What is vaginal steaming?
First and foremost, it’s not a good idea. We’ll tell you why in a bit. But first, here’s a little background on what this practice is and how it came about. It goes by many different names — including chai-yok, ganggang, yoni steaming, bajos, V-steam, and Venus smoke — as has been a common practice in parts of Asia for several centuries.
As a cultural practice, it originates from old, plainly wrong and outdated beliefs that a woman’s vagina and the menstrual cycle are dirty by nature and need some regular cleaning. Of course, this is nonsense. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and all you need for healthy vaginal hygiene is a bit of gentle washing with nothing but plain water.
As the name says, vaginal steaming involves steaming your vagina over very hot or even boiling water that’s infused with different herbs. The herbs used for this vaginal steam bath differ from country to country, with Malay healers using different herbs from South Korea.
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Many Asian spas offer this treatment, and you can also find do-it-yourself guides on the web. The alleged beneficial effects of vaginal steaming include clearing infections, reducing hemorrhoids, improving the menstrual cycle, aiding fertility, and so on. It’s a long list that even includes tightening the vaginal muscles and thereby improving the sexual experience. It’s particularly popular with women who recently gave birth. In South Korea, it’s not uncommon for women to steam after having had a period, since they believe this will boost blood circulation and oxygen levels of the genitalia.
Is there any hard science behind the supposed benefits of vaginal steaming?
No, there’s no factual evidence or research that demonstrates that vaginal steaming provides any gynecological benefits. Even if a serious research effort would be made to study the effectiveness of vaginal steaming, the problem is that there’s no standardized method. Different spas and homemade recipes use different herbal treatments, up to 20 herbs (common choices are Artemisia and wormwood) in varying combinations and concentrations, to which they ascribe antifungal and antibacterial capabilities. There’s no one universally accepted procedure.
The common claim is that the steam’s heat opens the skin pores of the vaginal tissues, allowing for the herbal vapors to be absorbed by the vagina. But there’s no scientific evidence for the pore-opening effect and herbs absorption either.
Why vaginal steaming can do more harm than good
With no proven benefits, exposing your vagina to such a hot, moist treatment actually carries unnecessary risk. Burning sensitive vaginal tissue with the hot steam is one concern, but, more importantly, vaginal treatment increases the chances of getting yeast infections. Yeast tends to multiply quickly in warm and moist environments.
In fact, if steamed regularly, the hot temperatures can upset the natural bacterial balance of your vagina, disrupting its self-cleaning functions. This not only raises the risk of yeast infections but also could trigger or intensify bacterial vaginosis (BV). The risk of infection is made worse if you do the vaginal treatment in a spa where the steaming stools are used by other women.
Steaming during ongoing periods should be avoided altogether. When suffering from active vaginal infections, blisters, or sores, if you think you are pregnant, avoid this treatment.
In short, if you think your vaginal hygiene needs improvement or could benefit from steaming in another way, first talk to a good gynecologist to learn about more scientific and less risky ways of doing something good for your vagina.
- Chen, Ying, et al. “Role of Female Intimate Hygiene in Vulvovaginal Health: Global Hygiene Practices and Product Usage.” Women’s Health, vol. 13, no. 3, 22 Sept. 2017, pp. 58–67, journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1745505717731011, 10.1177/1745505717731011. Accessed 9 June 2020.
- Hull, Terence, et al. “Prevalence, Motivations, and Adverse Effects of Vaginal Practices in Africa and Asia: Findings from a Multicountry Household Survey.” Journal of Women’s Health, vol. 20, no. 7, July 2011, pp. 1097–1109, 10.1089/jwh.2010.2281. Accessed 9 June 2020.