When Things Get Steamy
Can Vagina Steams Aid in Vaginal and Uterine Health?
By Megy Karydes
Spread your legs wide, she instructed. I obliged, feeling ridiculous as I sat naked on a stool with a circular hole and a salon-style gown wrapped over me like a tent from my neck to the ground. A large, pot of boiling water with mugwort and a variety of other herbs were placed below me, and steam began to ascend within my tented cape. On the recommendation from a friend who declared that this wormwood-steam sitz (hip) bath was better than an hour in her therapist’s chair, I agreed to subject myself to the 45-minute experience that is also known as a vagina steam.
This treatment is relatively new to Chicagoland. In fact, we found only one location that offered the service, and it was nearly impossible to find a physician willing to go on record as to the benefits or side effects of steaming hot air around your lady parts because so many hadn’t heard of it. But the practice is common in Central and South America, and in Korea as a treatment for reducing stress, fighting infections, helping with fertility and hemorrhoids, providing relief from menstrual cramps and backache, and minimizing cysts.
Isa Herrera MSPT, CSCS, author of Ultimate Self-Help Guide for Women Suffering from Chronic Pelvic and Sexual Pain and clinical director of Renew Physical Therapy Center in New York City, feels that the therapy is important for overall uterine health and vaginal health. “[The] steam works wonders on hemorrhoids [and] for women who are trying to have a baby either naturally or with assistive fertility therapy,” she says.
Her NYC center offers bajos based on the Mayan tradition, which uses special Mayan herbs consisting mostly of flowers and edible herbs. I experienced the chai-yok, the Korean version, at King Spa & Sauna in Niles, where the woman who administered the treatment extolled its virtues and explained that the steam boosts circulation to the pelvis and thereby opens you up to the healing properties of the mugwort and herbs.
Medical evidence to substantiate whether the treatment is effective or harmful is hard to come by, Katherine Thurer, MD, a gynecologist at the Raby Institute for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, admits that she hasn’t had a patient ask about vaginal steaming yet and can’t say for certain whether it would be helpful or not as a treatment option. “I could imagine one could have an allergic reaction to an herb or get burned,” she says.
Nonetheless, she doesn’t discount the treatment either. “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.”
Nicholas LeRoy, DC, MS, founder of Chicago-based Illinois Center for Progressive Health, hadn’t heard of it either, but he, too, isn’t willing to dismiss it. He likens the experience to sitz baths, which are used for hemorrhoids and vulvar problems. His primary concern would be hygiene.
“HPV can live on the surfaces of objects for long periods of time,” he says. If someone is sitting on something, he would make sure that the seat has a disposable lining.
Chicagoan Maythe Martinez learned about the treatment through a friend who was experiencing several yeast infections prior to having vaginal steams. “I was drawn to it as a way to detoxify a part of my body that is not easily accessible yet important to keep clean,” she says. She feels that the treatment empowers women to learn more about their bodies and sexuality in addition to the positive health benefits such as preventing or stopping yeast infections like her friend experienced.
Herrera understands that the benefits go beyond good health, as Martinez mentions. “It is a wonderful way to nurture the soul, spirit and body all at the same time,” she says.
Would I return for a vaginal steam? The experience was definitely different from any other holistic treatments I’ve had over the years, and while I didn’t do it because of health issues, I did enjoy the heat, the fragrance of the herbs and the camaraderie since two friends and I did it together. It felt calming and enjoyable. I’m already searching for an excuse to return.
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