that deserves to be pampered, so when I heard about "vaginal steaming," I thought to myself: Vagina, you deserve a spa day.
Vaginal steaming, sometimes called V-steaming by those too squeamish to say the word "vagina," is remarkably similar to making tea. You put a bunch of special herbs in hot water, then—and this is where the tea similarity ends—hover over it, allowing the steam to "deep-clean" your vagina and uterus. This is said to dislodge any "buildup" and can allegedly relieve hormonal imbalances, menstrual discomfort, and digestive issues.
There's a spa near me that offers V-steaming, but they charge $50 for a 30-minute session, which seems like a lot of money to pay to literally sit on a pot of hot water. So instead, I looked up "DIY V-steaming" online and found these instructions from the YinOva Center in New York:
- Pour eight cups of water (preferably purified water) into a medium-size pot.
- Place a handful of fresh herbs (about a quarter cup) into the water.
- Bring water to a soft boil (with the lid on) for five minutes.
- Turn off the heat and steep for another five minutes with the lid on.
- Pour four cups (half of the pot) of water into a bowl you've placed in your toilet.
- Wave your hand eight to ten inches over the herbal water to make sure it's not too hot.
- Remove your underwear and sit on the seat above the steaming water.
- Drape a large blanket or sheet around your waist and down to the floor to make sure no steam escapes.
- Keep yourself warm by wearing something on your feet (socks, slippers) and neck. You do not want any cold to get into your body while you are trying to warm it.
- You should feel a warm, rolling heat for about ten to 12 minutes.
- When the steam dies down, dump the water into the toilet. Starting with step four, begin the second dosage with the other half of the herbal water. If it has cooled too much you'll need to reheat it, but test again before sitting over the steam.
If you get your V-steam done at a spa, they'll seat you in chair with a little hole in the middle, which allows the steam to rise into your hoo-ha. Since I do not own a chair with a hole in the middle, I was pleased to find that the YinOva Center recommended steaming on your toilet. This would be so easy!
Vaginal steam baths come from an ancient Korean tradition called chai-yok, which uses mugwort and wormwood to cleanse the vagina. Both herbs are associated with detoxification, uterine health, and improving hormonal balance. I had never heard of either mugwort or wormwood and thought they sounded like ingredients for some kind of Wiccan magic. When I asked an employee at Whole Foods if they carried the herbs, he looked at me as if I'd asked him if they stocked crack cocaine. So I ended up ordering both on Amazon, and when they arrived, I was surprised to find that the mugwort looked and smelled exactly like sawdust—like it was chopped-up tree bark and dirt. I also found this somewhat disconcerting messaging printed on the package for wormwood:
Look, I just want to steam my vadge, but if I come out with psychic superpowers, so be it.
Before I set a pot of water to boil, I wanted to consult a gynecologist to make sure I was doing this right, so I called up Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an ob-gyn in New York and co-author of V Is for Vagina. Dr. Dweck kind of balked when I told her what I wanted to do, but she ultimately gave me her blessing.
"Steam will bring extra blood flow to the genital area, and that helps with healing and muscle relaxation in general," she said. It also helps with stress relief—I mean, you're just sitting there on a warm pot for half an hour—which could be why V-steaming has been credited for improving fertility and menstrual cramps alike.
Dweck warned me to monitor the temperature of the steam, "because you could get a pretty bad burn in this area, and that would be awful," and to avoid using essential oils, which would be too concentrated for this sensitive area of the body.
With Dweck's advice in mind, I set a pot of water on the stove and threw in a handful of the herbs. Some women say that while they're V-steaming, they can taste the herbs on their tongue after a few minutes. I seriously hoped that didn't happen to me, because the smell of the herbs—kind of like mulch?—was fairly horrendous. It didn't look great either:
When the water was boiled and the herbs were fully steeped, I poured my "tea" into a big mixing bowl and set it in my toilet. It was dark—like, really dark—and seeing it there in my toilet, with flecks of herbs floating around on the top, gave me that same panicky feeling as when you take too much vitamin B and your pee turns neon yellow. You know there's nothing to actually worry about, but seeing those colors in your toilet bowl is simply unnerving.
I eased myself onto my seat, and at first it felt nice, like stepping into a sauna. But within a few seconds, I realized that the steam was still scorching hot. I threw in a few ice cubes to temper the steam and sat back down. As instructed, I was wearing a pair of thick socks and kept a blanket on my lap to isolate the warmth. It was uncomfortably warm for a few moments, but I relaxed into it pretty quickly, as if I were easing into a hot bubble bath. I flicked my iPad on to enjoy a little mindless internet browsing and tried to ignore the fact that I could feel my vagina sweating.
I sat like that for 25 minutes, and it was honestly very relaxing. A woman needs to spend quality time with her vagina every now and again, and this was an entirely agreeable way to do so.
When I eventually arose, I peered into the mixing bowl to see if I had "dislodged" anything into the water below. It was difficult to tell, because the herbs and hot water looked just as disgusting as before. But I felt great: clean, relaxed, at ease. Was I more relaxed than, say, after taking a hot bath? Hard to say. Had I gained psychic powers? It didn't seem like it (still waiting to see, though). Did I feel cleansed from whatever was building up inside my reproductive organs? Again, I'm not sure. The steam certainly felt nice, but as for restoring my vaginal health, that might just be a bunch of hot air.
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