Vaginal steaming is the practice of sitting over steaming hot herbal water. It’s been a practice in many different cultures over the centuries. It is still practiced in some African and Asian cultures today. Most recently, it has reached fad status. This is due to popularization by some A-list celebrities.
Why Do People Do It?
The theory is that the steam can soften and open up the pores of the vulva and vagina. This increases blood flow, allowing absorption of certain medicinal herbs.
No Scientific Support
Does it actually work? Well, there is NO data to support any of these claims. There are a couple of observational studies of current tribal practices. However, none of these identified any benefits. One study concluded that this practice was not associated with an increased risk of Chlamydia (yay). Next, another concluded that the practice may contribute to an increase in HIV spread (boo).
Is Vaginal Steaming Safe?
NO. In fact, it is harmful for several reasons. First, there is a published case report of a 62-year-old woman sustaining second-degree vulvar burns – OUCH. Furthermore, the vagina is a self-cleaning oven. It self-regulates pH and its microbiome very well on its own. Moreover, it is also a very vascular being, so it heals on its own after childbirth. By creating more heat, it could increase the risk of infection.
Equally important, the vaginal steaming practice is rooted in the premise that women’s genitals are dirty. Think about what message this sends women about their bodies and self-image. This is WRONG.
The Dangers of Vaginal Steaming
Let’s delve a bit deeper into misconceptions associated with vaginal steaming. While some may believe that it’s a natural way to improve their health and well-being, it’s crucial to understand the potential harm it can cause.
Burns and Injuries
First, vaginal steaming involves exposing the delicate tissues of the vulva and vagina to scalding steam. As mentioned earlier, there have been cases of women sustaining severe burns due to this. Besides, second-degree vulvar burns are excruciating. They can lead to complications, making this a dangerous choice for self-care.
Disruption of Natural Processes
Again, the vagina is a self-cleaning oven. As a result, it is more than capable of maintaining its pH balance and microbiome. Introducing steam or herbs into the vaginal environment can disrupt this natural equilibrium. Additionally, the excessive heat can create an environment where infections thrive. Consequently, this defeats the intended purpose of the practice.
Vaginal steaming has been promoted as a cure-all for many issues. Everything from menstrual discomfort to fertility and even menopausal symptoms. Yet, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Relying on unproven methods for serious health concerns can be detrimental. It can also delay appropriate medical care.
Negative Body Image
Lastly, perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of vaginal steaming is the underlying message it sends to women about their bodies. Again, this practice presupposes that women’s genitalia are dirty and need rejuvenation. Such beliefs can lead to a negative self-image. This can also reinforce harmful stereotypes about female anatomy.
The Bottom Line
Vaginal steaming is not a safe or effective practice. Its many claims lack scientific support and can pose serious health risks to women. Instead of seeking unproven methods, focusing on evidence-based healthcare is essential. Consult with your medical professional for any concerns related to gynecological health.
Finally, as an OB-GYN, I strongly discourage the practice of vaginal steaming. Women need to focus on their well-being through proven and safe healthcare practices. Remember, your body is remarkable. It can maintain its health without the need for such risky interventions. Let’s celebrate and embrace our bodies for the resilient, self-regulating wonders that they are.